Jasmine Henderson Talks Soccer and Mount Kilimanjaro

Jasmine Henderson is a former professional soccer player, author, world record holder and public speaker on a mission to empower women to own their greatness. Henderson is certainly owning hers.

This past summer, the Los Angeles native climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, as a part of the Equal Playing Field initiative. Along with 29 women from more than 20 countries, Henderson took a stand for equality within women’s sports by setting the world record for playing the highest altitude soccer game ever at almost 19,000 feet.

We sat down with the record holder to learn more about her professional soccer career, her life as a mom and her experience climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro (or Mount Possible as she calls it).

Equal Playing Field
Jasmine playing in the highest altitude soccer match on Mt. Kilimanjaro

Girls Soccer Network: When did you first know you wanted to play professional women’s soccer?

Jasmine Henderson: The spark began in 1999 during the Women’s World Cup in the finals when USA defeated China. I can still remember exactly where I was and how I felt when I watched it as a young 12-year-old girl. My focus turned up, and by the time I was 17, I found myself in the biggest youth soccer tournament in the world, the Gothia Cup in Sweden. As I sat in my country’s section amongst people from all over the world, that’s when I knew I wanted to play for a living.

GSN: What obstacles did you face in your professional career? Were any due to your status as a female athlete?

JH: When I got the opportunity to play professionally in Brazil, it was a dream come true, but I wasn’t prepared for the reality of women’s professional soccer. I didn’t know Portuguese when I first arrived and unknowingly signed a contract for $0. I would only get a portion of the agreed amount but never the full amount. Even if I did get paid the full amount, in order to make it sustainable, I would have had to have another job. This is common in women’s professional soccer all over the world. Where playing soccer is a full-time job for most men, almost all women have to have a regular job on top of training and playing professionally.

I was already facing challenges living in a completely different country by myself with only one teammate who spoke English. I didn’t need the financial challenge on top of that.

GSN: How has being a mom influenced your career?

JH: After I came back from Brazil, I got the opportunity to try-out for the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment). About 2 weeks before flying to Florida, I found out I was pregnant with my son. I said goodbye to becoming a diva, and a new path was forged. I didn’t know that it would lead me to being an author and a speaker, but I knew that I wanted to be the best woman I could be and truly find my purpose. I’ve always had a heart and a mission to empower women, but now that I have my son, I’m more focused. I literally see my legacy every day, and he’s watching me. Being a mom has called me to a higher game in the most beautiful way.

Being a mom has called me to a higher game in the most beautiful way.

I’ve noticed that many fear motherhood and how it will change their life or stop it completely. Having a child definitely changes your life, but I’ve been able to build my life and my career in my motherhood instead of having a life and a career and trying to fit motherhood in. I get to creatively come up with win/win situations for the both of us. That is a blessing.

Jasmine and her son

GSN: How did you get involved in the Equal Playing Field Initiative project?

JH: I actually had a viewer, who faithfully watched a Facebook Live program I used to do three times a week, send me a message. We had mutual friends, and he connected me with the director of the film for the project. He said that would be such a great fit knowing they were looking for pro soccer players with a passion for women’s empowerment. When they gave me the full rundown about the idea, I was in!

GSN: Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro is huge! What made you decide to finally do it?

I was sold on the first phone call! People throughout my life have told me I’m crazy, and if following your dreams and taking a stand for what you believe in is crazy, I’ll gladly answer to that name! I told them that I was a girl from L.A., and I didn’t know anything about climbing mountains. I just knew in my heart that I had to be a part of it in any way I could.

Equal Playing Field team huddle

GSN: What was it like once you reached the top of the mountain?

JH: Well, if you’re talking about the summit, I couldn’t get back to our base camp fast enough haha. That day (game day) was the most challenging day in my life to date, even harder than giving birth. (I had my son naturally without an epidural. He was 9lbs 2oz!) At least with childbirth, you know there is a finish line, and the baby will come out somehow. On the mountain, there was no guarantee you were going to make it. It challenged me mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

After six days of climbing, we set off at 2:30am for a five-hour climb in the freezing cold. It was pitch black. I was relieved once we reached the crater, but we still had a 90-minute soccer game to play at almost 19,000ft. Once that final whistle blew, that was the big celebratory moment! We did it! I couldn’t believe it. Reaching the summit after the game was the cherry on top. I took my picture and was done!

GSN: How did this experience impact your life?

JH: I have discovered so much about myself, and I have a team of women around the world who are just as passionate, just as powerful and just as crazy as I am! I’m a different woman after coming back from the mountain. I’ve learned that labels only hold power if you let them. My gender doesn’t hold me back. My race doesn’t detour me. My relationship status holds no value. My body shape doesn’t determine my attraction. My status as a single mom doesn’t predict my future. My class doesn’t hold my worth. My motherhood doesn’t make me a woman. Who I am, not what I am, matters. Who I am in my Creator’s eyes is the most important. I am committed to live a life without labels, and by living by example, I hope my son, who is labeled “special needs,” will live without labels as well. We all get to live freely and follow the purpose planted deep in our hearts. You have an important role only you can fill.

Who I am, not what I am, matters.

GSN: What was it like setting a world record with a team full of female athletes?

JH: It was empowering and beautiful to see what’s possible when woman work together. We came from all parts of the world with different backgrounds and varying perspectives. There were different cultures, classes, ages, religions, sexual preferences, political views and fitness levels, but we all had one goal. It was powerful to see what we could accomplish when we put our differences aside. Women are known to be catty and back-biting, manipulative and competitive amongst each other. Trust me, we are competitive, but instead of tearing each other down, we lifted one another up. Literally. Setting this world record full of female athletes confirmed my belief that we all have an important role to play, and there is room enough for all of us.

A group photo of the Equal Playing Field squads

GSN: What is your favorite guilty pleasure treat after a long workout?

JH: I am a sucker for In&Out! If it’s been a long workout and I’m roaring hungry, all I want is a freshly cooked burger from a company that chooses some great produce and product. Protein style with grilled onions and fries is practically a salad. That’s totally healthy, right?

GSN: What’s your favorite and least favorite workout?

JH: If I’m not playing soccer, my favorite workout is dancing for sure. I love salsa dancing or going to a Zumba class where I can put my hair down and whip it around as I get down on the dance floor! My least favorite workout is crossfit. No offense to crossfitters out there. I have a lot of respect for you, but I’m just so competitive that it’s annoying. I love lifting weights and doing cardio. Combining them is awesome, but just don’t time me. I die every time, and not the good kind. It’s the almost throw up kind.

GSN: Who is one female athlete who is inspires you?

JH: Lisa Leslie greatly inspires me. Her role in building the WNBA, her commitment and love as a mom, her personal faith, her strength as a wife, her pursuits as a business woman and author and her passion to empower woman are all attributes I respect and intend to build within my own life. I hope one day a young woman will say about me for my own sport, career and life.

GSN: What is one lesson you hope to pass on to young female athletes?

JH: In having my son, he was a loving interruption to a lot of problems I was having at that stage of my life. I had ultimately forgotten my worth on so many levels, and I hope to pass on to young female athletes to never forget their worth. It doesn’t lie outside of themselves with coaches or parents or with guys they date, friends they have, or how much they weigh. I would hope they realize that they have a specific, important and powerful role only they can play on and off the field. Once they discover that and embrace it and live every day fueled by that, they will never let anyone treat them any less than what they’re worth.

Check out Henderson’s book A Broken Vow and follow her on Instagram and Facebook to follow her story.

Images via Jasmine Henderson

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