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Junior midfielder Abby Elinsky and the Tar Heels face South Carolina in the quarterfinals of the NCAA women's soccer tournament.Nick Elinsky knew right away because siblings see through poker faces. He knew as soon as the quiz landed on the desk in front...

NCAA women's soccer -- Soccer helps North Carolina's Abby Elinsky begin to heal after brother's death

Junior midfielder Abby Elinsky and the Tar Heels face South Carolina in the quarterfinals of the NCAA women's soccer tournament.Nick Elinsky knew right away because siblings see through poker faces. He knew as soon as the quiz landed on the desk in front...

NCAA women's soccer -- Soccer helps North Carolina's Abby Elinsky begin to heal after brother's death

Junior midfielder Abby Elinsky and the Tar Heels face South Carolina in the quarterfinals of the NCAA women's soccer tournament.

Nick Elinsky knew right away because siblings see through poker faces. He knew as soon as the quiz landed on the desk in front of his younger sister Abby during a morning class at the University of North Carolina in late September. The quizzes were designed to see if everyone had done the assigned reading. The day after a soccer game and with her family in town, Abby might have been a few pages behind.

"He's just sitting there laughing," Abby recalled of her guest in class that day. "Because he knows exactly what's going through my head."

By the end of the class, despite several surreptitious kicks to his desk, he had dozed off. This time all she could do was laugh. It was her world. It wasn't his. But as the day went on, they walked around campus. They hung out with her teammates in the training room. Brother and sister sat in the stands at Fetzer Field to watch the men's soccer team play on a warm, sunny fall evening in Chapel Hill. He could read his sister then, too. He knew this was the place she sought.

"It was just cool to have him around and get to show him what my days are like," Abby said. "It was a lot of fun for him to be like, 'This is awesome here; I love it.' It makes me happy to know he likes where I'm at and what I'm doing."

When No. 2 North Carolina plays No. 1 South Carolina in an NCAA tournament quarterfinal Friday, Abby will likely be in the starting lineup as a forward for the most successful program in the history of the sport. A transfer who gave up a full ride and security at Illinois, a less accomplished but far from inconsequential soccer program, she craved competition and believed she could play a part in something greater. No entity in sports celebrates competition more than the women's soccer program at North Carolina. So she took a chance. Now she is 90 minutes away from the College Cup.

It is one a moment she has lived for, so much of 20 years invested in reaching it.

And until Oct. 2, that made all the sense in the world to her.

In the early morning hours of Oct. 2 in Orlando, Nick was a passenger in the backseat of a car that lost control on a wet road. The police report shows that the car veered off the right side of the road, came back across both lanes in an overcorrection and broadsided a tree. Unresponsive at the scene, Nick was transported to a hospital. He died a few minutes after 11 a.m. that morning. He was 23.

Abby Elinsky idolized her brother, Nick, who was three years older. He died in October at age 23 in a single-car accident.

"Hey little sis, just wanted to let you know how proud I am of you. Keep doing what you're doing. I'm so proud of you, getting the education like you're doing and playing where you're playing. It's such a huge accomplishment, and I'm super proud of you."

That was the text message Abby received from her older brother a few weeks before his September visit and less than a month before his death. He always called her "little sis." But he rarely expressed his affection in such personal terms. When she really was little, she would sneak into his room as he slept and kiss him on the cheek, knowing full well he wouldn't permit such brazen displays of emotion when awake. He was three years older and her idol. They were raised to be tough by their dad, a wrestler who was a four-time All-American at Penn State and an Olympic alternate.

Yet the day-to-day experiences with Nick also shaped her. She wanted to keep up with him. She never wanted to show weakness, not even when she stared down his slap shots on a frozen pond near their home.

But their paths diverged. Nick took a year off after high school, then drifted away from school altogether. He lived for the water, for mornings on a surfboard. When she prayed at night, Abby asked God to watch over her family. Then she would offer an extra prayer for Nick, in her words "just because he needed it most."

