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The Opportunity of a Lifetime

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Hello, my name's Amanda. I was recently offered a chance to write here and my first thought was that you have no idea who I am. I am a girl who loves to stay busy. Some of those things that keep me occupied are school -- where a straight-A record put me in advanced placement courses to challenge me -- basketball, soccer (both club level and school), and youth activities through my church. What really brought me here to write this is something that changed my life by allowing me to change someone else's. It started with something simple that I took for granted for as long as I can remember: shoes. Specifically, I collect gently used cleats and sneakers for kids in Haiti who have none. It started as a challenge from an amazing leader and mentor, Julie Foudy, who is a world-renowned soccer star. Now I am headed to an opportunity of a lifetime -- a trip to the 2012 summer Olympics in London. Oh, I almost forgot to mention that I'm only 14 years old!

To be honest, when I heard that I had the chance to write a blog I was a little nervous, but also really excited. I was nervous because this is something anyone can read and have opinions on, so when it's out there, it's out there for good! Will this be good enough, or will I be criticized and ridiculed for the writing what I am sharing with you all? Mixed in with that fear of something new, I am excited, because I finally get to write about how I feel about this whole thing, all the way up and through my trip to the Olympics. I get to do my best to bring you with me to experience all of my new adventures that are soon to come, all because I won a contest with a project that was meant to help others. Everyone asks me if I am excited, and of course I am! Who wouldn't be? But what people aren't aware of are the little things going through my head, such as the long plane ride, and all of the publicity I have and will continue to receive in the future.

You may be asking what this contest was and what is this project she is talking about? Well, two summers ago in 2010, I attended the Julie Foudy Sports Leadership Academy (JFSLA) for the first time. The JFSLA is a girls' summer camp program mixing soccer and leadership training. During this time we were challenged to come up with a service project to help others. It was just an idea, of course, but my church had recently been doing work in Haiti and I saw the pictures with all the smiling children playing soccer, and then I looked closer and realized that they were all barefoot! I knew I had to help, so I started a program called "Amanda's Cleats for Kids" which collected used cleats and sneakers so that these kids could play the game we both have a passion for. The JFSLA motto is "Choose to Matter," so I have. Ever since that decision, Cleats for Kids has collected and donated over 700 pairs of cleats and sneakers to kids in Haiti, and I don't plan to stop any time soon.

The Julie Foudy Sports Leadership Academy set up a "Choose to Matter" contest with the grand prize being an all-expense paid trip to London for the 2012 summer Olympics. I thought it would be easy and never backing down from a challenge I signed my project up, and the race was on, but little did I know that I would have some tough competition. All of my friends think the votes just came, but that is a true understatement! I had to work, and pass out fliers, and talk to complete strangers about this contest, and it showed a side of me I didn't think I had. I was more of a leader in the 20 days of the contest than I had been in my entire life. After the contest, I changed for the better and the changes are still happening but the opportunities are fantastic.

After applying what I learned at JFSLA during the summer, I've been managing to face my fears, and become more involved in my community, which means talking to people I've never met before. I wish my friends could have seen all of the hard work I put into this and maybe that is why this blog is so exciting, since I get a chance to talk about it and maybe show others what they can do for themselves by facing fears and doing something to help others.

As I get closer and closer to the Olympics, I will continue to write what I am up to and how I feel. I know that the Huffington Post is read by many people every day, and I truly hope my blog is enjoyed. I want to become more confident and comfortable writing and showing how I feel. To be honest, I may be excited, but I don't think this whole "going to London" thing will sink in until I am actually on the flight there!