In the long-running Rookies & Vets series in the Blade, local athletes on LGBT-inclusive teams have been spotlighted to show the dynamic between the two types of players.
In this installment, we turn to a professional team, the Washington Spirit, and take a look at an openly gay veteran and two rookies, one gay and one straight.
The Washington Spirit plays in the National Women’s Soccer League and is currently sitting near the top of the standings as they approach the last six games of the season.
Joanna Lohman is described by the Spirit’s publicity team as a complete badass and is known for her scrappy style of play and her signature ‘Jo-Hawk’ hairstyle. At 34 years old, she’s faster, stronger and smarter and is playing some of the best soccer of her career.
While growing up in Silver Spring, Md., Lohman was obsessed with elite athletes and played sports such as basketball, rugby, street hockey, tennis, swimming and cross-country. She found her niche in soccer and captained her team during her last two years at Penn State where she earned a degree in business and mathematics.
After playing for 12 years on teams all over the world, she was picked up by the Spirit as a midfielder in the waivers draft in 2014. Her game has soared since she returned to the area where she was born.
“I really found myself after coming home,” says Lohman. “I have always been unabashedly myself, but now I am surrounded by people who love me. That gives me confidence and I look forward to waking up every day. That reflects in my play.”
Lohman has never been shy about stepping forward and interacting with the rookie players. She finds that their vibrancy rubs off during team bonding activities and she offers advice both on and off the field.
“My demeanor speaks to being a role model and my energy can be contagious,” Lohman says. “I want to make the path a little easier for those who come behind me.”
Off the field Lohman works as a personal trainer, guest-coaches at local youth clubs, advocates for LGBT rights and has delivered TED Talks on the misconceptions of the lifestyles of female athletes.
“It’s not just about kicking the ball down the field, it’s about the whole community,” says Lohman. “I want each player on this team to feel like D.C. is their home. This is a great team that is happy and in a safe place.”
Two days after Didi Haracic graduated from Loyola University Maryland where she played for four years, she was playing with the Western New York Flash as a goalkeeper. Born in Bosnia and raised in Northern Virginia, Haracic chose to pursue soccer over her other two sports, hockey and basketball.
After playing with the Flash for almost two seasons she joined a team in Sweden to gain more experience. Throughout her college years, she had been on the Spirit reserve team and earlier this year she was called up to be their third-string goalie.
“I am a homebody and glad that I ended up back home near my family,” says Haracic. “I knew the Spirit was looking for a goalkeeper and I will have a better opportunity here.”
Haracic, 24, says she is comfortable with herself and hasn’t had a hard time fitting in with her new team. She even played before with fellow LGBT teammate Lohman on an amateur team in 2012.
While she waits for her moment to play, she is putting in quality training and will be ready to step up when the time comes. That moment could come at any time as fellow goalie Stephanie Labbe was called up to the Canadian national team for the Olympics.
“There is much to learn from the veteran players on the team,” Haracic says. “Watching their calm demeanor while they take shots directly at them keeps the team calm.”
Off the field, Haracic is coaching McLean Youth Soccer and National Cathedral soccer. She feels like the chemistry is already there with her teammates during their practice sessions.
“Anything can happen when you are waiting to be called up from the third-string position,” says Haracic. “I have patience and I will be ready to take advantage of that moment when it comes.”
Education and career has always been important for Cali Farquharson and she had an important decision to make after playing all four years as a forward at Arizona State University. She decided to follow her dream of being a professional soccer player and was drafted by the Spirit in 2016.
Growing up in Phoenix, she played a little volleyball but it was pretty much always soccer. It was a family sport as her brothers were also playing. In her first season with the Spirit she has played more minutes than any other rookie.
“You see these girls on social media and they have a level of celebrity,” says Farquharson. “It is pretty eye-opening when you find yourself playing alongside them.”
Despite their status, Farquharson has found the veteran players to be very welcoming and the transition to professional player easier than she was expecting.
“You can tell who the veterans are because they carry themselves differently,” Farquharson says. “I was struggling with my confidence level, but Jo (Lohman) has been helpful in reminding me not to over think everything.”
With five players pulled from the Spirit during mid-season to play for various national teams, Farquharson, at 22, has been offered new opportunities and intends to capitalize on them.
“I am always hungry and I really wanted to be a starter,” says Farquharson. “I love this team and at this level, it’s rare for everyone to get along as well as we do. I want to be the best player I can be for them and for myself.”