A Letter from Ashu Saxena, BRYC Electra Coach and Friend

Tuesday, March 26, 2019 

Durham, North Carolina 

Dear Lee Family & Friends, 

I apologize that time and circumstance will not allow me to attend dear Erica’s service on Saturday, March 30th . I sincerely wish I could deliver this message in person, but alas, I am grateful for the opportunity to be “there in spirit,” as Wing notes. It is “fitting” that the very sad, very difficult news was first sent to me this past Friday 3/22 and then confirmed to me on Monday 3/25 both at the time of day that I was walking to soccer practice after school. 

Though it is a different time and a different place, it is through soccer that I first met the Lee family. It is also “fitting” that Erica’s service is on a Saturday—there were so many weekends devoted to by all of the families on our team to soccer; in a way, it is “game day” today and we must unite, be strong for each other, work hard together, and support one another to process the situation at hand. It is “fitting” that families and friends can gather and celebrate her life together.

I use “fitting” in quotation marks because there is nothing “fitting” about Erica’s passing. To me, it is always more difficult to process feelings when a younger person departs—it just should not happen. Sadly, I have experienced the unfortunate circumstance of former players and students passing away far too early in various environments, but this situation is especially difficult because each Electra player is affectionately known as “one of our little ones” because we are truly a team like no other; we are family, not just a collection of individuals who happened to play soccer together. In our Electra family, we have had numerous moments across the spectrum of emotions; we have also experienced deaths: Cindy’s brother, Ashley’s grandfather, Jen’s father, and my mother to name just a few. Our Erica seemingly had many more years of life to live, give and share. 

Erica certainly not only deserved, but would surely excel at the many life moments that will be missed: perhaps becoming a spouse if she so chose to, having children and seeing them grow if she so desired, becoming an Aunt to Michael’s and Lauren’s future child/children, supporting Wing and Sou as they advance in age, perhaps becoming a grandparent herself many years down the road in life’s great circle, managing life moments with friends for many years, partaking in travels for family and adventure, attaining future professional, community, and other personal goals, and so forth and so on. 

More importantly, it is the day-to-day interactions with Erica that will be missed greatly by many, many people. For several of us, even if we did not get to see her, just knowing she was an email, phone call, text, or direct message away was comforting, but that is gone now. Thus, we do need to acknowledge and accept that there is emptiness and sadness, there is a difficult feeling of loss, and our hearts ache painfully. In our own way, on our own time schedule, we need to know it is okay to grieve, to cry, and to feel sad in order to process life without Erica in the physical world. 

However, we also need to find a way to carry on—we need to remember the “beautiful, precious Erica” as Wing notes. Thus, we need to find a way to take deep breaths, lift up our chins, look upward and onward to think of Erica’s inspirational attributes. We need to channel our energy toward not what is no longer or what could have been, but more so on what we can learn, the positive memories we will always have, and the many mileposts of excellence in which Erica lived her life. 

We first met the Lee family at Chinn Park in Woodbridge, Virginia approximately twenty years ago in 1999. With many players who expressed interest in our highly competitive club soccer team, Braddock Road Youth Club (BRYC) Electra, usually the player would show up with one parent at a training session. The Lee family consisting of Wing, Sou, Erica and Michael all took the time to check out our team at an actual match. I could tell something was different (a good different) about Erica: despite moving across the country, she was happy, well-spoken, and confident for a rising ninth grade student. She had the opportunity to check out our “family,” just as we got to inspect hers. 

The Lee family had moved from southern California to northern Virginia, and they wanted to ensure that Erica had the best environment possible for her club soccer experience. It was very clear that soccer was a passion of hers and supporting that passion was something her family did for her consistently. After that match, she tried out for our team at a couple of training sessions, competing with intensity, demonstrating good skill, and showing terrific team chemistry in a new environment; it was a terrific match as Erica (and her family) joined our team. After winning a state championship and nearly winning a regional championship as a huge underdog that summer, our team had additional training sessions and upcoming competitions. It was amazing how easily Erica transitioned to our team— quickly developing into a competitive key member of our team on and off of the field. 

