An athlete leaves Nelson, and the family copes

Soccer player Sophie Borhi recently moved to Vernon to join Thompson Okanagan FC.

The Borhis (pictured left to right: Rob

It could have ended in the hotel room. Months of talking, planning and doubt. Tina Borhi knew all she had to do was merely suggest that the move end before it began and her daughter would agree.

It had been a difficult day, Sophie’s first in her new high school, when the pair found themselves alone in the room.

“Why am I doing this again?” asked Sophie.

Tina didn’t know how to answer. She thought if she pushed Sophie even a little they could drive back to Nelson and she could keep her daughter. Instead, she opted for honesty.

“I don’t know,” said Tina. “Why are you doing this again?”

They left it at that.

Sophie Borhi is a 14-year-old soccer player. She describes herself as an attacking midfielder, is a Vancouver Whitecaps fan, watches whatever women’s soccer she can find, counts Christine Sinclair, Alex Morgan and Cristiano Ronaldo among her role models, and is a homebody who prefers to stay on the couch with tea and Netflix.

Last month, Sophie moved from Nelson to Vernon to join Thompson Okanagan FC in the BC Soccer Premier League. The move represents a graduation of sorts for Sophie from the Whitecaps’ Kootenay academy to a higher level of competition where her chances of getting scouted are greater than if she had stayed in her hometown.

But her father Rob, older sister Emma and Tina are remaining home in Nelson. The decision to part, even temporarily, with Sophie hasn’t been easy on any of them.

Teenagers leave their families all the time to billet in other towns that might offer a shot at athletic success. The Nelson Leafs, for example, are largely made up of young players native to various BC towns, Alberta and even California. But while the spotlight follows the athletes, the families wait for them to return home.

“I don’t know if it’s worth it. I honestly don’t,” said Tina after the family returned to Nelson. “I wonder sometimes. I think, god, it’s just soccer. There’s nothing wrong, I don’t think, with staying here, playing soccer on a rep team and so what if nothing happens?”

But, what if something does happen?

Rob is the original soccer fan of the Borhi home. When he’s not working in forestry, he’s coached Sophie’s rep team and is currently a Nelson Youth Soccer director. He played soccer when he was young in Montreal, and introduced Sophie to the sport when she was four. Her initial interest ended after taking a ball to the belly, and she moved on to figure skating. She decided to try the sport again when she was nine.

Tina and Rob laughed when they recalled watching Sophie play for the first time — her figure skating habits hadn’t entirely disappeared.

“I remember [Rob] looking at me saying, ‘Did she just hop?'” said Tina. “And I said, ‘Yes, every time she’s been kicking the ball she hops.’ But she just took off and she really liked it.”

Soccer is always on the television in the Borhi home. They follow the Whitecaps but watch everything. Last summer they went to watch the Women’s World Cup final in Vancouver. Rob was in line to buy T-shirts for Sophie and Emma when American Carli Lloyd scored twice in the first five minutes.

“I’m missing the whole game! I’m here! It was awful,” said Rob. Tina chuckled. “Well, we have the shirts,” she added.

The national women’s soccer team is beloved in Canada. While the men’s side has been a disgrace for years, the popularity of the women’s team has soared following their bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics.

Rob doesn’t think about Sophie eventually playing for the national team — if anything he’d just like to see her get a university scholarship — but the current state of the game isn’t lost on him.

“There were men and boys walking around [at the Women’s World Cup] with women’s names on the back of their soccer jerseys,” he said. “Even in the States, the women’s team is probably more loved than the men’s. What sport do you see boys and men with women’s names on the back of their shirts? There aren’t that many.”

Last summer was eventful for the family. Sophie joined Thompson Okanagan for a pair of tournaments, the first of which in May put the idea into her head of playing for the team full-time. She went to an August tryout and made the cut, but Rob and Tina weren’t ready to send her away. “It was just too quick,” said Rob.

Instead, Sophie started her first year of high school at L.V. Rogers while the family thought it over. Tina and Rob wanted to see if Sophie was still committed to the idea, and in the meantime they asked around about billets. An offer came from the family of a Thompson Okanagan player, and when the Whitecaps held a November tournament in Vernon the Borhis decided to go meet the billet family.

Sophie Borhi poses with national women's manager John Herdman.Finding that family, and eventually feeling safe enough to let their daughter live with them, was the final hurdle for Rob and Tina. If she were any younger, they wouldn’t have let her go. If she were any older, she may not have gone at all.

“She can only do this at this age,” said Rob. “If she wanted to go or thought about going but never did, you get older and think ‘Well, what would have happened if I’d gone?’ She won’t have to wonder that because she’s doing it.”

They all drove to Vernon and stayed with her through the first day of school. When they parted, it was Emma who took it the hardest. The sisters are close, and both had been looking forward to spending a year at high school together before Emma graduates in the summer.

“For Emma, when we dropped Sophie off, we weren’t crying, but Emma was sobbing,” said Tina. “She said to us afterwards, ‘I feel like this is over for us, because Sophie is living there, I’m going to be moving away in the summer. So we’re finished.’ So that’s so sad, but I think we did a good job then if they like each other that much.”

“At times you would never know,” Rob joked.

Sophie didn’t move to a new country. Vernon is less than a day’s drive from Nelson, after all, and Sophie plans on returning home for the summer. But that’s not the point as far as Tina is concerned. They can’t go see her every weekend — Tina worries about Emma feeling overlooked — and she is already missing the moments with Sophie that are being sacrificed for soccer.

“I don’t see her in the morning,” said Tina. “I don’t see what she’s wearing to school, hear her funny little stories when she comes home from school. Like, it’s only been one day that we’ve been home and I already know that’s a real gap.”

In the meantime, Sophie is adjusting to her new life. School has been a difficult adjustment, but she’s enjoyed her practices with Thompson Okanagan, which she called faster and more intense than she’s used to. She’s surprised herself with how she’s adjusted to the move.

“I just keep reminding myself that I’m here for soccer and I just need to play how I do and how I love the game,” said Sophie. “That’s what keeps me here.”

The Borhis haven’t committed to keeping Sophie in Vernon beyond this semester. They’re going to see how everyone deals with the separation. Tina sometimes wonders what kind of parent she is for sending her daughter away. Are there any long-term consequences? Does sending children away for sport hurt them somehow? Or is it, in the end, the parents who suffer most? She doesn’t know.

After the Borhis left Sophie, Tina got a text from her daughter during a lunch break that said, “Today’s better.”

Twenty-four hours later one more update: “Today was good.”

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