Carson Pickett isn't the average soccer player, and when she isn't putting in work on the pitch, she's advocating for adaptive athletes outside of the lines. The Orlando Pride defender never saw herself taking on the responsibility of being a role model for limb difference, but with a new specially designed cleat from Nike, she's finding more ways to impact the game and her community.
Earlier this year, the 26-year-old was initially training with her team to prepare for the NWSL Challenge Cup, but the team withdrew from competition due to a. Though some were false positives, the club and league made the difficult decision to move forward without the Orlando squad.
"We would have loved to be there competing for the Challenge cup, but honestly, watching it from afar, it was incredible," Pickett said. "I think that it was so awesome to see such a big community join together to experience such an amazing, phenomenal, Challenge Cup -- when so many people thought it couldn't happen, and I think that's the coolest part."
While Pickett is looking ahead to her next time on the pitch, she already feels ahead of the game thanks to the help of Nike and its new cleat: the Phantom GT Academy FlyEase. The new boot features the latest in data-driven technology, which includes a fold-down heel for easy entry and a wrap-around strap closure in lieu of laces.
"Honestly, my first reaction when I saw the Phantom GT FlyEase was relief. I thought about my younger self and what it would have meant for me if something like this existed when I was growing up," said Pickett, who was born without a left forearm. "I feel like this boot represents me and anybody else who is unique. FlyEase is very easy for anybody to put on quickly, which I love."
Having a laceless option in the Phantom GT Flyease, Pickett also recalled what felt like an impossible task growing up in learning to tie her shoes. The concept of bunny ears or others were struggles shared between her and her parents. Sometimes those struggles would result in tears of frustration due to not being able to figure out the best way to complete the task.
"My parents have two hands and two arms and unfortunately they weren't able to teach me how to tie my shoes," Pickett said. "I can imagine that it does feel heartbreaking, looking at your daughter and trying to tie her shoes and it's hard for you to be there for her. There were definitely times where I cried, and just couldn't figure it out, and they kept pushing me. Tying my shoes was almost impossible, it did seem impossible, but I overcame it."
Pickett believes that the new cleat option will ultimately help younger athletes and families who have gone through similar struggles when it comes to laces.
"I saw my younger self," she said. "I looked at it and it almost brought me to tears because it's just awesome to see something that would've really helped me when I was younger. I can imagine many kids, not only with one arm, but when they get this shoe and when they see it for the first time they will be so excited."
Pickett plans to put in work on the pitch in the new Phantom GT Flyease, while also continuing her role as an advocate for limb difference awareness -- something she never imagined she’d be embracing as a pro athlete.
"[In college], I never thought that I would be an advocate for limb difference, and I never thought that I would be doing these things with Nike," Pickett said.
While in college at Florida State, she recalled always being selected for player interviews with reporters and media. Being selected among the few players felt special at first, but she quickly realized that she was constantly being asked about her arm, and expressed the frustrations in that being a constant storyline.
After conversations with her parents and her arrival to the pros in 2016, Pickett quickly realized there was a bigger picture and larger importance in being an advocate for limb difference based on all the positive feedback she received while playing for Seattle Reign FC and Orlando Pride.
"Ever since I got to the pros and seeing how many amazing messages I get sent about how I inspire people, some who aren't even soccer players," she said. "[Seeing that] just showed me that I can do so much more than just be a good soccer player, and that I could advocate for something much bigger than soccer."
A collaborative effort between Pickett and Nike helped bring the Phantom GT Flyease to life, and she hopes that more shoe options for everyone will help build a stronger more unified sports culture moving forward.
"Two years ago I would've never imagined telling Nike how they could make a boot better or different, and I just think that's what's so cool about them," Pickett said. "They're always trying to learn and be better and I think amazing about this company and they're always gonna continue to make everyone feel welcome."