Family, friends honor soccer star Katie Meyer at memorial
As a goalie, Katie Meyer threw her body into more than a thousand unflinching dives to make game-winning saves. She helped lead Stanford University to a 2019 NCAA championship with several late-game blocks, but before that she made numerous saves at Newbury Park High School in Ventura County.
On Saturday, in the last light of the day, several hundred people gathered on the soccer field to remember Meyer, who died earlier this month. She was 22.
“She was just the life of the party, but in a good way,” Eileen Belanger, Meyer’s advisory teacher at Century Academy, said outside the memorial. Belanger’s voice cracked as she recalled writing a graduation speech about Meyer.
“I could have gone on for hours talking about Katie,” Belanger said. “She was just so hard to sum up in one speech.”
Meyer’s booming voice and strong kick on the field immediately stood out to Pepperdine University head coach Tim Ward when he first saw her. He recalled the summer of 2020, when he co-coached an impromptu girls’ soccer league at a local park with Meyer. Ward said she threw herself into being a mentor to all the girls. There were times when the girls would try to score off her, launching several volleys at her at once, and they found so much joy in her presence.
“It was crazy beautiful,” Ward said to the crowd at the memorial.
Meyer was found dead in her dorm room on March 1. Her parents, Gina and Steve Meyer, told NBC’s “Today” that their daughter died by suicide. They said they believed Katie may have received an email from Stanford University regarding a disciplinary action. Stanford University was unable to share information about “confidential student disciplinary matters,” a spokesperson said in an emailed statement. In the weeks following Meyer’s death, Stanford vowed to bring on additional mental health services for students.
Katie Meyer was a ball of energy, many at the service said, who was passionate about soccer but also about teaching young athletes about the types of obstacles they could overcome. That passion was infectious to anyone who watched her play or found themselves in her orbit.
Like most students from Gen Z, Meyer shared her life over social media. Meyer posted TikTok videos of herself in her Stanford dorm room getting ready to go out, sometimes putting on makeup and picking her outfit. She shared videos from a hospital bed when she had knee surgery and her own recovery in the gym. She shared her love of Lego bricks and “Star Wars” along with being a role model to younger athletes.
Thirteen-year-old Grace Ae stood outside the memorial with her parents, Laura and Vince. Grace, who is also a goalie, called Meyer a true inspiration.
“She’s just an incredible role model and big motivation,” Grace said.
Steve Meyer, Katie’s father, said his family feels “emotionally rinsed” and the support they’ve received from friends and the community has been a big help. She always wore a radiant smile, he said, and always asked her dad to take her on wagon rides and to collect flowers.
He recalled playing backyard soccer with an 8-year-old Katie and kicking the ball too hard and knocking her down. “Oh no,” Steve Meyer said. But then she got up and asked him, “Is that all you got?”
Over Christmas, Katie Meyer got to play with her younger sister Siena in a game of soccer at Newbury Park High School. “It was beautiful,” Steve Meyer said.
He read one of his last text messages to her after he visited her at Stanford: “I had the best time seeing you. And just being with you. I hope you have an amazing day. I love you, dad.”
He added, “I’m blessed to be her dad.”
Gina Meyer, Katie’s mother, said, “She came into this world a total spitfire of energy.”
She recalled stroking her daughter’s hair as a child and then traveling together when Katie was older.
“It was the purest mother-daughter love and joy,” Gina Meyer said. Looking out into the crowd at her daughter’s memorial, she said, “She would be in absolute awe, looking out at this.”
Her friends and family spoke before a large picture of Meyer and a No. 19 jersey, which she wore at Stanford.
Stanford University head coach Paul Ratcliffe said Meyer inspired the college community, leading “Go Stanford” chants at different sport games.
“Katie, thank you for bringing so much joy into our lives,” Ratcliffe said, his voice cracking.
Her former teammates with the Camarillo Eagles youth soccer league from the ages of 11 to 17 recall Meyer as a force of nature.
“She was so passionate about the sport,” Sadie Lutz said.
“She pushed everybody,” Carissa Dykes said.
“Everyone got so happy when she got to practice,” Avery Smithson said.
Jason Klein, Newbury Park High School athletic director, said, “She was a galvanizing player, where if something big needed to happen, she was the one that was going to make it happen.”
Jonathan Deemer, who dated her at Stanford, called her a brilliant student athlete with a magnetic personality and who “had a future as bright as the surface of the sun.”
“It’s not about what she did, but who she was,” Deemer said. “Even in death, even in the worst circumstances imaginable she can’t help but inspire us.”
Stanford teammate Naomi Girma said in February 2021 Katie Meyer tried to sneak into a physical therapy session to see her run after recovering from a sports injury. But due to COVID-19 restrictions, Meyer would not be able to see Girma in person. Meyer watched the therapy session through a window with the biggest smile.
“Outside the facility, she ran up to me, gave me the biggest hug and proudly showed me her badge,” Girma said, noting Meyer wrote “Naomi’s Best Friend” on the back of her student athlete badge.
Samantha Meyer, Katie’s older sister, recently dreamed of her sister dancing on a soccer field.
Samantha said, “I truly believe Kat has given me the job of knowing her and helping others heal and find peace.”
Meyer was just a few months away from her graduation at Stanford. Friends and teammates said she was heartbroken during the pandemic because she could not practice with her teammates. When COVID-19 restrictions allowed for practice again, the team reminisced about their time together.
“There is a completely finite amount of time that you get. You get four years,” Meyer said in a September 2020 interview. “That means that we have to take every single day incredibly, incredibly seriously. We’re a team, we’re a family and we’re there for each other.”
If you or someone you know is exhibiting warning signs of suicide, seek help by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK (8255).
Times staff writers Brittny Mejia, Hayley Smith and Leila Seidman contributed to this report.
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