The memories of Erica from that summer onward are numerous, and these are what we must hold on to. With Erica, BRYC Electra would go on to travel to Ottawa, Phoenix, Orlando, New Jersey, San Diego, Long Island, Delaware Ft. Lauderdale, Rhode Island and numerous locations all over Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland to compete. We ultimately become one of the top teams in the country and sparked intrigue from all over as symbols of player development and team culture. College coaches sought out our team: at one of our Raleigh/CASL Showcase matches, we had approximately 80 college coaches to check out our team, as we regularly had 20-40 coaches at matches during prime recruiting time; Erica was certainly one of our top prospects where ever we traveled and a reason why our numbers were so great. The trips were amazing bonding experiences for our team, and Erica’s kindness, responsibility, dedication, commitment, punctuality, friendliness, and leadership were always evident; it was due to players like her who made our team chemistry one of the keys to our success. She loved being with her teammates on and off of the field, and she was always a positive contributor to our team meetings. 

In the matches during all of these travels, Erica was clearly a fierce competitor. She primarily played center back for us, defending our goal whilst at the same time demonstrating superior skills to be a part of our attack. She wanted to win, understanding if the team wins, then we all win. A gifted athlete, she was a physical force and also one of the smartest players on our team; she also led not just by her efforts on the field, but by also inspiring others to compete with her words. When I look back on the Electra years, Erica’s versatility and leadership were contributing factors to our abilities to play various formations and showcase our team wonderfully no matter who the competition was against. 

However, athletics is clearly not just all about the matches; it takes high-level training sessions far more numerous than the number of matches played. Our team had challenging preseason team camps, grueling fitness sessions, highly competitive training sessions where player development was key and team meetings where players were asked to contribute their voice. Erica loved being with her teammates at everything we did; she worked hard, competed to win, inspired whoever she was grouped with, cared for her team in a sincere, genuine manner, and her commitment to all events was incredible. 

I have numerous memories of Erica at training; her support of the team, engagement in the exercises we did, her taking charge in many ways, setting an example through her effort and words, and her sheer joy of the game made all of us happy. I especially remember the happiness she had with her teammates at UNC team camps and other college competitions, as those provided us with terrific competitive challenges and more opportunities to be together as family as the girls strove toward their collegiate years. 

Erica even went beyond our team to improve, as she exceled and led her teams in the Olympic Developmental Program. Thus, her passion and commitment to soccer were truly at elite levels. It was obvious that she was also a four-year starter and leader, eventually becoming captain of the varsity soccer team at Oakton High School. 

By the time she was a junior in high school, she was quite an accomplished student-athlete. From our team brochure, here are a few of her impressive stats: 

  • Erica Lee, # 2 Oakton H.S. ‘03 Position: Midfield, Back. 
  • Academics: GPA 3.9 (GT/AP classes); Oakton Scholar Athlete Award '00, '01, '02. ODP: VA '85 State Team and Region 1 Camp '99-'02; Region 1 Tournament finalist '00; Texas Shootout '01, '02. 
  • Athletics: Varsity Soccer as freshman; First Team All District Player of the Year '01; First Team All District '00, '01, '02; First Team All Region '01, '02; First Team All Tournament (district tournament); Second Team All Met '01, '02; Second Team All State '01, '02; JV basketball. 
  • Other Activities: Math Honor Society; Spanish Honor society; Octagon Club; Key Club 

In Erica’s senior year, we went on to defeat our perennial nemesis to win another state championship; no doubt she was a big factor in contributing to the team’s victory. Her college recruiting process went so well that she ended up with several quality opportunities, ultimately deciding on a full scholarship to Boston University, where she played for all four years and garnered various honors along the way. 

