Forty-One sat down with Model and Creative Maya Stephen to learn about her journey from Lakeworth FL to the Nation’s Capitol, betting on herself and her unique style has helped her become one of the freshest faces in North American soccer this year.
Forty-One: When did you start playing soccer?
Maya: I started playing soccer. I think I like five or six. My entire family loved soccer. I have three brothers, so it’s super easy to just grab a wall and go outside and play with them. So I just started really young. It drove my competitive spirit. Never looked back.
Did your parents have a big influence on you playing the game?
My mom is German and my father is Haitian. So, individually they both loved soccer, that was like their sport within their country and cultural background. But I think I work well on my own, like I’m my own self- motivation, so it was always just like me running outside trying to get better. There was like no real outside influence.
What was your first experience like playing organized soccer?
My first time playing was a local rec team, I played for Lantana Rec Soccer. So I played two years in elementary and then only really played in middle school and high school, but Yeah, those were like my formative years and when I remember just falling in love with the sport. I played every sport in high school and middle school, but soccer was like the number one for sure.
After high school, where did life take you?
I knew I wanted to leave Florida and kind of like, see the world, get an education, and use soccer as a way to do that.
So I did a soccer ID camp my summer of junior year, I got scouted by some coaches, and committed to an NAIA school in Boston called Fisher College. I went there after graduating high school, and played two years there. We made it to the playoffs our first year, It was pretty fun, the first time in school history, so that was cool.
But after that I transferred, moved out to California, and finished my studies at Sacramento State. I got a bachelor’s degree in communications, I knew I wanted to stay involved in sports mainly soccer, but after graduating, I kind of just like went in survival mode and had to get a job.
I dedicated some of my time to working in mental health, which really led me to being the person I am today. I’m really… I think patient with people I like my work to have value and purpose. So I translate that now into what I do for the Washington spirit, but yeah, I’ve kind of been all over. A few different states, a few different cities, kind of like building a robust background.
How did you make the transition from doing the work you needed to do to pay the bills, and now getting a job back where it all started?
I just knew I wasn’t going down the right path and I think this whole time I knew where I wanted to be within the women’s game specifically women.
It just feels so good to be around strong female leaders and athletes. It’s extremely soothing. So, yeah, it just kind of happened that way. I swear I applied to over a hundred jobs in the last year, just to get my foot in the door and get started in the industry.
I was ready to talk to anyone, connect with anyone, and just start a conversation. And it’s surreal that I’m where I am now because I’ve had this vision for so long. I’m still, as I tell people, in my dream state. I’m like, “oh wow I work in women’s professional soccer.”
It doesn’t get any better than this.
What was that moment like? when you got the call or email that you got the job with the Washington Spirit?
It’s actually funny. It was a Friday. It was not necessarily the best Friday for me. My previous job was remote, so I was working from home, but I actually was like, I need some fresh air.
I need to like, see people interact. So I went to my local coffee shop down the street, Somewhere Cafe, and I’m on my laptop working, honestly, not trying to work in this industry that I’m in. And I get a call, I answer it, and it’s Emma May, my new boss.
I haven’t heard from them for like, three weeks. So I was just like, all right, giving up on that role, moving on to the next thing. But yeah, she said I got the position and I just remember kind of being frozen in time. Like it was pretty rough to detach from what was happening and what I was hearing.
But yeah, it was amazing. I remember calling my family and my best friend right after and being like, “I got the job.” And my mom couldn’t even believe it. She’s like, “what? this is it! this is it!” So it still feels like It was so recent, like it happened yesterday, cause I still have that feeling inside. Kind of like I made it, I’m here. I worked hard to get to this point and it paid off. So yeah, it was, it was a pretty cool day.
What do you do for the Washington Spirit?
I’m an administrative assistant for their business operations department. I work directly under our president, Emma May.
So I already knew working directly under her, I’d be learning so much about business. She comes from so many different markets within sports. So I assist with brand marketing, communications, I’m kind of like the helper and assistant for everyone. So it is cool.
I’m learning what everyone does individually. And for myself, I’m understanding what I might like to take away from this and where I want to go specifically.
You do something that is your own personal endeavor, can you talk a little bit about that?
I started a social platform called Kicks Undefined. I think women athletes struggle with only getting the spotlight when they break records. They only get recognition when they’re the first to do something, the highest scoring X, Y, Z, and I found that to be, you know, embarrassing for the sports industry. Like, we should be highlighting these women in ways that male athletes are highlighted.
Specifically, I love fashion. I love someone’s personal style, I think everyone shows their personality through what they decide to wear, for athletes, the spotlights always on them. So Yeah, I wanted to start this social platform to kind of encompass a comfortable, safe space for athletes to be showcased in a way that wasn’t sports specific. It’s like my little baby. We’re growing, slowly but surely.
As you forge your path through this space, what type of legacy would you like to leave? What does that mean to you?
I think the word legacy means a lot to me. I would say I use it as a daily driving force just to try to do better, push myself, help someone. I don’t think it’s about how large of an impact I make, it’s about the impact that I make. Especially on little black girls or queer women or, any type of cultural similarity I might have with someone.
Again, we’re put in so many boxes that any barrier I break shows someone similar to me that they can do the same. And I think we struggle, we as in someone like me, struggle with seeing that in pop culture and in media. But as you can see now, our spaces are changing and that’s amazing. So I have role models now to look up to, and I’m hoping to pass that on and be a role model for the next generations to come.