Thursday 30 January 2020, 14:35

Cheyna Matthews and family chasing football glory

  • Jamaica forward Cheyna Matthews aiming to help Reggae Girlz to Tokyo 2020

  • Husband Jordan is preparing to play in the Super Bowl with San Francisco 49ers

  • Matthews speaks about balancing life as a parent and a professional athlete

You would be very hard pressed to find something that would throw Cheyna Matthews off.

The fact that she is competing with Jamaica at the Concacaf Women's Olympic Qualifying tournament is impressive in itself. In the last two years alone, Matthews married husband Jordan, gave birth to their son Josiah, returned to professional soccer - where she plays for the Washington Spirit in the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) - and represented Jamaica in their first ever appearance at the FIFA Women's World Cup™.

Matthews is currently on a mission with the Reggae Girlz to build on their historic France 2019 adventure and qualify for the Women's Olympic Football Tournament for the first time in their history. Meanwhile, Jordan is preparing for his first Super Bowl as a wide receiver for the San Francisco 49ers. The past two seasons Jordan has been on the team that went on to win the Super Bowl, however, he was either cut or released before the championship game on both occasions due to various reasons. "And so this is the third year he’s been with a team that has now gone to the Super Bowl," Matthews said. "Hopefully they win it because it’s only fitting that this has happened three years in a row. It’s been an interesting road." caught up with Matthews to hear more about their "interesting road". What have the last nine months or so been like for you and your family?

Cheyna Matthews: It’s probably been the toughest nine months we’ve gone through, especially with the moves. Last year alone we moved six times, due to Jordan’s schedule with the 49ers and then the Eagles. It’s been an interesting and trying year as far as our careers and also being new parents and finding a balance. Trying to fit everything in was really wild, honestly.

What’s life on the road like as a parent? How do you manage it?

Having to travel away from my son Josiah when I had to train and attend camps the first few times was really hard. He was able to come to a few of them, but leading up to the World Cup I had gone about five weeks without seeing him. My first time seeing him was five weeks after I had already gone to Europe, so it was really challenging, but we always talk about the rewarding times, which is obviously when my family came out to France and with us all experiencing that together.

With Jordan winning the NFC Championship and us all being able to be there and enjoy that with him after everything we had gone through the year before, we’re very thankful that we got to experience that – but most importantly, experience it all together. Immediately after the NFC Championship game, I had a 6:30am flight the next morning to get to Olympic qualifying camp in time. We got to celebrate that night while I was packing! I had a connection in another city to drop my son off with my family before coming to camp to Houston.

Will you be able to get to the Super Bowl to support Jordan?

We don’t have a game on Super Bowl Sunday, so it might be a situation where, if we’re in a good enough place [in qualifying], I could fly out the morning of the Super Bowl and then fly back the next day because we wouldn’t play again for another couple of days. It’s all very crazy, but it’s nice to know that we both support each other and we will do anything to make it work. We know we can’t play professional sports forever, and family is forever, so we want to be there for each other in these moments and enjoy them.

The late Kobe Bryant gave a supportive message to Cheyna when she was pregnant with Josiah

How hard is it parenting a child while also maintaining and building on living out your dream of playing professional football?

Early on, there were so many days when I didn’t get the right amount of sleep and I had to go into training. We’re learning a new passing pattern, and I can’t even remember what I ate for breakfast because I got up, made sure my son was good and then had to leave. He may have been up through the night or didn’t feel well - there’s so many variables.

Professional athletes’ lives are really regimented: you have your sleep time, what you’re going to eat, your recovery time etc. When you have a child, those things come second and sometimes they don’t even get to happen because you just can’t. You have to really prioritise the things that can really help you, and the other stuff, you have to let it go. I’ve just started drinking more coffee (laughs), which helped me have energy for training and things like that, but you lose a lot of sleep.

You are also back at the top of your game, competing in Olympic qualifiers, after missing a lot of soccer before the Women's World Cup. How hard was that process, in terms of getting back up to the levels you were at?

As far as the fitness side of things, getting back into shape wasn’t necessarily hard. I felt a bit sore but it wasn’t any soreness that was out of the ordinary for me. Your body changes after you have a child, so my hips and different things that didn’t bother me before were all of a sudden. I had my first camp with Jamaica four months after my son was born and I was still breastfeeding. I just remember after training my groin hurt, my hips hurt. I did well on the fitness test, but the general soreness was difficult to get over.

You also have that added motivation, because it’s really what you want to do. You’re not even in a state where you want to complain because you have so many cards against you already. Having the right trainer and really just listening to my body helped - I felt like I even came back stronger than before because I really had to focus on things that were weak. I actually am faster now than I was before I had my son! I’m just way more in tune with my body now.

Washington Spirit forward Cheyna Matthews and her son, Josiah, at an NWSL match

What are the pros and cons of being in a marriage where both of you are professional athletes?

When it comes down to details like treatment or the time it takes to be able to perform well and be prepared, we both know it’s a lot. It’s also cool to know that, even when we’re in season, we’re helping each other out, especially now that we have a child. He knows when he comes home from work that I’ve been with our son almost all day and so the second he gets home, he asks, ‘What do you need to go do for yourself to make sure you’re prepared for camp?’ Or ‘What kind of treatment do you need?’ There are different things that we are able to understand and it goes without saying.

How important is it for the Reggae Girlz to build on the France 2019 breakthrough and qualify for Tokyo 2020, which would represent a first Olympic qualification?

France was an experience for all of us - there were a lot of things, even outside the pitch, that were so new to a lot of people and even to our staff. Coming into this Olympic qualifier camp, there are already so many differences as far as organisation and what to expect, what to look for, what we’re going to eat. Things are a lot smoother now. When you add all those outside factors in, everything is new to everybody and you show up on the big stage, it can be a little bit overwhelming. It’s awesome but we didn’t do as well as we would’ve wanted.

We’re all coming in with a clear head and we’re all aware of the task. We’ve had meetings talking about our goals, our identity and what we want it to be, and those are things that won’t change throughout this entire tournament. If we stick to that, those are going to help us work our way to Tokyo.

Cheyna Matthews of Jamaica runs with the ball

How do you reflect on France 2019? What memories stand out, on and off the field?

My son was nine months old and he had just learned how to clap his hands right before I left him five weeks prior to the tournament. The first time that he recognised me on the field is something I will always remember. When I walked up to where him and my husband were standing in the crowd, I clapped my hands and to see my son get really excited and clapped back at me. One of my best friends got him a puzzle for his first birthday and it was of the picture of all three of us where you can tell my son is clapping and my husband looks so happy - I hope I never forget that ! As long as I live, I don’t think I could.