GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- There is a unique form of discipline that can only be learned by the awesome responsibility of living on a farm. In that environment, one simply can't take a day off because the well-being of the farm and its animals are at stake daily.
Junior Florida soccer player Havana Solaun understands that better than most, having spent her middle school and high school years on an 11-acre farm in Gainesville, where her daily responsibilities included milking cows.
"Growing up on a farm definitely is a lot of work," Solaun said. "It teaches you, from a young age, about responsibility and time management. On a farm, you can't not do a chore just because you're tired. There's no cop out."
It is that level of commitment that has made Solaun one of the Southeastern Conference's elite soccer student-athletes. Solaun, a member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll, was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team in 2011, and was second on her team a season ago with 22 total points and seven goals.
This past spring, Solaun was invited to spend time playing with the United States U-23 Women's National Team in Spain.
"She's not afraid of hard work," Florida head soccer coach Becky Burleigh said of Solaun. "I think she's pretty self-disciplined. She looks at challenges as another step. She's a very character-driven person and is always going to do the right thing."
While some students struggle in the adjustment to college life, and balancing the time demands required by being both a high-level athlete and a student, Solaun's background allowed her to make a smooth transition.
"It helped just from a time-management standpoint," Solaun said. "On the farm, you had to take care of your chores before anything else. It's kind of similar with soccer because you have to make sure you get your school work done before soccer. That made the transition easier."
Solaun comes from an athletic family as her sister Zhoe plays tennis at Florida Gulf Coast University and her sister Sierra runs track at UCF, and all three sisters played tennis from an early age.
"I grew up playing both soccer and tennis," Solaun said. "I loved both sports, but my mom said that I needed to choose one. I initially chose tennis, but I knew after a few weeks it was the wrong decision. I knew soccer was the right decision; I just loved the team aspect."
Since committing herself solely to soccer, Solaun was a member of the 2010 U.S. U-17 Women's National Team, representing the United States at the CONCACFU U-17 Women's Championship, where the United States tied for third. She was a three-time All-Area Girls Soccer first-team selection in Gainesville.
In addition to her experiences on a farm, Solaun has had a unique world-view, spending the early years of her life in countries throughout the globe, including Singapore and Canada.
"Living in so many different places was fun and gave me the opportunity to experience a lot of different things," Solaun said. "I think that traveling so much and seeing all of those different places has allowed me to become more open-minded to different situations."
Burleigh agrees, saying that Solaun's world-view has allowed her to bring a high level of maturity to her team.
"She is just mature beyond her years in terms of having an ability to see things from other points of view," Burleigh said. "I'm sure that is a probably a direct results of her having those different cultural experiences."
Solaun's empathy and unselfishness has been evident by her willingness to give back to her community and across the world, using soccer as a platform to help others.
"Being an athlete, you have a lot of eyes on you," she said. "If you can do simple things that allow you to give back, that sort of allows you to lead by example. If everyone is watching and you're doing good things, you are able to encourage them to give back when they can."
One of Solaun's greatest service efforts included a trip while in high school to Guatemala to deliver soccer equipment to children in a village that had been displaced by floods. It was a journey that further helped to shape Solaun's perspective and views.
"My dad told me about this project and I thought that we would really be able to help people over there with soccer equipment that people were not using," Solaun said. "It was really fun to actually go over there and see how different it is. It was a great experience to see how lucky we are."
All of Solaun's experiences have combined to make her a strong teammate - one who was elected captain by her peers. The impact of having Solaun on her team is one that Burleigh knows pays dividends on and off the field.
"When your better players are your hardest workers, you are going to have a successful team," Burleigh said. "She executes her role and also has a really, really strong work-ethic. She has a willingness to bring issues to the coaches and a willingness to hold her teammates to high standards. Those aren't easy things for her to do, but she does what needs to be done."
Doing what needs to be done is one of the attributes that best characterizes Solaun. She is committed to getting the most out of each day.
"The biggest thing is that you have to live in the moment and not think about what if you win or lose; that doesn't define the entire season," Solaun said. "You know what you have to get done, so you might as well get it done now. It's important to embrace being in the moment."
Ten matches into her junior season, it's apparent that Solaun is making the most of her time on the field, ranking second on her team with 10 points and four goals. She brings an approach to her game and her life that will serve her well for many years to come.
"Havana really walks the talk," Burleigh said. "You know what you're going to get with her day in and day out. She brings a very high level of effort and execution. When you combine those two things, you end up with a very special player."