It’s funny, sometimes, how things work out.
A former scoring threat for the Slippery Rock University women’s soccer team, Andi Felix tells the athletes that she trains today that everything happens for a reason, but you can’t understand it until you experience it yourself.
“I think I went through just about every up and down you could get throughout my four years [at Slippery Rock],” Felix says.
Felix began her career at SRU as a freshman in 2013. She entered as a substitute for the first two matchups of her rookie season, but it didn’t take long for her to make an impression on her coaches. She notched both a goal and an assist against California (Pa.) and followed with another marker at Clarion.
Called off of the pine to start against Indiana (Pa.), she ended up producing like few others in the PSAC could in that 2013 campaign. She tied for the league’s third-most goals (10) and ranked fourth in points (25). In the Rock’s 6-0 dismantling of Mercyhurst that October, she detonated offensively, depositing three goals and adding an assist. Her seven points are still tied for the third-most in a single game in SRU’s record book.
The more she fired soccer balls past opposing goalkeepers, the more her confidence grew. She was named PSAC Freshman of the Year, a second-team All-PSAC honoree, and a member of the Daktronics All-Atlantic Region’s first team.
“I was on top of the world,” Felix says. “It was like everything I’d worked for my whole life kind of fell into place then […] But then, going into sophomore year, I feel like it actually kind of hurt me.”
The team marched into the PSAC’s postseason tournament as the second seed, ranked 15th in the nation, and having not lost a decision in nine games. Looking to defend their league title, Slippery Rock hosted unranked Gannon in the quarterfinals. Unexpectedly, it found itself trailing by a score in the waning minutes.
Suddenly, The Rock had a two-on-one breakaway, with a prime opportunity to even the score. The goalkeeper left her post to play the ball, leaving the net as empty as a financially-strapped college student’s refrigerator. Felix kicked her shot, which dribbled slightly outside the goalpost.
“Once you get into your head, it’s hard to get out of your head if you’re just trying to do it on your own,” Felix says. “I think that’s really when my confidence crumbled.”
In the middle of a game during her sophomore year, Felix remembers, she more than once found herself unimpeded by any pesky defender, facing the keeper head-on. Each time, she reared back and let loose, but the ball floated wide of the goal mouth.
She was pulled from the field and worried that she’d be back on the bench for the rest of the season. Rather, her coach pulled her aside.
“She was like, ‘Hey, I just want you to go out there and have fun,’” Felix says. “’Don’t try to prove anything to me. Don’t try to prove anything to anybody else. Just go out there and play your game. Do something cool.’”
Felix now had no reason to fret. With the weight lifted from her shoulders, she recalls, she went back onto the field and soon scored from near the end line.
“That was my first time back on the field since the PSAC game my freshman year when I had a wide-open net and put it wide of the net,” Felix says, going on to explain that, even though she’d helped her team earn a bid, she was dealing with mono and couldn’t dress for the NCAA Tournament.
With her coach’s backing, her confidence was restored.
“I think that’s what a lot of kids don’t do nowadays is have fun,” Felix says. “If you love the game, go out and play like you love the game. Don’t play for anyone else, play for you […] If you’re not enjoying your time out there, you’re not going to do well.”
For the second successive campaign, Felix paced the team in points. Her eight assists were also the most of any Slippery Rock player. She matched her career high with seven points against Pitt-Johnstown. Again, she was listed as an All-PSAC athlete.
In 2015, Felix started Slippery Rock’s first eight games. At Mercyhurst, she was working down the sideline with the ball when a defender robbed it from her control. Felix took another step and threw her hands in the air. She saw her knee pop out of place and she collapsed to the ground, concerned for the rest of her season.
The injury didn’t hurt, Felix says, but she felt her heart drop. She sat the next game, at Mansfield, and returned to the lineup less than a week later at Gannon.
About a half hour into the game against the Golden Knights, Felix was on her way down the sideline once again.
“A girl barely nudged me while I was mid-stride,” Felix says. “I landed on it weird and [my knee] popped out again. I was like, yeah, now my season is probably over. That was hard because that was when I really felt like I got my confidence back and I was doing well […] Having that happen and not really being able to see the season out […] was tough.”
Felix found a positive in becoming a spectator.
“Having people step into roles that they didn’t think that they were going to ever have or ever be able to take on, and seeing them really take it in stride was really cool,” Felix said. “And just seeing it all from a different perspective was probably the best thing to ever happen to me, honestly.”
Felix went home for the month-long winter break after suffering the injury, unsure of what she was going to do to continue her recovery process without her athletic trainer. A friend of hers referred her to Balconi Top Training, a place that she used to train at.
“I went in there and it was a soccer-based strength and conditioning place and I was like, ‘Wow, this is awesome,’” Felix says.
She trained there the entire winter and returned to work out with the college group after the next semester for summer break. Halfway through that summer, she was offered a job.
Her knee repaired and rehabbed, Felix worked her way back into the lineup, starting a dozen games in her senior season. She tied for the team’s lead in assists and ranked second in points.
Upon graduating, she worked in a full-time position at Balconi for nearly five months. Then, she was told that they were leaving and shutting down.
“I was like, ‘Well, this is my dream job, I don’t really want to do anything else, and I can’t see myself doing anything else,’” Felix says. “I loved it so much I [thought] ‘What if I take over?’”
Basically, Felix says, there was a transfer of business. Their place closed shop. Hers opened. At 23 years old, Felix was already running her own company.
Over time, she developed her own training perspective, a lot of which came from her own mentors, with her own flavor. Although she had a number of clients who she’d worked with before the change, Felix also had to grow her own clientele. All of the company’s growth has come from its athletes’ appreciation for their progression in their sports.
“We grow organically,” Felix says. “We grow based on our athletes going and telling their friends, or their teammates, or their families, versus putting our name on a big billboard and hoping people come to see us.”
During the school year, sessions are open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Felix says her athletes see the facility as a home, sometimes stopping by not even to train, but to hang out. She encourages her athletes in whatever they want to do, even if it doesn’t end up being a physical endeavor.
“If they quit soccer and they want to go do something completely different, I’d still support them,” Felix says. “If they go and become an actress or an actor, I’d go watch them in their plays. It’s a matter of understanding that they’re human beings. They’re not just athletes.”
Felix refuses any payment that parents offer to watch their kids play. It’s something that she loves to do for free.
“I see them do their training in here, but seeing them take that and put it out on the field and really put it to use is really, really cool,” she says.
Felix also speaks excitedly about the satisfaction she gets when her athletes commit to playing at the collegiate level.
As for her time in green and white, the upsurges and descents of a theme park’s main attraction are called to mind. But, it turns out that what appeared to be one of the lowest dips of that rollercoaster ended up being one of its most appreciated peaks.
“I always say that I have [my performance facility] because I tore my ACL,” Felix says. “That’s literally the point that got me where I am today. If that never happened, I would not be where I am.”