By Brittany Alvarado
“I’ve been an underdog my whole life,” Loyden said. “I didn’t always play on the best teams. I never had goalkeeper training until I got to college. I wasn’t recruited by all these big-time college schools, and I was never on any youth national teams or anything like that. I’ve kind of always been an underdog. The person least likely to succeed.”
That may have been true, but Loyden’s college career at Villanova says otherwise. There, she established herself not only as one of the greatest goalkeepers in The Big East, but in the nation.
Loyden had a stellar four years that included being named Big East Goalkeeper of the Year in three consecutive seasons (2005-2007), which was the first time that had happened in conference history. She broke the school record for wins, shutouts, and minutes played, and she became the first player in Villanova history to become a first-team All-American.
With that resume, Loyden was drafted by the St. Louis Athletica in 2009 in the inaugural draft of Women’s Professional Soccer. There, she served as the backup to Hope Solo before becoming the starting keeper for the Chicago Red Stars in 2010. She got her big break around this time when she was called up to the U.S. National Team after. In 2011, she secured a spot on the Women’s World Cup team as the squad’s third goalkeeper.
Loyden’s dreams were coming true until a proverbial freight train stopped her in her tracks.
February 10, 2012 is a major marker on Loyden’s personal timeline. On that day, her life changed forever. On Feb 9, Loyden’s sister, Britton, was reported missing. The next day, Britton was found dead in her Vineland, New Jersey home at the age of 23. She was murdered at the hands of her boyfriend. Britton was believed to have been pushed to her death.
Left behind in the wake of the tragedy was Britton’s son, two-year-old Madden. Jill took some time off from soccer to grieve and to get to know her nephew in the months following the tragedy.
“I think that my sister was one of the best moms I’ve ever met,” Jill said. “She was incredible. She loved Madden with everything she had. She would give up her whole world just to spend time with him. She worked three jobs to give him the best of everything she could and I think that that’s something that my family is really taking on.”
“My family wants to make sure that Madden is forever taken care of,” Jill said. “We obviously know we will never replace his mother, but we’re just going to try and raise him with as much love and care that we can so that when he is a grown man, he knows how to treat women. Our focus and our mission is to just constantly remind him of how much he is loved, how much his mom loved him and, that he is going to be a great man.”
On and off the pitch, Jill does everything she can to honor her sister.
“Every National Anthem I always close my eyes. I sing and I just think of my sister, and I just think of her smiling,” Jill said. “It brings me such joy. I give her a little sign before the start of every half and I just carry her with me everywhere.”
Jill created the Jillian Loyden Foundation, which aims to inspire and empower children and young adults by helping them develop leadership qualities and self-esteem. The mission of the foundation is to help raise awareness and funds to abolish domestic violence, and to do this, every year they hold a “Break the Silence Gala.”
Even old teammates are getting involved. Former U.S. National teammate Heather Mitts designed a t-shirt that people can purchase with funds benefitting the Jillian Loyden Foundation.
“I just want to make her proud in everything I do, whether it’s on the field with Madden or with the Foundation,” Jill said of Britton. “I want to impact people’s lives because she left me a changed person. She left me living life with more joy and happiness, and that’s how her legacy will live on, — if I can continue to do that for her.”
Jill has quite the platform to carry on her sister’s legacy, and make an impact in others’ lives.
“I just want to encourage anyone, whatever situation they are going through that they can get through it, and they can find victory and success in whatever they want to do,” Jill said. “It just takes a lot of work, perseverance, and heart.”
Jill Loyden is simply one of a kind. Her fight, heart, work ethic, and determination go above and beyond what life has thrown at her. She never let the people who told her “she can’t” stop her relentless pursuit for greatness. Moreover, she never let such devastation and personal tragedy outshine her smile and willingness to help others.
“If I could sum it up in two words, I would say ‘You can,'” Jill said. “You can get out of a bad relationship, you can become a professional soccer player, you can get straight A’s, or you can be the best big sister in the world or whatever it is that you find yourself doing — You can!”
Jill is proof that it’s not always about the statistics or results, but how you make a difference outside the lines. Somewhere out there, Britton is looking down and proud to have Jill as her sister.
Thank you for showing the world that through perseverance and hard work, adversity can be overcome and dreams can come true. Thank you for being you, Jill Loyden.
*Check out the full interview.