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An open letter from Paige Culver

When I first started playing football as a little girl I had no idea where this journey would take me. Back then, I was just chasing a dream. Now, at 27, I must step away from that dream due to a career-ending injury.

Athletes are never fully ready for the moment they are forced to walk away from playing the sport they love. Football has been part of my identity since I was 4 years old. It always will be.

Football is nothing without its fans and my biggest fans have always been my family. I don't have the words to thank my parents for the sacrifices they made to help me follow this crazy dream, many I am sure I am unaware of.

To my mom for watching and filming all my matches as a kid. Even if you didn't understand the game, you always supported me. Thank you for being my number one cheerleader and role model. You continuously pick me up on hard days. Your support has meant the world to me and I hope I can be as strong as you someday.

To my dad, who introduced me to the beautiful game. Thank you for the countless hours you spent driving me to training sessions – you were always there, rain or shine. Thank you for training me in the backyard and lending me a shoulder to cry on when things got tough. Most of all, thank you for your never-ending support and encouragement to pursue my dream.

To my twin sister, my teammate and one of my best friends. I am so grateful for the memories we have growing up playing alongside each other and for your ongoing support throughout the years, travelling to all corners of the world to watch me play.

To my brother, thank you for always saying ‘yes’ to kicking the ball around with me and putting my skills to work. Thank you for being my greatest critic (as a brother should) and always pushing me to be the best version of myself on and off the pitch.

I will forever be part of Team Culver.

I haven’t accomplished everything I wanted to in my career but I will forever be grateful for the memories that football provided me.

Thank you to my agent, Boris Rendambo, and his Ozamba Sports agency for being there from the very start and making this dream of mine a reality.

Thank you to my university coaches for the experience and opportunity to grow as an athlete and person.

Mr Delroy Rhooms warrants a special thanks for pushing me through every 7am training session and for allowing me to clean the gym in exchange for a membership when I just couldn't afford it. You'll never know how much that meant to me and the impact you've had on my life and career.

There is no other job in the world quite like being a footballer. We are always in a position to be criticised by coaches, teammates and fans. Bad training sessions can ruin our day and a bad game can ruin our week.

We push our bodies to the limit and we always come back for more. Why?

We come back for the locker room banter, the long away trips and the bus ride karaoke with teammates. We come back for the champagne showers after a big win and the nights out with the girls trying to forget a loss.

But, most importantly, we come back for the friendships we forge along the way. They are the only people who will truly relate to the highs and lows that come with professional sports. I cannot express how grateful I am to my teammates for going through these adventures with me.

Thank you for enduring all that we have had to endure together and for getting me through the hardest of times. These are the things I will remember and cherish forever when I look back on my career.

And to football… Thank you for teaching me how resilient I can be. For allowing me to show my strength. For testing my limits. For giving me lifelong friendships and lessons I will never forget. Thank you for taking me to countries I would have never dreamed of and helping that little girl fulfil her dreams.

I'm not quitting football, I'm just closing this chapter. There's so much to reflect on and a whole new world to explore. This couldn't be a more exciting time to contribute to the growth of women's football.

Until then, thank you for everything.

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