TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – “I think it is like an outlet for me to express myself and obviously let some of that fire out.”
The game of soccer sparked a fire inside 27-year-old Max Lachowecki more than two decades ago.
“I started playing whenever I was five or six years old in Evansville, Indiana,” he said.
His father, who played soccer professionally as a goalie, introduced him to the sport.
“I remember going there and playing in the rec leagues,” Lachowecki recalled. “So that is the first team that I was on, an olive green team.”
Today, he belongs to a different green team. Lachowecki joined the Tampa Bay Rowdies as a defender in 2018.
“That was the first professional team I played for outside of the first team I played for in Salt Lake City, which was Real Salt Lake, where I got drafted out of school,” said Lachowecki.
He graduated from the University of Notre Dame.
Lachowecki finished the 2018 season with 10 starts and, then, he decided to embark on a different journey.
“A lot of guys were looking at me saying, ‘You are crazy!’” he said. “I had to look at them and say, ‘Yes, yes, I am going to go take a chance.’”
He did take a chance, replacing soccer cleats with hiking boots.
“Yes,” he said, “Hiking boots and pedals basically. It was kind of a funny turn of events. I had gone through so many phases as so many players do where you love [soccer] at times, you are going through struggles, you aspire to make more money or have more playing time, and all of these things that can fluctuate in importance to you. I think I was in a moment in my life where I needed to take a step away and reevaluate. I had spoken to one of my good friends. She worked for a company called Backroads.”
“Find Your Next Adventure,” is the company slogan.
Lachowecki took part in plenty of adventures and he did it as a trip leader. His journey began in May of 2019 with a two-week training program.
“After the two weeks, you are basically thrown out into the wild. I was put in St. George, Utah, which is very close to Zion, Bryce, and the Grand Canyon so my region was mainly focused on leading people through biking and hiking trips through those regions and through those national parks and it was pretty much mind-blowing,” he recalled.
“On any given day, you could be hiking Angels Landing in Zion or you could be on the rim of the Grand Canyon at 3 o’clock just enjoying yourself on a Tuesday,” he said. “You would lose track of time more or less. I would always forget what day it was because that was just the lifestyle we were living.”
Did he follow his former team while he was there?
“Yes. S the funny thing is, I did not have a lot of service in the national parks but, every time I would get back to St. George where our base home was, I would obviously get on Twitter or Instagram and catch up on a week’s worth of information,” he said.
In the middle of his six-month adventure, Lachowecki met a boy from New York City, who reminded him of his love for soccer.
“He kept asking me to pass and I kept coming up with excuses and, then, finally, one night around the campfire he was like, ‘Come on! I heard that you used to play. Will you pass with me?’ So I started passing with him and, right then, I was just like, ‘Dang it!’ and I knew this is the straw that kind of broke the camel’s back. I had to keep playing so I ordered my own ball off of Amazon.”
Lachowecki would kick that ball against the wall of a garage whenever he was free and, as soon as he returned home to Indiana, he got on the phone.
“Neill [Collins] was the first one to say, ‘Max, we would love to have you in for the preseason. We wanted you back two years ago and we would love to have you in to see what you have to give,’” said Lachowecki of the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ head coach. “It was kind of a validation of my ability as a player and a little bit of my character as a person. I do not know a lot of people who have taken a year away from playing.”
A teammate referred to him as “The Comeback Kid” and the nickname could not be more fitting.
“This is such a unique job and not everybody gets to do it and I am going to do it as long as I can,” said Lachowecki. “Right now, I just have this fire within me to keep playing and competing and enjoying and being with all of the guys on the team and being back on the field.”
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