One of my earliest childhood sports memories is the day I found out my dad was taking my brother to watch the Winnipeg Jets. Without me. To say I was jealous would be a massive understatement, and, as my parents love to remind me, I pitched a fit. The decision to leave me out had nothing to do with sexism. My parents had always supported my love of sports. They signed me up to play on the local boy’s hockey team and my dad coached my soccer team for years. But unlike my non-hockey playing brother, I’d never shown any interest in actually watching sports. I only wanted to play them.
Needless to say, the story ends with my dad bringing seven-year-old me to the next home game. I don’t remember who won and I’m pretty sure I complained about being tired by the end of the third period, though I do remember developing a massive crush on Dale Hawerchuk. But what really stuck with me all these years was being in that arena full of people cheering for the same team. Jets fans are notably passionate, but there was an indescribable feeling of community and excitement that captivated me.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve retired my cleats and developed a newfound appreciation for watching sports. But it’s not the fantasy leagues or batting averages or even the incredible hotness of professional athletes that inspires me as a romance writer. It’s the stories of courage, resilience and passion that resonate far beyond the stadium walls. You don’t have to be a sports fan to recognize and celebrate Simone Manuel’s historic achievement at the 2016 Olympics as the first black swimmer from the US to win gold. And it’s impossible not to fall in love with the underdog story of the Icelandic national soccer team beating some of the greats at Euro 2016, despite the fact the tiny nation’s team consisted largely of semi-pro players, and an assistant coach whose primary occupation was dentistry.
Sports also provide an amazing way to foster community. When my husband and I moved to a new town six years ago for work, we were invited by one of his colleagues to watch an NFL game. Not having grown up in football country, it was a strange experience. The screaming! The cheering! The giant bowl of cheese dip! To this day, I still don’t have a single clue about the rules of how American football works, but I discovered I really love watching it. Not because of the game itself, though I will cheer like mad every time a Seahawks player catches the ball and runs toward the end zone, but because I met some of my dearest friends through these weekend rituals. And, of course, because of the cheese dip.
This idea that there are many different reasons and ways to love sports is part of what inspired the opening scene in my book Going for the Goal. Jillian and Nick first meet when they get stuck in a stairwell at a party—something based on a true story, but I’ll save that for another post! They bond over a discussion about NHL trade prospects and it’s clear that while Jillian has never donned a pair of skates, the aspiring sports agent’s love for hockey is no way lesser that the emerging NHL star’s. When they reconnect almost a decade later, both have found a way to dedicate their lives to the sport they love in very different ways. And, since this is a romance after all, they find themselves in need each other to advance their careers, but their pesky, long-simmering mutual attraction could jeopardize everything they’ve worked for.
Like all sports romances, Going for the Goal isn’t really about the sport itself. It’s about loyalty, resilience and determination. Most importantly, it’s a love story about two people who are too busy trying to take care of everyone else around them to see that they are perfect for each other. So even if you consider yourself a person that doesn’t like sports, you may find still something to love in them—even if it is just the cheese dip.
Growing up, Sara Rider dreamed of becoming a professional soccer player. When that dream was squashed by her extreme dislike of running, she decided to do the next best thing: write about professional soccer players. By day, Sara spends her time working in the field of research ethics and daydreams about plotlines and character arcs. She spends far too much time at public libraries and never leaves the house without a paperback or an e-reader stuffed into her purse.