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No place like Durham

Travis Worra no longer wakes up on a Saturday morning at noon to empty, red solo cups, a sticky, beer coated floor and a fuzzy memory of the night before. Instead, Worra’s alarm sounds at 7 a.m. on his “day off” and without a single hit of the snooze button, he heads to the stadium, laces up, and is ready to practice for what is now his full-time job.
Worra is signed to the D.C. United professional men’s soccer team as the third string goalkeeper after playing as UNH’s starting goalkeeper from 2011-2014. He’s the first Wildcat to be signed to an MLS soccer team after putting his degree on hold to chase his dream in February 2015.
Worra now lives in an apartment with two other D.C. United rookies and loves his busy new life in the nation’s capital.
Days start in the early morning, and double session practices, yoga, team lifts, video reviews, ice baths and meals with the team keep Worra busy until the evenings. When Worra does have spare time in D.C. he volunteers with a non-profit that helps underprivileged city youths. But life in D.C. has made Worra realize there’s no place like Durham.
“The family atmosphere UNH has is really like nowhere else,” he said.
Even though the majority of his time is taken, Worra comes back to visit Durham whenever he has a chance. Worra still has friends on the UNH men’s soccer team, and his best friends and girlfriend are also all in Durham. Those close to him say that these relationships keep Worra grounded.
“We talk on the phone almost every night and get to laughing about the stupidest things,” Worra’s girlfriend Maura Shanks said. “He’s the same old Travis to me.”
Worra is also incredibly close with his parents, who live in Seattle. Because of the distance, Worra rarely gets to see them, making his connections in Durham even more important for the young player.
That’s not to say that Worra’s parents haven’t been able to visit their son in D.C. at all. In fact, one of their visits is a day that Worra titles the best day of his life. It was April, and Worra still had not seen any field time in the pros but had prepared physically and mentally for the day that the coaching staff would finally call his name. With United’s second-string goalie hurt, Worra got the call to action.
His debut was a success, as Worra kept the opposing Vancouver Whitecaps from scoring and securing the win for his team.
“It was surreal,” Worra said when recalling his first time on the field. “50,000 people in the stands watching my debut and knowing my parents were a part of that crowd. I still get chills thinking about it today.”
Although it’s still the only appearance Worra’s made in the MLS, he knows he’s where he wants to be. His passion for the game is strong, and Worra sees himself learning and growing as a player for many years to come.
“I hope in a few years to be the main guy, the number one goalie,” he said. “But until then, it is important I learn from the goalkeepers above me.”
Worra raved about his new coach, Ben Olson, who was a D.C. United player in his playing days, and won the MLS Rookie of the Year Award in 1998. Olson is a player’s coach according to Worra, and his style is to not only coach the team, but to train and play with the team every day. The unique player-coach relationship this practice fostered has helped Worra make the transition from collegiate soccer to the professional levels; some of Worra’s teammates are as old as 35, and while they’ve been helpful teaching him how to handle the new lifestyle, building friendships with players who have families and children of their own is not always easy.
But none of Worra’s professional success would be possible without his experiences playing at UNH. Worra credits former UNH coach Rob Thompson with helping him progress into a physically and mentally stronger player.
“He always instilled mental toughness in us, a concept tough to grasp, but vitally important for success on and off the field,” Worra said.
Worra misses more than just the soccer team from his time at UNH, despite loving his new lifestyle. He says that Durham will always be his favorite place, and he misses the little things, like the chai lattes at Breaking New Grounds and the view of fall from the Thompson Hall lawn. Worra says he will “always be a Wildcat” at heart and he hopes to return to Durham to finish his degree once his new career allows it.
He’s already returned to Durham to visit and watch the success of this year’s men’s soccer team. According to Worra, there are many more visits planned.

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