Universal Soccer Academy’s Anna Dolhansky: Impacting the World Beyond the Pitch
When Anna Dolhansky joined Universal Soccer Academy as a teenager, it was clear from the start that she was special. Her passion for the game in place, she came to Universal at the age of 15 seeking to improve her skills and fitness, just like hundreds of other young soccer players. But James Galanis, Universal’s Director of Operations, saw qualities that set her apart from other players her age - courage, creativity, confidence and commitment. These characteristics translated into her “playing big in big games . . . a unique quality,” says Coach Galanis.
Because of her work ethic and sophistication, Coach Galanis trained her alongside World Cup Champion, Carli Lloyd, US Women’s National Team members, Heather Mitts and Amber Brooks, and South Jersey’s standout and future international pro, Ryan Finley. Training with these high-caliber players, and other visiting international players, fueled the teenager’s drive to succeed, on and off the field, and ignited a passion to travel the world. When interviewed for a spotlight video in 2014, Anna expressed her interest to play professionally overseas, hoping “to travel and play as long as I can.”
Anna seemed to be heading in that direction, for sure. She was a four-year varsity starter at Triton Regional High School, where she was the team’s captain and MVP, and a first-team all-conference selection, both junior and senior years. Though she spent a lot of her time focused on soccer, Anna was also a member of both the National Honor Society and the French National Honor Society, and she played basketball for three years. Anna played club soccer at Medford Strikers Soccer Club where she caught the eye of college coaches, going on to play Division I soccer at Lasalle University. As a Lady Explorer, Anna was an “impact player”: a playmaker on the field and leader off the field who pushed her teammates to perform at the top of their game. Her LaSalle coach, Paul Royal, described her as having “a great mentality that’s really affected the way (the team) performs on and off the field…Our team thrives off of her confidence and commitment to the sport.”
Anna graduated from college with a degree in nursing. She did not pursue her earlier dream of playing professional soccer. Instead, she took a position at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Though happy with her choice of profession, Anna still felt the desire to travel. And so, she became a traveling nurse, moving to different locations throughout the United States to alleviate hospital nursing shortages. Anna’s calling to help the sick and her passion for travel intensified when she learned about Mercy Ships, a non-profit organization that sends “floating hospitals” to poverty-stricken areas of the world lacking sufficient medical facilities and services. The medical professionals aboard the Mercy Ships’ fleet provides medical care and procedures - including life-saving surgeries - free of charge, to many of the people who would otherwise go without the proper medical attention.
In August of 2017, Anna boarded the MV Africa Mercy, currently the largest non-government owned ship, on its voyage to Cameroon. Once docked in Cameroon, Anna worked with a team of other medical professionals to make a positive impact on the local community, young and old, providing free life-saving care and improving their quality of life. Anna explains the need that Mercy Ship seeks to fulfill: “For many of these patients, simple medical care that we take for granted or common corrective surgeries, like those to repair hernias or remove goiters, are unavailable to them. As a result, children miss school and adults are unable to work. This perpetuates the cycle of poverty. Providing free services for many of these diseases can change the future of a family, and in turn, a community.”
Anna and her shipmates performed maxillofacial surgeries to remove craniofacial tumors and repair cleft lips and palates. The team treated ear-nose-throat diseases. They provided plastic reconstructive options for benign tumors, chronic ulcers, severe wound scars and burn contractures, which are common when the use of machetes and open cooking fires are part of daily life. With 80% of the world’s fractures and the majority of club feet occurring in developing nations such as Cameroon, Anna helped with countless surgical treatments of these orthopedic issues. The Africa Mercy staff also taught the local healthcare providers about a universal non-surgical technique, the Ponseti method, for correcting club feet. Free services aboard the ship also included eye care, dental clinics, women’s services, and care for the mentally ill. For those patients whose condition progressed beyond the point where medical help could bring healing, the staff provided emotional support to the patients and their families, trained their caregivers in meeting the physical needs as their illnesses progressed, and assisted the grieving families to adjust emotionally and to develop new income opportunities to support themselves.
After its 10-month journey, Africa Mercy returned to the States and Anna came home to New Jersey. For now, she has returned to her position as a traveling nurse and is currently in the Northwest. She plans to join Mercy Ships again soon on another 10-month quest to care for impoverished. At a recent visit to the Universal Soccer Academy training fields, Anna reminisced about her time training with Coach Galanis, her famous training partners and her time at LaSalle. One particular memory stands out: her injury that caused her to redshirt her sophomore year. “Just being a teammate and not a field player that season taught me that there’s so much more to the game of soccer than just playing. My Universal training taught me to always be supportive of my teammates no matter what. I realized the relationships and memories I built are worth so much more than the playing time.”
Though the professional soccer career did not happen, Anna is confident she is on the path she was meant to follow. “I was really fortunate to have the opportunities in soccer that I had. I had dreams of traveling and playing soccer. But God had another plan for me.” But it seems that plan DID include travel and soccer. In her free time from her duties on Africa Mercy, Anna could often be found participating in a lively game of soccer with the local residents of Cameroon. In the dusty parking lot adjacent to the marina, far away from the fields of New Jersey, Anna realized just how fulfilling playing soccer overseas could be.
Watch a video about this extraordinary young lady.