ESPN’s E:60 series is known for great human-interest features, inspirational stories about athletes that move viewers, often to tears. Lisa Nouanesengsy’s story is certainly an inspirational one worthy of ESPN’s attention. It is a true reminder of her character and work on and off the pitch, a story of sportsmanship lived out in everyday life.
Nouanesengsy is a standout soccer player, best known for her time at Indiana University, whose life has been touched by tragedy. What makes Nouanesengsy so special is that she rebuilt her life and returned to the game she loved, a game that has been a big part of her life for years. There is something to be said for the fact that she didn’t give up; she didn’t turn in. Instead she returned to play at an incredibly high level, starring for the WPSL’s Columbus Eagles FC, and at the same time, inspired a number generation of soccer players in the Midwest.
Her story begins in Ohio as the Huber Heights native accomplished just about everything possible in her high school and club career. She was a four-year starter at Wayne High School, scored a jaw-dropping 68 career goals. She also tallied 73 assists, the fifth-most all-time among Ohio high school soccer players.
“As a high school player, my biggest memories would be playing with my childhood best friends and scoring a free kick in overtime at a tournament game from about 35-40 yards out,” Nouanesengsy shared. “I remember the feeling of my teammates rushing towards me and somebody picking me up as we celebrated.”
Celebrating after scoring goals became almost commonplace for this soccer star. It came as no surprise that she was named one of the top 50 senior girls soccer players in the country in addition to receiving All-Ohio, NSCAA All-Region, and All-American honors. She was also honored with the 23rd Rae Burick Women in Sports Award recipient, which goes to an outstanding female high school athlete in the Miami Valley based on athletic and academic excellence along with school and community involvement. This is not the last time you’ll hear about Nouanesengsy giving back to the community.
She played her club soccer with Ohio Elite, winning two state championships in addition to making an appearance in the national finals. She was also a three-year member of the ODP Region II team.
Her time with Ohio Elite was special, something she will always remember.
“As a youth club player, my biggest memory would probably have to be going to nationals in Boston with my club team Ohio Elite and placing second. I played up a year for Ohio Elite and all the girls on the team were incredibly good. It took a lot of hard work for me to get playing time and to start. I remember going to the tournament and at our first game, I came in as a sub and scored two goals right off the bat. Those two goals were my first goals ever with the team and I just remember the confidence I felt that day and throughout the tournament.”
She was quite the coveted prospect coming out of high school and ended up signing with Indiana University, where she continued her run of dominance. She would play in 80 collegiate games, starting 78 for the Hoosiers. Her goal scoring prowess was again on display as she registered 24 goals, five of which were game-winners, and eight assists for a total of 56 career points. Her goal and point totals were good enough for sixth all-time in Indiana University history, while her games played (third) and started (third) were also record-setting. She also was the only player in IU history to score three goals in a game on three separate occasions. She also earned an impressive collection of awards including the NSCAA/Continental Tire All-Great Lakes Region First Team, Second Team All-Big Ten, and Big Ten Player of the Week honors.
It’s no wonder that Nouanesengsy looked back at her time at IU with great fondness.
“As a college player, my biggest memories would be playing with girls who are still my best friends till this day and because I can’t just pick one memory I want to say all the memories of my senior year were awesome. My senior year at IU was just so fun and it was a great year of soccer for us. It was my first time in the Big Ten tournament which we made it to the semi-finals and the first time I got to play in the NCAA tournament. We beat DePaul at our home field in the first round and got to travel in a charter plane to play against UNC. Unfortunately, we lost to UNC but it was a season that I will always remember. My goal for my senior year was to play the very best soccer I could play and to play each game like it was my last. I truly believe that I was at the highest in my soccer career during this season and I gave it everything I had. I ended my senior year tallying 11 goals and three assists.”
She would graduate in May of 2014 before beginning graduate school at Shawnee State University. Tragedy would strike just months later, on October 24th, as a fire at her Portsmouth, Ohio apartment left the soccer star with extensive burns to her hands and legs. Her injuries were extremely serious and she was transported to OSU Medical Center in Columbus. Amazingly she would recover and go on to play in the WPSL, all the while giving back to the community with a series of soccer camps that benefited a very special charity.
