Wearing the #16 jersey, Carson Pickett pulls on her purple knee high socks and laces up her soccer cleats just like the rest of her Orlando Pride teammates. It’s a simple pre-game necessity, of course, and yet she often feels the stares of onlookers. Pickett was born without a left forearm and hand but that hasn’t stopped her from dominating on and off the field.
About 2,250 babies are born with limb defects in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Limb reduction,” as it is known, occurs when part of or the entire arm (upper limb) or leg (lower limb) of a baby fails to development in-utero.
Pickett grew up just outside of Jacksonville, Florida. Thanks to the influence of her athletic mother and father, Treasure and Mike, she started playing soccer at age five. “I was raised by two amazing parents who always told me that I could do anything that I dreamed of,” Pickett tells AmeriDisability. Now 25 years old, many of those aspirations have already come true. And her limb impairment never swayed her determination. However, because people often have misconceptions about physical disabilities, Pickett’s not a fan of the term ‘disability.’ She explains, “I prefer using the word ‘unique.’ Everyone is unique in their own way. Just because someone is missing an arm doesn’t mean she can’t do something that someone with two arms can do.”
Pickett proved that playing four years at Florida State University. Then, in 2016, she was drafted into the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) by Seattle Reign, where she performed for two years alongside league icons, including Megan Rapinoe. In 2018, she returned home to the Sunshine State on a trade to the Orlando Pride. She quickly found her footing as a defender and has played in every game thus far in the current 2019 season.
Humor, especially surrounding her “uniqueness,” is a powerful asset that Pickett uses to connect with teammates, coaches and fans. There are lighthearted jokes about handballs and throw-ins, along with serious accolades about her superior skills. She’s been described as one of the smartest left-backs in the league because she has the ability to read the game differently and anticipate how to effectively “body up” to competitors.
Pickett believes participation in a collaborative environment has helped build her confidence. “If I was playing tennis or golf or another individualized sport, it would be harder [to combat diversity] because I’d be out there on my own. Being part of a team sport has allowed me to be with people who always had my back,” she says. “My teammates and coaches believe that I can be better and better each year and they push me to be that way… in all aspects of my life.”
The Power of Star Power
Fresh off the U.S.’s win of 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, NSWL players have become household names, including Pickett’s Orlando Pride teammates ─ Alex Morgan, Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris ─ who helped the U.S. break its own record for the most wins of any country with four. “It is unreal seeing them succeed and it just shows how amazing they are and how hard they’ve worked,” Pickett says, of her famed teammates she describes as persistent and level-headed.
Amidst the World Cup media frenzy, Pickett also found herself in the throes of the spotlight after a post-game photo went viral. Following the Pride’s win over Sky Blue FC in June, Pickett ran over to the stands to greet her number one fan, 2-year-old Joseph, who also was born without his left forearm and hand. Joseph’s mom, Colleen Tidd, snapped a photo of the two “fist bumping.” She shared the touching image on Instagram and it quickly garnered more than 10K likes.
“The picture is authentic. It wasn’t a set-up photo opp. It was a moment when we saw each other and we had true emotions,” Pickett attests. “A lot of people do things for the attention and that is not who I am. The moment was pure joy between a 25- and 2-year-old. And despite our age difference, we have a connection and understanding that we’re so similar. It’s special!”
The pair first meet a few months prior and have built a sweet friendship. Both Pickett and her parents have offered the Tidd family guidance on how to support a child with a limb impairment. Tidd says the connection is truly empowering. “From the moment I found out Joseph was going to be my right-hand-man, I wanted the world to know he would be okay. I wanted my friends, family and even Joseph to understand that he will be able to accomplish anything he puts his mind to,” she tells AmeriDisability, adding, “Having Carson in our lives has helped prove that anything is possible. Joseph has never limited himself, and he never will, thanks to Carson. Since day one, she has demonstrated what an athlete and friend is all about: being supportive, encouraging all of us and inspiring thousands around the world… just by being her sweet self!”
Since the photo went viral, tons of other families have also solicited Pickett’s encouragement. “Parents have reached out to me for advice. They may ask me how I did something when I was younger,” she says. “I think it’s really cool that I can advise their child on how to succeed because, sometimes, parents with two hands can’t relate in the same way that I can with one arm. It’s been nice to help.”
While the public platform of inclusion came as a surprise, Pickett has fully embraced her newfound position as an inclusive role model and advocate. “I am here for a reason and it takes hard work. It’s tough to get stared at [at times] but I am lucky, and all the hard work is paying off,” she says. Pickett finds herself repeating her father’s favorite quote—one she lives by—to others: “Don’t let anyone turn your sky into a ceiling.” Bottom-line, she says, “Don’t let anyone tell you that you are not good enough, because you are able no matter what. I am good enough!”
Her Next Impressive Move
Pickett says she enjoys playing defense but she’s open to trying new positions on the soccer field. In the U.S. off-season, she’ll voyage down under to play in Australia’s W-League, something she loves as an avid traveler. Off the field, Pickett says she spends most of her spare time with family, visiting the beach and snacking on donuts (as chronicled on her social media feeds).
Pickett admits that she longs to represent the USA at the sport’s highest level. “The dream of every soccer player is to play on the national team,” she says. But she has other ambitions too, like being a sports reporter and launching a foundation that would “spread joy and love” hosting soccer camps in third-world countries.
Well, apparently, you only need one arm to steal the hearts of many! Keep it up Carson Pickett. You’re our MVP!
Nancy DeVault is an award-winning writer/editor contributing to local and national publications. Her storytelling spans a wide range of topics, including charity, disability, food, health, lifestyle, parenting, relationships and travel. Married with two kiddos, Nancy describes herself as a lover of the outdoors, fitness, news, traveling and binge reading magazines while sipping coffee.