By: Joanna Lohman
It is a warm sunny day at the Maryland Soccerplex as the Washington Spirit practices for its June 25th game against Sky Blue. As one watches the Spirit go through its usual first touch and speed of play drills, it’s hard not to notice two special players. Diana Matheson and Joanna Lohman, both tied for the team lead in goals, stand out to the eye. Yes, they are quite skilled and vocal leaders of the team, but what is really remarkable is how short Diana is and how old Joanna is.
Usually mentioned as a side descriptor, Diana stands at 5 feet, 1 inch. She is very short. Joanna, who is 33 and turning 34 one day after the Sky Blue game, is very old. Yet, these obvious disadvantages have never seemed to hold either of them back.
“I have been short my entire life so this really isn’t some new challenge for me.” says mini Matheson. “Yeah, I see the field differently because I am much lower to the ground but I feel like this really helps me to track the ball. We are nearly at the same level.” With three goals to her name so far this season, elfin Diana really does seem one with the ball. But one has to wonder, does she ever feel like she is going up against giants?
“Sure there are moments where I wish I were a little taller to feel the breeze and reach things on high shelves, but when I run through a defender’s legs because she doesn’t see me down here, I realize it can be a tremendous advantage. How many people can say they can fit in an overhead compartment of an airplane? I mean, you can carry me on!”
Diminutive Diana has struck up a bond with Joanna, a.k.a. The JoHawk because she once lived in a retirement community as a member of the Washington Spirit in 2013. She understands to approach Joanna with patience and leans on their shared obstacles. “Being old is something I’ve only had to battle the last few years.” says old-timer Joanna. “It’s crazy because as soon as you hit thirty it’s like people expect you to become senile and play bridge at a retirement community in Florida.”
Soon to be 34, it is truly amazing Joanna still has the energy to get out of bed in the morning let alone run. Defying all odds, elderly Joanna is scoring goals at a career best pace. So what is her secret to staying forever young?
“Well, I try to use my walker when I am not at training. This helps me to keep balanced so I don’t fall over doing routine things around the house. If I do fall, I have an emergency button that I wear around my neck. I also try to eat dinner around 5pm – there are so many early bird specials around the city. This allows me to get into bed by 8:30pm which is essential to getting the rest I need to merely function the next day.” says AARP member Lohman.
Unlike wee Diana, whose lack of stature is holding consistent, Joanna is fully aware that she is ONLY getting older. “There have been a few times recently where I have forgotten where I parked my car at the Soccerplex and by the time I find it, it’s too dark for me to see the roads and drive. I don’t want to cause a Silver alert. This does worry me. However, I frequently do crossword puzzles to combat the effects of aging and, if I can say so myself, I think I am doing a darn good job.”
Jim Gabarra, the head coach of the Washington Spirit, has been extremely impressed with the play of tiny Matheson and senior citizen Lohman. “Diana comes up to my waist so I pay close attention not to bump into her at training. She is an essential part of this team so we don’t want any injuries that easily could be prevented. We also ask Lohman to do extra weight training so that her brittle bones don’t break mid-game and she can play 90-minutes. When you are that short and that old, you need to make adjustments.”
With the team sitting in the top part of the league table in points, it’s clear that these adjustments are working. The Spirit may laugh at the nicknames, “Shorty” and “Grandma”, but Diana and Joanna are an inspiration. For those of us who need to bit more motivation to get through the hard days, let us always remember the hill these Spirit players must climb every day to just take the field. Thank you, Diana and Joanna, for showing the world life is more than meets the eye.
Help Lohman celebrate getting even older and bring your binoculars to spot Mini Matheson as the duo takes the field this Saturday against Sky Blue FC at 7pm. Get your tickets here.
To follow Grandma:
To follow Shorty: