It’s not a stretch to say that Trystan Christianson played a huge role for the powerhouse Catholic Memorial girls soccer team over the last couple years, even though she had never started a match until this season.
Actually, it is a stretch. A lot of stretches.
As a senior, Christianson is the starting right back for a program that has an unprecedented run of five consecutive state titles under its belt, with an eye on No. 6 this spring. But prior to now, she has been giving CMH a leg up as the team’s unofficial yoga trainer.
“I tried to find a way to contribute to the team because I wasn’t getting a lot of minutes,” Christianson said. “I figured yoga would really help the team, and last year we didn’t have any muscular injuries to prevent anyone from playing in a game.
“With yoga, there are strength poses, balance poses and also stretching. With the strength poses, it kind of fires up your muscles before you start the training, so you’re less likely to pull a muscle. It’s getting your muscles ready to exercise. (Our routine) is a mix between the strength and stretching, and we throw in a couple balance poses so everyone can have a sense of their own body and center themselves before training.”
It’s not a completely foreign idea to introduce yoga into elite sports performance. The Green Bay Packers even investigated expanded use of yoga in the summer of 2014, looking to combat recent injuries.
Christianson got hooked on the discipline when her gym began offering free yoga sessions on Wednesdays and Thursdays two years ago.
“I really wanted to improve my flexibility and figured it would help my strength,” she said. “It was really relaxing, and I continued to do it. At tryouts last year, we were just fooling around and joking with yoga poses, and I said, ‘Wait a minute, I actually do yoga,’ so we started that with JV1 and JV2 and then varsity on the third day of tryouts, and it stuck.”
Coach John Burke said he asked Christianson to tailor a program for the Crusaders. The end result was a good one when CMH defeated Belleville/New Glarus in the D3 title game, 5-1, to become the first program to record five straight titles.
“Trystan has always been a team-first player,” CMH coach John Burke said. “It starts with her parents, Denise and Randy, who have taught all their seven kids that sacrificing for the good of others is the highest purpose in life. Some kids and parents will cooperate with a team only as far as their self-interest takes them; Trystan and her family, however, give our team and CMH community unconditional support. During the three years that Trystan sat on the bench for the majority of time, she remained strongly supportive of her team, willing to help in any way. This year, her service to the team includes starting at right back, and I couldn't be happier.”
Christianson opens practice with a series of dynamic stretches as a warmup, and then the players form a stretching circle.
“I’ll get into the middle of the circle, and we’ll do five or six stretches depending on what time we have,” Christianson said. “I’ll throw in some harder balance and strength poses. I really try to focus on the legs and the back aspect. We just get everybody ready. I’ll ask if we have tight muscles or anything and base poses and stretches off what everyone is feeling that day. It’s all incorporated into the warmup.”
She teaches similar routines to participants in the TOPSoccer program, a program for young athletes with disabilities. It’s a program with which CMH has been heavily involved for years.
“We use some light poses to show the kids this is kind of what we do,” Christianson said. “It was pretty neat when we asked me to do that. Those kids mean so much to our team; that’s the greatest thing we do. They’re great role models for everyone on our team.”
It’s an added bonus that she now gets to contribute regularly on the field for CMH, as well. She said she didn’t have any regrets about spending games on the sidelines in past years.
“You also need to take a step back and realize you are part of a team that has some amazing athletes,” she said. “We have so many athletes that go D1 and have great people. You really need to know your skill set and work to be even better than you think you are. Never think that you deserve this spot. You really need to prove yourself and respect the people that do have those starting spots and encourage everybody, really to support the people that are starting.
“Obviously we try our best in every single game and treat every single game as the state championship game, which helps us develop as a team,” she added. “We don’t feel should win, we feel like we really work toward it. Every game we work as hard as we can and treat it all the same, push each other and love each other every single game.”
She’s already training her successor, sophomore Isabella Doucas, to take the yoga reins next year.
“I definitely think we do have the ability to win our sixth-consecutive title,” Christianson added. “We have some amazing freshmen that came in, we have some great returning players. Our team chemistry this year is awesome. We try to support each other on and off the field. Even in the hallways, I think that really reflects on the field. We’re really united as a team this year.”