Strive Soccer Camp was started in the summer of 2016 by Nouanesengsy and her boyfriend Chris Meister. The pair’s passion for soccer and coaching was a perfect match for raising money for the Phoenix Society, a charity that they had a special connection with.
“In October 2015, the OSU burn unit sent me to attend the Phoenix Society World Burn Congress,” Nouanesengsy added. “There I was able to not only meet other burn survivors and their families from all over the world, but to receive training to become a peer supporter. It was an amazing week for me. It was a week filled with happy and sad tears. Many burn survivors look forward to this congress every year. It’s a place where we can be surrounded by others who share both physical and emotional scars. I went home very inspired by all the amazing people I met there. The Phoenix Society does such a great job at hosting this event and a great job at supporting burn survivors and their families year-round.”
She returned with a mission, deciding to give back once again.
“I saw firsthand how much of a positive impact the Phoenix Society made on burn survivors and their families and I wanted to be part of this. I went home and told Chris that I wanted to operate some sort of event where we can raise money for the Phoenix Society. We came up with the idea of a soccer camp. It has taken a lot of hard work for both of us but we are so passionate and motivated to not only raise money for the Phoenix Society but to provide an individualized and inexpensive training to the kids in our community. Last year we raised $1,500 and we are hoping to raise more or close to that amount this summer.”
Her return to the pitch has been nothing short of amazing as she has led the way for the Eagles in the world’s largest women’s soccer league, the WPSL. She hasn’t missed a step and has been a leader and inspiration for all of those on and off the pitch. This weekend Nouanesengsy will take center stage as the Eagles face off against the Cincinnati Sirens FC at MAPFRE Stadium in one of the highest profile matches of the season.
“Playing for the Columbus Eagles has been a lot of fun,” Nouanesengsy continued. “I enjoy being surrounded by girls who are very competitive and passionate. Everyone on the team works hard and are all there simply because we all love playing the game. For a lot of us, coming to practice and playing in these games provide us with an outlet from the stress of work and/or school or life in general.”
Even though she is one of the most decorated player in IU’s history, Nouanesengsy still finds great value and competition in the WPSL.
“I believe the WPSL does well at making sure the league is competitive. It provides a great league for college soccer players who need to stay in shape and keep their soccer skills up during the summer. The league is also welcoming to those who just want to play even after college. Life after college athletics is a hard transition and the league provides opportunities for people like me to still keep playing in a league where it’s still competitive.”
While some people affected by tragedy and difficulty choose to become resentful, Nouanesengsy has done just the opposite. She has used the experience to help others, sharing many valuable lessons with those she is in contact with. Some of the most meaningful include:
• I want others to know that they have a purpose in life and for some, the purpose may not be clear right now, but I know they will find it one day. I want people to be grateful for the simple things in life. Sometimes we take the simple things in life for granted. In a quick second, my life changed. I am now disfigured and I no longer have full use of my hands. I no longer take anything – not even the simple things – for granted.
• People need to be reminded that life can change in an instant so it’s so important to count your blessings every day. Every day, my boyfriend and I tell each other three things we are grateful for. Even on bad days, this helps remind me that I still have several things to be grateful for.
• Surround yourself with good people because they will help you through the tough times in your life.
• Never give up even if life is doing everything in its power to tear you down. If you are going through a tough time in life, take it one day at a time, breathe, and find a way to do things that you enjoy.
Finding something she enjoys has brought her back to soccer. And the game is better because of Nouanesengsy and the journey that has made her the inspirational women she is today.
Off the field, she is working on her Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy and looks to graduate in December. Her long-term goal is to one day work in a burn unit as an occupational therapist. The theme of helping others is a big part of Nouanesengsy’s goals.
“Another one of my goals is to make a difference in people’s lives weather that’s through my career or through my camps. I know my purpose in life is to help other people. That is what makes me happy is knowing that I made a positive difference in their lives.”
It’s clear that Nouanesengsy is living her purpose each and every day. She has already made a positive difference in so many lives and will do so for many years to come.