Tori Foster, Sports Editor
Ruth Harker is a recent Hall of Famer in the St. Louis Soccer Hall of Fame. Harker is an alumnus from the University of Missouri–St. Louis.
Harker wasn’t specifically attracted to soccer. She felt like soccer kind of chose her. Harker states, “I loved being kinetic and being physical. I had a brother 13 months older who made me strong through rough housing, so glad for that. I was like Forrest Gump…I ran everywhere and knew I was meant to be in motion.”
Harker met a great coach named Marge Rosenthal. Once she was able to play sports, she played everything. She couldn’t help but to feel that she was very far behind in skills even though she had great athletic ability.
She says, “I really excelled at track and field and actually loved loved loved basketball but I was so unskilled that I even rebounded a ball twice at our defensive end put it back in and scored for the other team (Rosenthal pulled me from that game and said ‘get it together you are going back in’ greatest inspiration…building trust).” Harker landed her position as a goalkeeper because her coach thought that it would be the place for an athlete with zero foot skills.
Harker found her motivation for soccer from a set of twins known as the Gettemeyer twins, Jan and Joan. She met them in ninth grade while she was the equipment manager. She explains, “They asked me to try out for their team I had heard about how great they were, and they would come to school with these fantastic sweat suit jackets and winter jackets with their names on them.”
She likes soccer because the team moves as one game piece rather than track which felt more individualized. “I think the motivation to play is built into our DNA. I was always athletic, but the biggest motivator was building friendships and that sorority with something I loved and because I was an awkward kid, I really had very few friends.”
Harker have two favorite memories from her soccer career. The first memory was winning a game in overtime in Houston at an Olympic Festival. She broke her toe in the game, had it set on the field, then endured two overtimes and penalty kicks and winning. Her whole team was running to jump and hug her.
The second was at UMSL when the team had a bunch of home-grown talent. She stated, “The problem we were either from the North (Me and the Gettemeyers and few others) and then we had the South. We were bitter enemies during Missouri league play and now we had to play with one another.” UMSL played the North Carolina Tar Heels who was currently undefeated in their dynasty. With one-minute left in a tied game future Hall of Famer Patti Kelly came off the bench injured and scored handing the Heels their first defeat in their history. Harker’s worst enemy now was her hero. “It is embedded in my memory and has shaped me in life.”
She encourages parents to allow their kids to be on a team for interpersonal and intrapersonal skills alone, as these skills will serve them well in life. Harker has learned a lot of lessons from playing sports. “Sports taught me about trust, accountability, family being limitless and not being only about blood, and what to do with your success and how to keep raising the bar higher to stay motivated.” Her hardest lessons taught her to fail and what to do with that failure.
Harker also realized your nemeses can become your heroes, all actions have consequences, and you can be somebody’s role model and that everyone is a role model to someone. She stated, “The world is a beautiful place and diversity makes it so.”
When asked how it feels to be a Hall of Famer, she responded, “It is an honor and I am humbled. It makes me ready to use that platform for making a difference. Every day to choose what those lessons have taught me. I would have never foreseen this day if you would have asked me at 13 while equipment managing but my hope is that I would have been a good role model for that 13-year-old girl.”
Harker tells the upcoming generation of athletes to play other sports. Play as many sports as possible and always think about how long you want to play. Kids might say forever but kids get burnt out fast these days because of how narrowly we focus them at a young age. It is important to give back and be an advocate for children to be able to play regardless of money. Athletes should take a break and reflect on what they really want if they continuously don’t want to go to practice anymore.
After soccer, she was able to transition into the working world very well. She had so much support from her employers after college while she was in the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team pool. The typical day while playing for the first Women’s National Teamwas train, eat, sleep and be thankful to get their $10 daily. They allowed her to travel to train and come back to her job. In this way she was blessed.
She has stayed in touch with all her friend thanks to Facebook and a few UMSL reunions. Harker thinks of work as her new pitch and works as hard as she did at sports. She states, “Business is just like a game and knowing where to be when you don’t have the ball.”
Harker does not still play soccer. After her National Teampool years she did for a while but now she has no desire. She is done as a player but loves to coach.
Ruth Harker is a true inspiration to many rising athletes in the women’s soccer world.