The 2014 National Women’s Soccer League season ended and-like most players-Sinead Farrelly packed up her belongings in preparation for her 6 month relocation until next season.
But the night before Sinead’s flight to her hometown Philadelphia, something didn’t feel right. Coming off of her first stint with the Portland Thorns, Sinead grew to love the city’s abundant nature, friendly people, and laid back demeanor. She wasn’t ready to leave it all behind. Sinead fell asleep with an uneasy knot in her stomach.
When she woke up, the feeling hadn’t ceased. Without thinking, Sinead picked up her phone, called Alaska Airlines, and cancelled her flight.
She then composed a tweet:
To most people, this rash decision would induce massive anxiety and qualify as borderline crazy.
But for Sinead, impulse actions are standard protocol.
”Everything I do is basically based on feeling. I go with my gut.”
Sinead developed this “gut instinct” back at age 4, when she befriended her soccer teammate Bridget O’Brien.
From day one, Bridget and Sinead were inseparable. They bonded over their natural inclination towards living authentically and spontaneously.
They played on the same soccer team throughout childhood and begged their parents to let one of them switch schools so they could spend even more time together.
Growing up in a world filled with peer pressure and societal norms, it’s often hard for children to confidently express their true selves.
But Sinead and Bridget made a pack to ignore outside influences and listen to their hearts, regardless of whether it was right or wrong.
Applying this philosophy most often worked in their favor, but it occasionally got them in sticky situations.
One such incident was when 14 year-olds Sinead and Bridget took a trip to the Atlantic ocean with their other friend Beth. Beth’s brother dropped the three of them off at an island via boat and said he’d come back and grab them in an hour. After the brother left, the three started getting harassed by horseflies. The only way to ward the flies off was to submerge their body under the water. Bridget and Sinead didn’t feel like dealing with the situation until their ride returned, so they decided to swim back to the dock.
“Our other friend said that was a terrible idea because the dock was miles away and we would get in trouble. Bridget and I get overly confident when we hang out so we said we were going to swim anyway.”
The two swam about 300 yards before they tired and realized they were nowhere close to the dock. On top of that, huge ships were crossing the water beeping their horns and yelling at Sinead and Bridget to get out of the way.
The two frantically waved their arms in the middle of water until the older brother finally came back to pick them up.
“When we came home we got in a lot of trouble, mostly because we put ourselves in a lot of danger because of the ships crossing.”
Sinead is well aware that this wasn’t a wise decision, but she doesn’t regret it.
“We put ourselves in a lot situations because it was what we wanted. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. But I think learning what’s right or wrong, for the most part, you have to experience.”
Despite living across the country from each other, Bridget and Sinead’s actions are still guided by their 4 year-old free-spirited ideals.
Even though they hardly get to spend time together now, they share an unwavering respect for one another.
“We have allowed each other to grow freely. Knowing that Bridget is living true to herself gives me the real freedom to trust my own intuition. I feel comfortable living how I want.”
Thus, 20 years later, there Sinead stood on the curb outside of her apartment; homeless, jobless, car-less. Uncertain of everything, except for the validation that her gut was telling her she needed to stay in Portland.
Within minutes of tweeting out her decision, Sinead received numerous responses from people offering a helping hand.
One particular tweet from a woman named Amanda read, “Cheers to a new adventure! I can help with housing, dm me if you’d like details.”
Sinead direct messaged Amanda for further inquiry.
Amanda explained that two of her friends had reached out to the Thorn’s organization at the beginning of the season expressing an interest in hosting a player.
Amanda forwarded the contact information to Sinead. Within minutes, Sinead dialed the number.
A mellow-voiced, lady named Hanh answered the phone. She offered some insight on her personal background and living situation. She explained her wife Kelly, and her lived in east Portland and had a 3 year-old son named Gabriel. She was a child psychiatrist, and Kelly worked from home. They loved to cook and had a spare bedroom. They assured Sinead that she didn’t owe them anything, they simply wanted to help out in whatever way they could. After a brief 15 minute conversation with this stranger, Sinead was sold.
“I can tell the first time if I like someone. I can tell from their energy. The phone call didn’t feel weird. It felt right. I didn’t feel like I was in danger and I was also in a bit of a dire situation.”
Hanh, who was born in Vietnam towards the end of the Vietnam war, can relate to Sinead’s vulernable state.
Growing up, Hanh’s parents were not approved by the communist government, which made it impossible for them to get a job. Hahn’s mom supported her family by selling cigarettes one at a time on the street. Hanh came from almost nothing.
The next day, Hanh drove to pick Sinead up at her apartment.
Hanh was instantly amazed by Sinead’s confident spirit; “she had no idea who I was, no idea what i looked like. I drove up to the apartment and there she was with her three bags of stuff ready to go on to her next adventure.”
Sinead piled her belongings into the back of Hanh’s car and headed to her new home. Although they were complete strangers, Sinead felt at ease.
Hanh shared Sinead’s sentiments;
“I think in some ways it was meant to be. I came into this country as a refuge at age 17. It was overwhelming. I didn’t know anything, I had to start pretty much from scratch. A few months before I met Sinead, I celebrated being in this country for 25 years. At this time, I thought about how thankful I was of the people helping me along the way and that I was now in the position where I could give back in some way.”
Hanh and Kelly wanted to help Sinead out of pure selflessness, and Sinead felt the love the moment she stepped foot into their home.
“They made me feel so welcome from the start. They cooked me meals, I played games with Gabriel, and every Friday we’d go on a different hike. It was awesome.”
The next 6 months, Sinead created art projects with Gabriel and partook in all of their family festivities. She took up a coaching job, explored Oregon’s abundant nature, and created numerous other relationships. She became part of the their family and now considers Portland her home.
All of this fortune stemmed from an impulse tweet. A bold decision by anyone’s standards, but a move that aligns with Sinead’s optimistic outlook on life. One that simply felt right.
Sinead carries this philosophy with her at all times. It’s conveyed through her effortless, flowy style of play-which she says comes out only when she’s playing free.
It’s portrayed through the tattoos painted over her body. One reads “small minds can’t comprehend big spirits.” Another reads “no fear, no limits” Her most recent tattoo, a landscape of trees, is perhaps her most meaningful one yet. The image is in honor of Bridget and Sinead’s self-created motto, “Nothing’s real but trees.”
“There's a million sides to everyone's story. We can't validate what is true or what other people's realities are. We can only try to make our own lives and surroundings the best places for us to thrive. We love trees and nature because it just is. It's so simple. Trees just grow the way they want to, in whatever direction, and they just are. And there's no complications.”
Nothing's real but trees. For Sinead, life is that simple.