Colorado Wildfires Compel Unique Save By UAlbany Goalie
Sophia Chen has been a staple for the UAlbany women’s soccer team. She first came to the university in 2017, starting three games as a freshman goalkeeper. Four years and over 30 games played later, Sophia led the women’s soccer squad and was a team captain in 2021 her graduate season. Chen is a native of Louisville, Colorado, the scene of one of the most devastating fires in the state's history. Following her December graduation from UAlbany, Sophia was back home when tragedy struck her home town.
This is the Chen House prior to the fires.
What is believed to have started from a freak accident in the days following the Christmas holiday, as 2021 was winding down, became life changing devastation for thousands. Two people remain missing and roughly 1,000 homes, buildings and shopping malls have burned to the ground in Boulder County. Tens of thousands of residents were forced to evacuate. Over 1,500 more residents sat without power as hurricane-like winds spread the fire, torching over 6,219 acres during that late December week.
This is the Chen house after the fires.
According to a story on UAlbanysports.com by Taylor O'Conner, Chen was at the gym that morning. Sophia recalls seeing smoke from the window, but didn’t realize the severity of the situation. That’s when she got a call from her father. From the serious in tone, she knew it was urgent. He was telling her that she needed to get home and they needed to act fast. “He said to me ‘you have one minute to go inside and get what you need, then we have to leave immediately’ because at that point, my whole front lawn was on fire.” She was watching her family memories literally go up in flames.
Sophia was able to grab a shoe box that she had taken back from UAlbany a few weeks prior, packed with pictures, keepsakes, and memories from her time as a Great Dane. She quickly moved to her sister Alana’s room. Alana had passed away two years prior. Sophia was determined to grab anything in sight. “I really wanted to save some memories of her,” she recalled. Along with the shoe box, Sophia was able to grab one of her sister’s poems that was sitting atop her piano. Maybe some of the most important saves in the young goalie's life.
Since learning the news, UAlbany Women's soccer coach Leigh Howard has kept up with Sophia every day. She has worked with her team and UAlbany Athletics Administration to find ways to help Sophia in her immediate day-to-day life. “I know that Sophia has a tremendous amount of support on this team and has formed a lot of really close relationships,” added Coach Howard. “I know that our players have been in close contact with her and have been communicating with her, but they have also been sharing a little about her story and her talent on social media.”
In addition, a GoFundMe page was created by Sophia’s brother, Sabatino, in an effort to raise money for essentials – such as new clothes for Sophia and her father (which were lost in the fire), meals, and temporary housing. The page has raised almost $50,000 so far. A big thank you from the Great Danes family to all that contributed. All of our thoughts are with Sophia Chen and her family. Thanks to UAlbany's Taylor O'Connor for his assistance with the article and the photos.