After 10 concussions, Allie Harrison ’13 should have seen it coming. But even with the grinding headaches and dizzy spells, the sophomore defender from Mission Viejo, Calif., was crushed when her soccer coach at USC gave her the news in 2011: At age 19, Harrison’s soccer career was over. It was too dangerous to continue.
Harrison had dreamed of playing for the U.S. national team since she was little, and was a star athlete in high school and on club teams. She’d come to USC full of ambition.
Her coach softened the blow by making Harrison a student assistant coach so she could keep her athletic scholarship. “It was difficult at first,” Harrison recalls, “going to practice, being on the sidelines watching and knowing I would never get back on the field again.”
It didn’t take her long to bounce back, though. Part of her job called for involving her teammates in community service, and Harrison was a natural. She’d already joined USC’s chapter of Athletes in Action, an international Christian ministry that turns student- athletes into community leaders. Through the group, Harrison was tutoring homeless kids at a
Skid Row afterschool program, so she was tied into potential service opportunities.
NCAA athletes are already busy, so throwing community service into the mix is asking a lot. Yet all 30 of her teammates signed on. During the fall semester, they clocked 154 service hours. In September, the USC Athletic Department named Harrison its first Community
Outreach Athlete of the Month. “At USC we have so much given to us,” Harrison says. For many grateful athletes, the urge “to look outside ourselves, at what we can do beyond excelling in ourselves” is strong.
A creative writing major, she graduated in December with a 3.8 grade point average—good enough to earn USC’s endorsement for the Rhodes Scholarship. Though she didn’t win the scholarship, the experience forged a tight bond with faculty mentor Richard Berg of USC Dornsife, and Harrison plans to continue her studies in the school’s PhD program in creative writing and literature.
“I’ve known since I was little that I wanted to write,” Harrison says. She no longer pines for professional soccer. Her religious conviction has helped “reshape my outlook on life,” she says. “I know that God had a different plan for me, and that plan is just as good.”
She recently married Russell Vernon, a Cal Poly Pomona soccer player she met through Athletes in Action. Last August, the couple traveled to São Paulo to lay the groundwork for a future Athletes in Action project in Brazil that will pair student-athletes with a local ministry that helps transition teenage drug dealers toward more productive employment.
Their next big challenge: brushing up on their Portuguese.