AVIANO, ITALY (WSYR-TV) – Leah McNell used to be a standout multiple sport athlete at Central Square in basketball and soccer. She would pursue a collegiate career in soccer at Air Force graduating in 2014. Six years after leaving Colorado, she finds herself in Aviano, Italy, one of the hotspots of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
“For a while we couldn’t even go outside and exercise around our house,” said McNell
McNell is now a Captain in the Air Force working as a healthcare administrator for 31st Fighter Wing Medical Group meaning she was facing COVID-19 head on.
“We were working 14-16 hour days. It was a grind but I never really complained about it because the work was – I could see the changes I was making and the difference I was making,” said McNell.
Leah was a part of the group that helped organize clinics with testing and screening procedures for military personnel that would come through the base.
“I was a part of the group in the air force that we were creating new processes for the entire air force just because Italy was hit first,” said McNell.
Being in the military is not how Leah expected her life to turn out. Her first love was soccer and Air Force gave her a chance to continue her career, but it hasn’t stopped there.
“After I stopped playing college soccer, I thought my career was over and I was trying to get into running or something else active and then I heard about the armed forces military team,” said McNell.
The armed forces military team is made of members from different branches of the military. McNell has suited up in 2015, 2018 and 2019. She has played in the Military World Games and the Military Women’s World Cup playing in South Korea, the United States and China.
“It’s really cool because after the games they all come up to us and they say ‘wow look at what the united states is doing, you guys are really lucky to be in the military that you’re in’. And that just gives me goosebumps talking about it, because that really brings you back to why you are in the military,” said McNell. “That’s the coolest thing about being on the armed forces military soccer team.”
“And then also just being a role model for younger women, younger girls. Especially in the soccer realm. I can take that; I can play on the armed forces team and I can motivate them to be a leader and be in the greatest military in the world.”
And that’s why even through a pandemic. Leah has always focused on the positives. She and her husband, Sam – who she met through the Air Force and married in 2016, are both healthy.
“I wouldn’t change my experience for the world. Because I met the love of my life, I got to play soccer in crazy amazing places, I have amazing friends and I’m living in Italy right now. So, I cannot complain at all,” said McNell.