But Jamaica’s Cheyna Matthews is a new mother and that’s what moms do. So she was still nursing her son Josiah - now nine months - up to the time the Reggae Girlz left for the last month’swomen’s World Cup soccer tournament in France.
“When I had my first camp in Jamaica I was still breastfeeding,” Matthews told Caribbean Today here. “Honestly, I was still breastfeeding up until I came to Europe.”
That’s when mother and child had to be separated. It hurt.
“This is the longest we’ve been apart,” said Matthews, who was eventually joined here by Josiah just before Jamaica’s first World Cup match against Brazil on June 9, a match she started.
For Matthews it was a tough, but gratifying struggle racing the clock to seal a place in Jamaica’s World Cup squad. Following Josiah’s birth, she had to recuperate before getting the green light to train.
“It was challenging,” explained Matthews, a forward. “I had my first camp with Jamaica when he was four months old.
“So I worked very hard. From the time he was born you get cleared to run and stuff after six weeks. I didn’t have any setbacks, so I just worked my way up from there to the four months so I was ready for camp. So now I’m here.”
Before the World Cup, Matthews, who is from Georgia, United States, had Josiah with her most times. When that isn’t possible, she relies on her mother Corinia Williams, who’s from Jamaica, the connection which makes her eligible to represent the Girlz. Although she has confidence in Williams, separation from her son is always difficult.
“It’s hard,” said Matthews. “It’s really hard, but I know he’s in good hands… Well, she raised me, so I trust her.
“Being away from him and not seeing him,” she added. “… We were with each other every day, pretty much, up until this point, besides, you know, maybe a weekend for my club games.”
Major support also comes from her husband Jordan Matthews, a wide receiver with National Football League (NFL) club San Francisco 49ers. As a professional, he understands the demands his wife faces.
“Absolutely,” Cheyna explained. “He is really big on recovery. So there are times when I get home and, you know, all I want to do is care for my son and he’s like ‘No, I got it. Go take an epsom salt bath’. Or ‘Make sure you get a massage or different treatments that you need’.
“… So he’s been good in a sense that he makes sure that I’m taking care of my body.”
The two met in college, when Cheyna was a freshman at Vanderbilt and Jordan a junior. They became “good friends,” she said. When she was drafted by the Washington Spirit of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) in the U.S. Jordan was with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles in Pennsylvania, not far away. They began dating and later got married. However, although Jordan has played soccer, Cheyna said there are lines they don’t cross.
“He doesn’t like to give me too much advice, because we don’t give each other advice on our sports,” she said. “But we understand, I guess, the commitment to the sports … We’re professionals.”
The NWSL and NFL seasons are played at different times of the year, so Cheyna and Jordan have worked out a home base solution.
“Our seasons are exact opposite,” she said. “So when I’m playing in-season, he’s training in the off-season where I play. And then when he’s in season I train in the off-season where he plays.”
Now Josiah is part of the family. So he’ll be wherever his parents are. He won’t remember much of what’s happening now, especially that his mom was part of a historic Jamaica team which was the first from the Caribbean to qualify for a women’s World Cup. But Cheyna promises to tell him. She sends him a blog.
Yet there was one really special World Cup snapshot. Just before Jamaica’s final game Cheyna saw Josiah in the stands and “he clapped for me,” she recalled.
“That was a crazy moment,” she added. “That’s the moment that kind of stuck in my head.”
When he’s older, Cheyna said, she won’t push Josiah to play sports. If he does, however, she would prefer he choose soccer, not American football, “because I just love this game so much.” If he does too, she vows to be a soccer mom, although she doesn't guarantee she’ll be yelling from the sidelines.
“I’ll talk tactics,” Cheyna said.
In the meantime, she’s been a role model to her Jamaica teammates. The Girlz made up the youngest squad at the World Cup, meaning all are -potentially - future mothers. They observe Cheynaand ask questions.
“I think it’s also cool for them to see, kinda how I handle it, and I’ve definitely taken on a motherly role with some of the girls,” she explained.
“Like Jodi Brown, who’s like the youngest player on our team (at 17). She calls me mama and I call her pickney. So it’s funny to have those relationships, but still be able to relate to the girls.
“I’m still only 25, so we have a good time. We laugh. Sometimes they forget until they see my son … So it’s cool on that level, but also to kinda see that it’s possible too.”
Cheyna embraces the glory and rewards of top level sports, but it’s Josiah that gives her most grounding.
“Yeah, (his birth) just puts everything into perspective,” she explained.
“I just have this human that just loves me no matter what. No matter what happens, my number one responsibility right now is to care for him.
“It gives me also a sense of purpose, but also, you know, it’s encouraging to know that I can do this and still have a career.”