Florencia Galarza is bridging the gap between athleticism and creativity. A soccer phenom at a young age, she left the sport to move to New York and pursue a career in fashion and music. Ten years later, Florencia has returned to the sport, captaining the KITH Bowery Premier League and DJing for the US Soccer Federation. We caught up with Florencia in Dumbo to talk about returning to her passion, getting a second chance, and the ups and downs of New York.
Let’s start with the basics. Can you tell us a little about your background and how far back you go with soccer?
I am originally from Miami, Florida. My family is from Argentina so as little girl, I grew up watching soccer. I started playing soccer when I was seven years old, and I had a natural instinct on the field. When I was twelve or thirteen I got recruited to play for the Olympic Development Program, then I made the regional team, and I got cut right before the US national pool. I’d also play pickup games with guys, and learn a lot from them.
Do you think that playing with the guys gave you an advantage over the rest of the girls?
Playing with guys definitely made me more aggressive, tougher, and quicker. These were pickup games so there were no regulations—you’d get cracked and pushed but you had to keep on playing to prove that you could be there.
Ok, so how did you end up in New York?
When everything that I’d worked for was supposed to come to fruition, I got injured—blew out my ankle at the beginning of my senior year [in high school]. I missed my senior season and a showcase tournament; it was one unfortunate event after another and I couldn’t handle the heartache, so I just stopped. It was killing me inside. And that’s when I decided to move to New York.
What did it mean to let go of that part of your life?
I still try to wrap my head around it—I convinced myself that I wasn’t supposed to play soccer; the injury was a sign that I shouldn’t play soccer and that I should pursue New York and the whole creative side of who I am. I DJed, I modeled for a second, but the second that I decided to play again, the first time I touched the ball in ten years, I was like, “Oh, I feel complete again. This is who I am.”
How is it playing again after all that time?
I almost feel like I picked up where I left off eleven years ago. In terms of where my mind is when I’m playing, I’m fully in the game. I don’t care about who’s watching, I don’t care if I look like shit, I’m just out there playing. I’m reactivating things in my body that have been dormant for ten years. Before my injury I was a little bit more cocky, and now that I’ve been given the chance to play again I’m so thankful. I understand it’s not all about me being the best; I’ve become selfless on the field.
Life always seems to give you a second chance.
When I decided to start playing again, I was like, “Universe, what the hell are you doing to me?” [I get taken] out of the game, I did all this crazy New York shit—DJ, model, go to fashion school—and then I get thrown back into the game and it all makes sense.
Have you found that your life has changed off the field as well?
Off the pitch I’ve really cut out a lot of toxic stuff. I realized a lot of things about who I want to be in terms of lifestyle. I’m not going to be out in the club till four in the morning, that’s not happening. New York can get really dark at times, and nightlife can be a really rough place to be, but if you’re given another chance to do something you were supposed to do, you really have to concentrate and focus and go for it. Because you’re not going to get another chance.
You mentioned New York can get dark, do you think New York’s helped you in any way?
New York has definitely matured me—having drive and ambition and not giving up. Giving up and quitting is kind of an immature thing, and in New York you have so many inspiring stories around you—from people going through adversity to an injury to a loss to whatever, and then coming back and killing it. There’s a lot of that in New York, so that’s definitely helped me back into soccer.
Are New Yorkers good soccer players?
A few years back I noticed a change—when I moved to NYC everyone was so anti-sport, it was all about being indie, and, “I don’t work out,” and all that crap. I would talk about sports and people were like, “What are you talking about?” But slowly but surely people started getting into fitness; everyone’s fit now. In the Bowery League there are photographers, models, art kids that play soccer and are really good and it’s wonderful bringing the creative side and the athletic side together.
Right now my goal is to play for the Argentinian national team. They’re number 34 in the world, which is not very good. The men’s team in Argentina is one of the best teams in the world, but when you mention women’s soccer it’s crickets—no one knows anything, no one cares. As a woman you’re not supposed to play soccer in Argentina, it’s looked down upon, the stereotype is that [female soccer players] are butch lesbians from the hood. I really want that team to start breaking stereotypes and inspire girls to play soccer. I want to go to Argentina and hopefully help them improve and change and open minds.