Here is what Wing and Sou said as they reflected about Erica’s Electra experience in my book: 

“Player development - You have always focused on the long term. Not that short steps aren’t important but what goals can be set for the long term - 1 year from now? 2 years? how about 5 years from now? For soccer players, is there a plan after club, high school, or even college? Humility - For an elite soccer club, travel was a big part - competing at various tournaments. My daughter and family’s first tournament was at Ottawa, Canada after moving to Virginia from California. There were others of course - Florida, Delaware, North Carolina, and Arizona just to mention a few. Ashu taught not only the players humility but even the parents. When traveling (he said), you not only represent the soccer club (Braddock Road Electra) but you also represent the state of Virginia. Humility went far for players and parents, as college recruiters watched matches and enjoyed the humble nature of the program. College process - Prepare the player as much as you can. Have the player ask questions to the college coach and not the parents. It is the player that coaches are recruiting, not the parents. Have the player talk with former players that have graduated from high school and are now playing in college about their process.” – Wing and Sou Lee (parents of Erica, BRYC Electra U15-U19 & Boston University)

The effect that Erica had on others was also impressive: she regularly worked with my younger teams,; those players and their parents always remarked how special it was to have Erica work with them, demonstrating patience, service to others, kindness and ultimately being a terrific role model for all. In addition, she inspired her peers. One of our team members, Katie, wrote about why our team was special and it was clear to see how teammates viewed Erica and likewise, how Erica viewed the team: 

"I think the best way to describe why Electra was such a unique and rewarding experience for me is to describe what I learned from my teammates and coaches, who were essentially my second family for ten years of my life. I learned what it means to be humble from Ashley, who was probably the most gifted athlete on the team but who never boasted or flaunted her remarkable successes. I learned what it means to be both a strong and assertive leader and a compassionate and thoughtful teammate from Erica, who was the team captain without ever having to be declared one. I learned what it means to have heart and grit from Laura, the smallest but toughest defender on our team. I learned what it means to work hard from Jenn, who lifted weights and played with the boys and redefined for me what it means to be a female athlete. I learned how to lead by example, both on and off the field, from Cassie, whose positive communication from the goal guided and comforted the team on the field and whose quiet faith and spirituality guides her life off of it. I learned what it means to persevere when confronted with obstacles from Christina, who suffered a torn ACL in the most important year of her soccer career but battled back and overcame. I learned what it means to be a loving person from Kenika, who always made sure that everyone was included and no one felt forgotten...." 

The many questions that we may have regarding Erica’s departure may be better aimed toward queries such as “What can I do to help?” “How are you feeling?” “Do you have someone you can speak with?” “Can I lend a hand, a shoulder or an ear?” No doubt, we all love Erica, and we can be inspired to weave many pieces of her very being into our lives. I close with Erica’s words that she contributed to my book—though her original piece has my name in it, the piece is really about the team; thus, I’ve edited it briefly. Erica clearly understood that the team came first and that understanding in itself is so powerful on many levels. I would like you to close your eyes and imagine the “beautiful, precious Erica” saying these words, with her smile in her joyful manner: 

“The coaching style and Electra’s core values and morals laid a very powerful foundation for me to excel and succeed in the real world today and for that I am thankful. We always focused on the fundamental skills — dedicating time during each training session to repetitious patterns to enhance muscle memory. The coaching/teaching style involved technical and tactical learning, which gave me a clear understanding of how to break down the game of soccer, which allowed the Electra to strategically execute its match plan. Ashu was more than a soccer coach. He cared about our overall success as students, which was reflected in taking the Electra players on a ‘College Tour.’ One of my most memorable moments was filming an instructional video with Anson Dorrance and Tony DiCicco near the campus of UNC on ‘how to play the 1-4-3-3’” – Erica Lee, BRYC Electra U15-U19 (Boston University)

And as my friend Anson would say, “Erica and her teammates are forever immortalized in that video, training skillfully for many to learn from by one of the world’s greatest coaches in Tony DiCicco.” No doubt, Erica's leadership was always felt on and off the field; her strength, smarts, character, selflessness, perseverance, competitiveness, determination, care for the team, commitment and so much more will always be remembered. Please keep the Lee family in your thoughts, and give them your love; we wish them peace, comfort, strength at this time. Our hearts are heavy, but surely, we will do our best to keep Erica's memory alive forever. Thank you for allowing me to share these words with you today.