With dual citizenship in the United States and Liberia, Tennessee soccer player and track and field athlete Maya Neal considers both locations her home.
After a trip to South Africa, Neal was inspired by an idea that formulated in her mind. Shortly after, her dream began to come into motion.
“I saw that there were people in need of other things,” Neal said. “I thought that the best way I could (help) was with sporting equipment, because that is something that brings the world together.”
After rallying up some help from others, Neal began to collect shoes: tennis shoes, cleats, lacrosse shoes and basketball shoes.
Anything that was donated was to be sent to Liberia so that those there could enjoy sports as much as she does.
“I did so because I obviously have a lot (of shoes). I had nothing to do with them besides give them to other people, because you are put on Earth to make the world a better place or leave it better than you found it,” Neal said. “I felt there was no better way to do that than to give back to others.”
Even with her initial total at 170 pairs of shoes, Neal has reached out through social media to gain more attention for her efforts. Former teammates, people she has met at camps, family members and even strangers have pitched in.
Earlier in the year, Tennessee soccer head coach Brian Pensky spoke of Neal’s efforts.
“Maya is a pretty unique individual,” Pensky said. “What she just said (about the donations) speaks to her maturity and wisdom in terms of wanting to leave the world a better place than she found it.
“Her mind is always racing, in terms of making the world a better place and making sure people are treated fairly. We’re in a tough climate right now as it relates to that topic.”
Along with her work off the field, Neal has made strides on them in both soccer and track and field.
As a track and field athlete in the 2017 season, Neal scored 3,618 points in the pentathalon at the SEC Indoor championships. In outdoor competition, her goals were even more astounding: Neal set four personal bests, recorded the seventh-best heptathalon mark in school history and placed sixth overall at the SEC Championship.
During her redshirt freshman year on the soccer field, Neal was named to the SEC All-Freshman team and finished fourth on the roster with three goals. This season, she was named to the 2017 SEC Preseason Watch List and is part of a Tennessee defense that has recorded seven consecutive shutouts thus far.
“The fact that she is great in both (sports), that’s why she does both. It’s pretty simple,” Pensky said. “We get her for half a year, track gets her for half a year. She does commit 100 percent of her time to track when she is with the track team and 100 percent of her time to soccer when she is with soccer.”
Neal feels that being a multi-sport athlete gives her the chance to do what she loves.
“Not one comes before the other as far as prioritizing or liking one more than the other. What made me choose to do both is the fact that I can’t choose either one,” Neal stated.
Just like her choice to compete in both sports, Neal’s concern and caring for others is simple to her. She does it because she can and because she wants to.
“I just thought that was the best way I could give back and impact peoples’ lives,” Neal said.