By Faith WilsonThe first time she saw a Christian woman play, she knew she had to be better.
It was 2003, she was working as a field marshal for the American Football League in Miami when a woman wearing a white hijab and a cap pulled down her pants and started to play soccer with her.
She was 15.
She was a talented player.
The team’s coach asked if she wanted to play, and the young girl obliged.
She moved to a different area and began working at a local high school.
By the time she was 20, she’d become a soccer coach, earning her place on the team.
When Faith Wilson was a teenager, she became the first person in the United States to wear a hijab, the traditional Islamic head covering worn by Muslim women in many parts of the Muslim world.
Now, a retired Army sergeant, Wilson is an executive coach for the Christian faith and sports programs for the North Shore United Methodist Church in South Windsor, Connecticut.
“I didn’t know if I wanted to be the first Muslim American to wear hijab or the first Christian woman to wear it,” Wilson says.
But Wilson saw the Muslim women wearing it everywhere.
“I was inspired,” she says.
She went to prayer at a mosque, she wore hijab in her home, and her coaches and students wore hijab as well.
Her faith has shaped her into a coach, and she says she now practices it.
Wilson is a former cheerleader who now works as an executive for the United Methodist church.
She’s not sure what her future holds.
But she’s looking forward to her next job and says she’s proud to be able to support a faith community and a young athlete.
“It’s been a journey,” Wilson tells NHL.com.
“But I think I’m blessed.”
Wilson grew up in suburban Washington state, which is predominantly Muslim.
Growing up, she played soccer, but after her graduation, she moved to the Northeast and attended school in Hartford, Connecticut, which she says is a Christian city.
Wilson says she began to notice how her fellow Muslim women were being treated differently.
“When I started seeing Muslims treated differently, it was really hard,” Wilson recalls.
“And I was a little shocked.”
In 2003, Wilson was 16 years old.
By then, she had moved from New Jersey to Florida.
She says she didn’t really understand why.
“People were just getting really upset,” Wilson explains.
“So I went to school for about a year and then I got a job in a mall, and I kind of got used to it.”
She says she learned that other people weren’t as welcoming as she was, and began to question what it meant to be American.
“There was a lot of discrimination that was going on, and it was not being recognized,” Wilson adds.
“You had people who were trying to come up with the best way to make a living,” she continues.
“It was really difficult.
And that was kind of the first time that I realized I wasn’t being treated fairly.
And I think that I have learned a lot about being a person.”
Wilson says that it’s hard to fully understand how she came to wear the hijab, but that she thinks she has found a way to embrace it.
“The faith that I believe in, the way I look at it, the love that I feel for my country and my brothers and sisters, I think it is important for me to wear that, and to have that kind of faith,” Wilson concludes.
“This is not just a sport; it’s a way of life, and that’s a big part of who I am,” Wilson continues.
Wilson hopes to inspire others to do the same.
“A lot of my faith comes from being in the military, and then in law enforcement, and from the military,” she adds.
“We all have a responsibility to help those who need it, and if I can be a role model, it’s really important to me that others follow in my footsteps.”
Follow Faith Wilson on Twitter: @faithwilson