Some of us are born track and field athletes or soccer players. But for one woman, finding her niche in running as a teenager was serendipitous. Her venture into soccer at age 46 can be described as nothing but purposeful.
If anyone thinks starting a sport later in life is impossible, the story of Kristy Matthews will tell you otherwise.
Kristy grew up in Iowa, and her parents–like many other parents–enrolled her in various sports and activities to see what might stick. Basketball, ballet, gymnastics? Nope. Softball? “I would come home crying because I was so little the helmet wouldn’t fit me, so I’d have to run the bases holding my helmet,” Kristy recalls.
But her parents didn’t give up. They knew she had innate athletic ability. They just didn’t know the sport that would inspire Kristy.
Born To Run
That is, until one day, Kristy’s dad asked her to join a two-mile race. The only catch? It was a father-son race for Kristy’s dad’s college fraternity. Her presence as a daughter was initially met with some awkwardness.
But that didn’t deter Kristy. She was fourteen and the only girl competing against 15 other men and boys. First, she started outrunning her dad, so she asked if he wanted her to slow down. His response was one Kristy will never forget. He said, “Kristy, just run. That’s what you can do. Just go. Just run.”
So, in her own Forrest Gump moment, Kristy ran. She ran past her dad. Then she ran past the other dads. And she ran past the sons. Kristy ran past everyone, and she won the race.
The biggest thrill for Kristy wasn’t winning the race but rather the look on her dad’s face. “That was more important to me than winning because he was so proud of his daughter,” remembers Kristy.
Sometimes Stopped In Her Tracks, But Driven To Never Give Up
High School Running Career
Now that Kristy found her niche, you’d think the rest would be smooth sailing. Despite discovering her love of running, there were many starts and stops in Kristy’s trajectory as a track and field athlete.
Kristy ran cross country her freshman year of high school, but a bout with bronchitis sidelined her. She didn’t run her sophomore year because she was distracted by social activities. Her parents didn’t want her to waste her talent, though.
“My parents gave me an ultimatum my junior year. They said, ‘Either you get a job, or you play a sport.'” Kristy went with the latter.
Without much effort, Kristy excelled. She ran the 4×400-meter relay (a relay where each runner runs 400 meters). Her school made it to the state finals. In her team’s relay against the state favorite to win, Kristy came from 30 meters behind, then made up another 10 meters, helping her team clinch the state championship.
In her senior year, Kristy’s coach encouraged her to try running the 800-meter distance, something relatively unheard of at the time for Black girls. When it came to Black girls, running sprints was typical. But Kristy says her coach saw something in her, and she’s grateful.
“I would have just thought the four (hundred meters) was my limit,” says Kristy. “I know for a fact I was the only Black girl running the 800 in my state [Iowa].”
Kristy’s coach was spot-on in his assessment. Kristy competed against the undefeated two-time state champion in the 800-meter run, and she beat her handily. And she beat her again at state championships.
Kristy remembers the feeling of the first time she ran against her. “There comes a point in time in any runner’s mentality where they just break down the walls of doubt, and they say, ‘If I die at the end, I die at the end, but I’m going to just put it all out there.'” So that’s what she did.
College Running Career
From several scholarship offers, Kristy chose Iowa State University. A recent build of a 300-meter indoor track and being close to home was enough to lure her. She ran the 4×400-meter relay and the 800-meter. During her freshman year, she ran fast enough to get noticed by the International Olympic Committee.
The IOC sent Kristy a letter informing her of her provisional qualification for the Olympic trials. At the end of the season, she was just shy of making the cut but still incredibly honored to receive the letter at all.
With a strong freshman year behind her, Kristy hit a roadblock her sophomore year. She got chicken pox, so she had to redshirt and sit out the indoor season. That, along with some coaching changes, caused Kristy to slip into a bit of a depression. She wanted out of Iowa.
In 1993, Kristy flew to San Diego to meet with San Diego State University and fell in love with California. She began her junior year as an Aztec and stepped up as team captain her senior year. She won the California-Nevada collegiate championships and clinched the Mountain West Conference for SDSU when she won the 800-meter race.
“My very last collegiate race. I couldn’t believe it,” says Kristy. “I finally got my conference championship.”
From Running Track To Running On The Soccer Field
After college, regular life took over, and Kristy put running to the side. Marriage, a move to Europe, divorce, another marriage, a child, and other things took precedence. But she missed being active.
While she still had her love for running, it was bittersweet, and she wasn’t ready to jump back into track and field. So she thought about other sports where she could incorporate running but also be part of a team. “So, yeah, I picked up soccer at the age of 46,” laughs Kristy. Since this was before the Adults Play Sports directory was born, Kristy searched the internet until she found a women’s soccer league.
That’s when I met Kristy. My reputation on the soccer field is that I’m one of the faster players. I play forward. Kristy plays defense. So when we faced off on the field for the first time, and she marked me, I was like, “Who the hell is this?” I could keep up for a little bit, but her speed was a killer.
I remember commenting to Kristy about her height, inferring she was tall with long legs. She clapped back, “I’m only 5’5!” I hadn’t even noticed she is only a couple inches taller than I am. Kristy has a presence that makes her seem taller. And, to be fair, she does have long legs that seemingly go all the way up her body.
The Evolution Of An Adult Soccer Player
Now 50 years old and four years into playing soccer, Kristy’s skills as an adult soccer player have come a long way. The grit and determination within her as a track and field athlete certainly transfer to the soccer field.
Kristy knew she had the speed. Ball control was an entirely different beast to tackle. So she worked with a coach for a year to improve her skills. She even went to a weeklong soccer camp for adults in Virginia, which we feature in our blog post, 34 Adult Sports Camps: The Ultimate List For Your Inner Athlete.
Kristy now plays on a few women’s soccer teams and regularly competes in tournaments.
Full Circle Back To Track And Field
Since playing soccer, Kristy’s fire for running track is back. She began participating in the Senior Games and is currently number one in the country in her age range for the 200m and 400m races. In June 2023, she ran the Senior Games in her home state of Iowa and won the 100m, 200m, and 400m races and was the first person in state history to set three met records in a single day.
She isn’t stopping there. Kristy has aspirations to compete at multiple other Senior Games events.
With much life behind her and a whole lot still ahead of her, Kristy is just hitting her stride as an adult athlete.
Advice For Other Adult Athletes (Or Aspiring Ones)
Kristy has this advice for the person considering getting into sports as an adult or who has been a lifelong athlete of one sport but is nervous to try another: “It’s okay to be uncomfortable. It’s okay to put yourself out there. If you do something that makes you happy, don’t be concerned about how you look to other people. Just make yourself happy. And give it your all.”
If Kristy’s story inspires you and you want to find a sport near you to play or participate in, search our directory. If you’re in the San Diego area and are interested in training with Kristy, you can find more info in Kristy’s directory listing. Be sure to bookmark our or subscribe to our mailing list since we regularly update the directory, and you don’t want to miss out on our latest good stuff for adult sports! Check out Kristy’s Web Story here.