North Carolina women's soccer player Abby Elinsky poses with brothers Nick, far right, and younger sibling Giovanni.

At the same time, he lived with an unmistakable joy. She saw that.

"Maybe a little crazy, just not as focused as he could be, maybe not as mature," Abby said. "But definitely enjoying life, which is something I admired about him. He was always just doing what he wanted to do and having a good time and living life to the fullest."

Charmed by Nick's latest Snapchat adventure, friends would try to cajole Abby into visiting. She would tell them she would go as soon as she got a break. That was often months away.

"We'd go out on the beach and go surfing and be exhausted from being out there all day," Abby said. "I knew as much as I enjoyed it, as much as I enjoyed being with him and being in Florida -- and it doesn't get much better than that, than being out on the ocean -- I hadn't been to the field in two days or whatever it was. I was like, 'I've got to go back to do what I have to do.' It was a nice break, but it didn't ever last as long as I would like just because of the different lifestyles."

The night before Nick's accident, Abby was on a road trip in Virginia. She recalled a moment in the hotel parking lot, of all places, as players used the open space for stretching and jogging after the bus ride. It struck her then that she had found what she always wanted. She was surrounded by a group of people as driven as she was, who wanted to compete for each other. Giving up the security of what she had at Illinois had meant stepping into a daunting void. But there she was two years later, happy.

She woke up the next morning to see a string of missed calls from her brother's girlfriend. She called her mom, who knew only that Nick had been in an accident. For a few tortured hours, she didn't know anything more or whether to stay or go. Eventually the bus delivered the rest of the team to the stadium for the game, then headed to the airport to drop off Abby. Just as she arrived, her dad called and told her Nick was gone.

Seven weeks later, she still has to stop herself when she thinks about texting him.

"I don't believe that time makes any of that stuff better," Abby said. "Plenty of people say that, you know, that time will help and it will help heal and that sort of stuff, but I don't know. Because the more time that goes by, the more you miss him or the more you want to do certain stuff with him. And I know that in my future, there will be those times -- like when you start a family or get married. And you had those sort of expectations that you would start a family around the same time as your brother and get to raise your families together.

"I think when I go through those experiences, it's just really never going to be easy because I'm going to want him there and want to do those things with him. It won't be the same."

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Abby scored her first goal for North Carolina in a win against Liberty in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Nov. 12, a low header tucked perfectly past the keeper that put the game away. As the camera found her emerging from the celebratory scrum of teammates, there was a smile on her face. Of all the emotions that have pulsed through her since the accident, joy can be among the most difficult to process. There are questions she can't escape. Did she spend too much time on herself? Did she devote too much of her time and energy to the single-minded pursuit of a game?

She wasn't sure at first whether to finish the season. The pain left her out of sync with the world around her. Yet she has since grown more attuned to its suffering. She learned that one of North Carolina's longtime assistant coaches, Chris Ducar, lost a brother in a motorcycle accident five years ago. She had been around him for two years and didn't know that. She knew him as the wry, cool coach who put so much of himself into his work. She saw a world without the person she loved most and didn't want to let it take anything else.

"I just think that if I didn't get back to what it is that I truly love to do every day, if I didn't do that or if I delayed doing that, I think I would have been a lot more lost in this process," Abby said. "And being back with my team and my coaches, they've helped so much."

The North Carolina team traveled en masse to Ohio for a memorial service for Nick before a game at Notre Dame in October. Afterward, Abby rode separately with her parents to the game in South Bend. She didn't play, and her plans beyond that night weren't set. But when the game ended, rather than get back in the car and return home, she got on the bus with her teammates.

It was where she needed to be at that moment, where life still made the most sense.

Her best friend would have known it just by looking at her.

Even if that only makes it hurt that much more.

Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.

Publish Date : 23 Şubat 2017 Perşembe 18:20

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