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Female Athlete of the Year: Stephanie Searls

From the soccer field to the equestrian ring, sports was a family affair for Searls

While two knee injuries threatened to cut her athletic career short, Stephanie Searls persevered through the pain and has earned the distinction as the Estacada News Female Athlete of the Year.

Searls' athletic career began at age 4, when she first began kicking a soccer ball and riding her horse. In fact, the reason she began both sports so early was because both activities were family events.

Up until two years ago, Searls, her sister Lisa, her mom and her dad all played on a co-ed recreational indoor soccer team. While both of her parents played recreationally, it was Lisa who inspired Searls to play soccer in the first place.

'I watched my sister play high school soccer here,' she said. 'I always wanted to be on the girls varsity soccer team like my sister.'

With a goal planted inside of her at a young age, Searls realized by the fourth grade that soccer was a sport she was pretty good at.

While she continued to play soccer all the way through high school, she also had short stints in both basketball and track, which she played until eighth grade. It was track, however, that provided her with her first major knee injury.

In 2007, Searls tore her ACL at age 13, forcing her to cut her track season short. Just two years later, as a freshman at Estacada High School, she tore her ACL for a second time.

'For two years I had to wear a knee brace,' she said. 'There was no way I was going to quit playing soccer or riding my horses.'

Unfortunately, because of the stress they placed on her knee, however, both basketball and track were now out of the question. As for soccer and horses, however, the doctors could barely keep Searls off the field.

'I pretty much made the decision to cut out everything but soccer and horses,' she said. 'Riding horses did hurt my knee, so I did take a break for a little while, but after a couple weeks I told my doctor that I needed something to support my knee or else I would just reinjure it because I wouldn't stop riding.'

Fortunately, her doctor got her a new brace and more exercises.

So entering freshman year, Searls went out for the soccer team as a forward and midfielder, but that idea didn't last long. After one year of playing, the team's varsity sweeper had graduated and it was Searls who would step into that role for her last three years of high school.

As both a sweeper and the only senior on the team this year, Searls was one of the team leaders despite the team's inability to find much success.

Lucky for her, she found plenty of success on the equestrian team.

With her mom as the coach and plenty of family support, Searls had been around horses her entire life, and by the time she entered high school, she was more than ready to compete.

As just a freshman, Searls and teammate Gillian Green competed in an event called, 'bi-rangle' together and they broke the district record in the event. And that was in Searls first high school meet.

That success continued all the way through her senior year, when she advanced to the state competition in four different events: barrels, steer daubing, working rancher and saddle seat.

Unfortunately, Searls didn't find the success she was looking for at the state meet, but the good news is that her final high school competition isn't her final competition altogether.

Next year, Searls will be attending Walla Walla Community College, where she will compete as part of the school rodeo team.

'Definitely my family has been the biggest factors (in my success),' she said. 'I wouldn't have pushed myself without any of them and they were definitely always there for me when I needed them.'