A Journey of Perseverance, Determination, Grit, and Strength Sends Inspiration and Motivation Across the Soccer Community
Published Jun 14, 2021

Soccer and sports were put on hold in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic ran rampant across the world, causing athletes and fans to adapt to unprecedented outcomes and transitions. For Nahla Turner, however, 2020 was filled with a completely different battle she never saw coming.


The Dallas native and goalkeeper for WPSL’s own FC Dallas heard the words Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in January 2020, just a few days after returning to the University of Central Florida for the spring semester, and her world would forever change.


In July 2019, Turner began experiencing extreme pain and discomfort in her hip, but this didn’t immediately set off red flags in her mind. Collegiate athletes are accustomed to pushing their bodies to the limits to achieve their goals of performing at their full potential. As a goalkeeper, Turner was routinely diving and exerting herself in training and games, so the hip pain was easy for her to credit as a possibility of landing wrong on a dive or two.


Over the course of the next several weeks that pain became more intense, causing Turner to go for an MRI, however, even then no clear answers were provided. As Turner returned to UCF for the fall semester, she was filled with uncertainty and pain with no real solution in sight – ultimately leading to even more issues as she navigated through practices and classes.


It was to the point I couldn’t go to school and had to skip classes and was taking an unhealthy amount of pain killers, but it was still just getting worse,” Turner said. “It was horrible, I ended up being on crutches by the end of the year.


Towards the end of the semester, the symptoms evolved from localized pain in her hip as Turner’s overall health began to decline, and once it reached the point of the inability to even get out of bed, Turner’s parents knew something else was going on much deeper than a standard goalkeeping injury.


That winter break, Turner returned home for more doctors’ visits hoping to receive an answer, as well as a solution, to the last five months of pain and uncertainty - an explanation would be given, but it was not the diagnosis she, nor her family, would have expected to hear.


At first, I didn’t realize what it was and then it just clicked, and I had to hang up the phone because I was in such shock, like what did I just hear”, Turner said. “I was hopeless and crying and screaming why me?


Over the following six months, Turner would undergo six rounds of chemotherapy and ten rounds of radiation treatments – an experience the pain she was feeling in her hip wouldn’t prepare her for.


It’s like a poison to kill a poison basically and my body felt like I was on the brink of death”, Turner said. “It was horrible.”


Turner has always had that natural fighting spirit – one that led her to the goalkeeping position in her earlier playing years. Originally a field player, Turner’s coaches felt her aggressive play was more valuable in the net and it was a switch that she grew to love and flourish in.


It would be this same aggressiveness and warrior mindset that would give her the strength to take this battle head-on and take this fight to a whole new level as her ultimate focus was set on returning to the soccer field.


In order to make that focus a reality, Turner knew she had to concentrate on other things to take her mind away from having cancer, and with her treatments taking place while classes were still in session, Turner turned her attention to her studies.


In doing so, Turner took on a heavier class load and earned recognition by making the Dean’s list – a feat she credits to the support she had around her.


I wanted to beat the odds. I already entered college earlier than I was supposed to, and I wanted to graduate early, and I still had that goal in mind, so I wasn’t going to give up,” Turner said. “So, I kept my mind off it by doing school work and thankfully I had really understanding professors who helped me along the way and that really motivated me harder because I thought… I’m not in this alone... my professors have me… my parents are helping me… I can do this.”


Due to the severity of the tumor, doctors told Turner there was a real possibility she wouldn’t walk normally again, or even at all, after this but even through the hair loss, aggressive treatments, weakening and draining symptoms, and the process to freeze her eggs, she showed inspiring strength and positivity to help her overcome this devastating diagnosis.


Just seeing my parents heartbroken was enough to be like “I can’t quit, I can’t give up”, Turner said. “And I didn’t want this to be the end. I didn’t want this to be the end of my life… to be the end of soccer.”


And it wouldn’t be the end for her or for soccer.


In late October 2020, Turner would hear the words “no more cancer” after her PET scans showed she had overcome and won her fight with cancer and would soon find herself back on the soccer field doing what she loves and focusing on the little things she once took for granted.


I never knew how meaningful it was to lace up my cleats or strap my gloves on,” Turner said. “Those things you take for granted and don’t really think about and when I was able to do them again, I was very emotionally.


Even though she had won her fight with cancer, Turner had to fight even more to get her body and fitness back to competitive shape that she once was. With chemo, came steroids that caused her to gain upwards of 35 pounds, and her body was still weak even as the treatments ended – a hurdle Turner knew she would have to overcome to get back to where she needed to be.


Having dropped the extra weight and pushing herself with conditioning in preparation for her fitness test her team would hold on the anniversary of receiving her original diagnosis, Turner not only passed her fitness test but set a new personal record as she was fitter than she’s ever been.


Turner has since graduated from UCF and has returned to the competitive level as she joins FC Dallas this summer for the 2021 WPSL season and her dream of one day playing at the professional level is still a prominent goal in her eyes.


I didn’t want to take a break; I want to go pro and make it to the big stage, and I know I am,” Turner said. “And I think the WPSL is a great avenue for that, and I am very grateful to have the opportunity to play with FC Dallas and the resources they have.”


FC Dallas currently has three alumnae playing professionally in the National Women’s Soccer LeagueAddie McCain (2018) of Kansas City, Katie Lund (2018-19) of Racing Louisville, and Chelsee Washington (2018-19) of the Orlando Pride.


As Turner returns the net as a cancer survivor, she has encouraging words for those who are currently facing what she did.


Use your cancer diagnosis as fuel because you’re going to inspire millions of women, men, boys, and girls around the world just by fighting that horrible disease,” Turner said. “Before you even beat the cancer, you’re already inspiring millions of people. Yes, do it for yourself, but do it for them as well because you’ve got people looking up to you and as soon as you ring that bell and are cancer-free, it feels amazing.”



     Author:   Nichole Singleton,  @nicholemcreativ (twitter)
                   WPSL Director of Communications and Creative Services