SANFORD, Fla. — When Pride defender Carson Pickett first received the invitation to the FIFA Awards last week, she had to double check that she had heard correctly.
There was plenty to confirm — it was less than a week before the awards were set to take place in Milan, Italy, and she suddenly had to worry about finding a flight, hotel and dress for one of the biggest events in the soccer world. But for a moment, Pickett was simply unable to react to the news.
“I was in shock,” Pickett said. “I had no words. I felt like time stood still.”
The invitation was sparked by a photo Pickett took with a young fan, Joseph Tidd, in June. Tidd was born without a left hand and forearm. When he first saw Pickett play, he saw someone who looked just like him. She also was born without a left hand and forearm. The pair shared a dap after a game, and the moment quickly sparked a deeper connection.
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Staying up late this weekend was worth it when you get to cheer on @carson.pickett ! ⚽️ I love fist bumping her.🤜 If you can't tell she makes me smile, double chin and all! . . . Swipe ➡️ to see how big my smile gets after I fist bumped her. I couldn't stop giggling! 😁 Carson is such a great role model. . . . #orlandopride #nwsl #biggerthansoccer #filledwithpride #luckyfinfamily #luckyfinproject #limbdifferenceawareness #16 #orlando #fistbump #doublechin #giggling #smile #grateful #stayinguplate #toddler #cheerleader #tenfingersareoverrated #orlandocity #orlandocitysoccer #rolemodel #soccer #unstoppable
After the picture went viral internationally, FIFA invited the pair to Milan for the awards ceremony.
“To be honest, I didn’t even expect it to go crazy like that,” Pickett said. “It was just so normal for us, because we both have the same arm and it was just another picture for us. It is a really special picture, but it’s one that we would take no matter what.”
With only a few days between the invitation and the awards ceremony, Pickett and the Tidds rushed to make arrangements to fly to Milan. It was a huge undertaking for Tidd, who turned two the day before the awards show, but Pickett said she was amazed by how he handled the trip.
He was still a little boy, of course — picking his nose when photographers on the red carpet asked him to smile, then promptly falling asleep once the awards show began. His father, Miles, made sure to nudge him awake during the after party long enough to meet Luka Modric, Marcelo Vieira Jr. and the FIFA Women’s Starting XI.
Pickett brought her father, Mike, who is a soccer coach and a former player himself. The pair spent a day touring the city, taking in the AC Milan facilities and the Duomo di Milano, but the highlight for both was the opportunity to see players like Lionel Messi and Virgil van Dijk in person.
The trip was a whirlwind, barely long enough for Pickett to feel jet-lagged, but she says it will stick with her.
“It was a dream come true to even be in the same building as them,” Pickett said. “That was the best part was being just five feet away from the greatest soccer players in the world. It was a humbling moment.”
For Pickett, the trip was a reminder she can create change on and off the field. When she was younger, Pickett sometimes grew frustrated by the attention her story often drew from media — she wanted to be noticed for her ability as a player, not for her arm.
As she’s continued to grow as a professional athlete, however, the defender has begun to cherish the impact she can have on others. Her relationship with Tidd has only cemented that feeling.
“Now that I’ve grown up, I realize that’s what God has given me and that’s my platform,” Pickett said. “I think that has driven me to be a better person on the field, a better teammate and a better player under my coach. For me, off the field matters a lot more than on the field. I want to be the best player I can be, but I know I also want to be the best person I can be.”
Her relationship with Tidd is something that Pickett wishes she had experienced when she was younger. Pickett has become increasingly comfortable with being a role model, talking to young children in her same situation and using social media to share her journey. But Pickett never had the chance to interact with a role model of her own.
When she played in Australia for the Brisbane Roar, she met a woman in a cafe with the same arm. She relished the opportunity to talk with someone older, for once the one who was asking for advice instead of giving it.
Now, Pickett cherishes the fact that Tidd will always have someone in his life who shares his experience. That relationship extends beyond just Tidd — his family reaches out to Pickett’s parents for advice and she has also formed a bond with his two older sisters.
For Pickett, the relationship she has formed with the family is a life-long commitment.
“I think it’s really cool to have that person who understands you throughout your whole life,” Pickett said. “I know that’s what we’ll have. It’s special to have someone who’s been through everything. I’ll always hold him close to my heart. We’re going to be friends for life.”