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MEMBER MONDAY: MaryFrances “Frankie” Bigony

MEMBER MONDAY: MaryFrances “Frankie” Bigony

It's never too late to try something new — whether it's a sport that was a childhood dream or something that caught your eye as an adult. This mindset is something that MaryFrances “Frankie” Bigony has always carried with her and hopes to pass on to others. 

Soccer, in particular, is a sport that Bigony has loved since she learned about it when her daughter started playing. Participating in team sports had never been a possibility for Bigony when she was young, but fast forward to 2021, and she has now been immersed in the soccer community and on the pitch for nearly 10 years. The secret to her motivation? The desire to experience everything.

Through this mantra, Bigony has been able to experience the joys of our sport and won’t stop until women her age experience those same benefits. As we prepare to take the pitch in 2022, we are honored to have the support of ACFC Members like Bigony who are advocating for our sport and our team in their own communities.

This is MaryFrances “Frankie” Bigony.

Angel City FC’s Member Monday series is presented by Birdies.

 

Q: At what age did you begin playing soccer and how long have you been playing? Can you share a story about your first playing experience? 

A: I'm 74 and started playing soccer about 10 years ago. The first time I played, I was put in a game unexpectedly. I thought I would be watching an Adult Soccer League women's recreational game and attending a training session. Instead, I found myself on the field, in a game, with no idea of what to do. Before I knew it I was carrying the ball up the side with a defender threatening me, as I had watched my daughter do. When I realized I was going to have to turn in toward the goal (hadn't thought of passing!), I was worried about running into my defender, but thought I had no choice, so I started my turn and we both went down. When I landed, my first thought was, "Now I'm really playing soccer!" The ref called a foul on her and I had a free shot, which kind of pathetically dribbled away from me. I loved all of it and couldn't wait to play again!

Q: How do you overcome any fears or challenges associated with trying something for the first time?

A: "If other people can do this, so can I," is something I tell myself. It's not quite as simple as that, but if I prepare as much as I can, I believe I can make a good faith effort trying. I also remind myself that everyone was once a novice. And I tell myself that sometimes one must just blindly jump in, as long as it's safe. What's the worst that can happen? You look back and laugh at yourself? Others laugh at you? Then you've got a good story! Go for it! 

 

Q: What advice would you give someone who wants to try something new?

A: Good for you! This is going to be great. Don't worry because everyone started as a novice, and it's nonsensical to compare yourself to those who are more experienced. Focus on the fact that you are a student, learning to do it, and enjoy the journey. Be humble because you may never become "as good as you want to be," but as you continue to try, and make incremental improvements, your success will bring you satisfaction and joy, and that makes it worthwhile. The journey is as much fun as the destination, so even if you never get there, that's okay! Also, you could become uncharacteristically passionate about and derive a ton of joy from this "something new." So don't miss the opportunity to try something new!

 

Q: In addition to soccer, we heard you’re an avid backpacker and rock climber. What are a few of your favorite trails or climbs that you have done? What keeps you coming back to backpacking and rock climbing?

A: Oh my! I do continue to be an avid backpacker, and I did climb for nine years, but I left climbing a few years after my most memorable climb: the Northwest Face of Half Dome in Yosemite Valley, in 1980. It was a pivotal point in my life: the tight subculture of rock climbing had become all-consuming, and I wanted a change of direction. I decided to change careers to something more in line with my long-term goals. I started law school at night, while working during the day, and had no time for climbing, although it will never fully leave my heart and mind.

As a climber, I had not understood the lure of backpacking. Climbing gear is very heavy and that made me wonder why anyone would carry a heavy pack, just to walk on dirt and rocks. Hikers are certainly not rewarded with that adrenalin rush I got from an elegant ascent of a pristine vertical granite wall. Then I discovered the John Muir Trail: 213.7 miles of gorgeous undeniable bliss, with a total elevation gain of 47,000'. I backpacked for years with my husband and daughter, and then she and I did the entire John Muir Trail the summer before her senior year of high school. It was an epic adventure and a true highlight of my life. 

One of my goals is to hike to the top of Mt. Whitney (14,505') with an elevation gain of over 6,100' and a round trip distance of 22 miles, every year until I'm at least 80. Lately I've been doing it solo. What keeps me coming back to backpacking is a poor memory of the hard parts and an excellent memory of the blissful parts, as well as the desire to conquer the mountain (which over the decades has become my friend because I know it so well) one more time. And sometimes I dream of doing another breathtaking trek in the Himalayas, like the Annapurna Circuit that we did in 2017. . . somehow I don't remember trekking up to Thorung La pass (17,769' elevation), and touching the edge of the Tibetan plateau being difficult. . .  funny how our minds work that way. 

