GREENSBORO, NC – UNCG assistant coach Megan Kinneman played her college ball at Louisiana State University, minding the net for the Tigers at the LSU Soccer Stadium in Baton Rouge, just 56 feet above sea level. Last Wednesday, she was playing at a world record height of 18,799 feet, or more than 187 fields at Tiger Stadium, home of the LSU football team, higher.
Kinneman joined 29 other women from 20 countries on a seven-day hike up Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania to play at the highest altitude for a soccer match in history. The hike and subsequent game was a kickoff event for the Equal Playing Field Initiative, creating a platform to challenge the inequalities of women’s sports across the globe.
The opportunity was a surprise one for the Missouri City, Texas native, who wasn’t on the initial roster for the event.
“A goalkeeper had an issue with her visa last minute and they needed a replacement,” said Kinneman. “One of the founders reached out to my former teammate and one of the coaches of the Afghanistan Women's National Team. She gave her my name and luckily I was able to make it work to attend one week before the hike.”
Especially with such little time to prepare, the challenges of playing at such high altitude were apparent from the jump for everyone involved. However, that didn’t keep the athletes from putting on a good show.
“Our guides and support staff did a very good job of taking us on a path that would acclimate us appropriately to the altitude,” stated Kinneman. “They gave us the best chance for success. During the game, you could definitely feel how thin the air was and the recovery time was much longer than usual. I expected much more walking in the game, but the soccer was actually quite good for the beach like surface.”
Battling the tough environment, the former SEC All-Freshman standout was able to keep a clean sheet as the two teams fought to a 0-0 draw.
“Completing the mission of the world record was really the ultimate goal, but it is difficult to shut down the competitive side of 30 athletes,” Kinneman said. “Both teams had multiple chances and it was an added bonus to keep a shutout in the world record breaking game.”
Playing overseas was not an entirely new experience for Kinneman, who played in goal for Norwegian club Arna Bjornar for a year before joining the UNCG coaching staff. This time around, however, was unlike anything she had every experienced before.
“It was an unbelievable experience in all aspects,” she said. “I think that just climbing the mountain alone would have been amazing because it is a beautiful area and a challenging climb. The people involved were equally as impressive and inspiring. Then, to top it off, we succeeded in breaking the world record. It is easily one of the best experiences of my life and I am very proud to have been involved.”
With the world record game now complete, the next step for the Equal Playing Field initiative will be to host 16 clinics in various locations around the globe. This match and the clinics have been organized to raise awareness for some of the issues women and girls face when playing sport.
“I am very impressed by the founders and the idea that they have created,” Kinneman concluded. “I think they brought together many inspiring women to bring attention to the inequalities in football and beyond across the globe. The next step of running 16 clinics to provide quality coaching and organization is going to be very impactful. I am excited to see how this impressive group of women and this project continues to challenge for equality.
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