 

Q: Do you have any quotes that you live by?

A: Actually I have three: 

1."The more I practice, the better I get. The better I get, the more fun I have!" Rose Lavelle. Rose's quote is 100% me. I am thrilled and filled with joy when I practice soccer, improve, and put it in a game! 

2. "You don't quit because you got old; you got old because you quit!" Unknown. This quote really hit home during the pandemic as my soccer teams were not playing and I found myself practicing less and less; the consequences were real and I had to turn it around. 

3."Never quit and never overdo it!" (I don't know, I just started saying it). This quote is self-explanatory: as I age, I want to keep up a relevant level of activity, especially by continuing to practice (even alone) and play with my teams, especially my over 70's tournament team, but overdoing it would only prevent that.

 

Q: Who or what is your biggest motivator in life?

A: Joy? Curiosity? Fear of boredom? Love? I honestly don't know; maybe they all are. I decided at 18 that I did not want to live my life vicariously; I wanted to experience everything. Well, almost everything. As for who my biggest motivator is, it isn't a single person, it's the brilliant women around the world who have been the movers and shakers, leaders and trailblazers, in science, math, industry, medicine, the arts, sports and politics. I am astounded and humbled by their brilliance, perseverance and compassion.

Q: When do you feel bold? What makes you feel bold?

A: I feel bold when I take a risk, but my risks are highly calculated. I'm the first to turn around and go back when a river could be too high and swift to cross, or the winter weather too threatening to hike in the mountains. If my safety, or the safety of others is at risk, I won't be bold, but if a risk means possible embarrassment, I'm more likely to take the risk. Sometimes when I want to feel bold, I wear clothing that is unusual. I remember feeling bold on the very rare occasions when I would climb with another woman in the early 70's. We felt competent and powerful as trailblazers in a sport that had very few women. It has taken years for me to be bold enough to jump in and express my opinion on something culturally sensitive, where I don't know what people's reactions will be, but I've found it very rewarding to start those conversations. 

 

Q: What does it mean to you to have a professional women’s soccer team in Los Angeles?

A: As a woman who grew up without the benefits of Title IX, having a professional women's soccer team in Los Angeles is huge. Before Title IX passed in 1972, women did not have the same opportunities as men to play sports; there were no women's sports teams in schools, and no way for women to play professionally. Since Title IX passed, women have had the legal opportunity to perform at the top level of professional competition for decades, but finding the financial resources and societal support to make it happen has not been easy. Angel City FC is one more step in the right direction for women. It's more than just soccer; it's the further advancement of gender equality, for all purposes and for all people.

 

Q: What are you looking forward to most from Angel City FC’s inaugural season in 2022?

A: I'm looking forward to the camaraderie among Angel City FC fans. When I go to an LA Galaxy or LAFC game with friends, we love the soccer, but I think with our own women's professional soccer club, Angel City FC, we'll love more than the game; there will be an instant friendship and sense of belonging among us fans, a bonding with the team, and a sense of accomplishment to finally have a women's professional soccer club, especially after waiting so long. A woman's team is more personal; it hits closer to home. Of course I want to feel the pride of watching MY TEAM win, but win or lose, they are my team, and I'll love them either way! 


Q: What’s next on your list of activities to try, places to go, or things to accomplish?

A: Glad you asked. There is something new I'd like to accomplish. I want to start a soccer society for older women. It saddens me to think many older women are missing out on the fun I'm having with soccer: the friendships, practices, games I play in and teams, like Angel City FC, that I care about. Soccer has done a lot for my mental and physical health, and I want to make it easy and fun for older women to get the same benefits. We all know exercise is good for us, but what if I told you that for me, learning to move a ball with my foot is arguably as good for my mental and physical health as learning to dance is? I'm not a medical professional, but I know that soccer has made me stand straighter, balance easier, remain flexible, be more alert, increase my aerobic and muscle strength and it has definitely reduced stiffness. It's also made me energetic and optimistic!

With that in mind, I'd like to start a soccer society "soccercise" where older women meet in a park, for free, not to learn to dance, but to learn how to dance with, or move with the ball. Moving in and around cones, passing, dribbling, shooting, pulling back, stepping over, all of it, would be a blast for women who aren't motivated to exercise in a gym or work out by themselves. I can already hear the laughter as we begin the journey of learning. If they eventually want to scrimmage, well then by all means! I can't wait to hear what their families say when they tell them they are learning to play soccer. I still don't want to live my life vicariously, and for those women who are similarly motivated, "soccercise" might be just the ticket. Then, after an hour of so much fun, we just might go for a cup of coffee or a drink, to celebrate how wonderful life is!


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