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Posted: Friday September 30, 2011 1:03PM ; Updated: Friday September 30, 2011 3:58PM

Faith has helped LSU's Mo Isom overcome lifetime of adversity

Story Highlights

LSU goalie Mo Isom appeared to have it all, but she struggled in her personal life

Isom battled bulimia, her father's death and a near-fatal car accident

Despite the hardships, Isom credits her faith for keeping her grounded

By Matthew Marcantonio, Special to SI.com

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Mo Isom
LSU goalkeeper Mo Isom suffered several personal hardships, but has remained grounded due to her faith.
Courtesy of LSUsports.net

With a life scarred by one tragedy after another, LSU senior goalkeeper Mo Isom is no stranger to hardship. But when all else failed, her faith remained constant.

It was her faith that allowed Isom to persevere after a serious eating disorder, the death of her father and a life-threatening car accident.

From a young age, Isom resorted to physical activities -- lots of them. Before the age of 10 she competed in gymnastics, tennis and horseback riding. But in the end, she decided to fully pursue soccer, which she started playing at 6-years-old.

Aware of the expenses for travel teams and other development programs, Isom made a promise to her parents at a young age. If they helped support her throughout her soccer journey, she would reward them by getting an athletic scholarship to college.

"For a young kid to say and make that promise is pretty beautiful," Mo's mother, Heidi, said.

Eventually, Isom delivered on her promise and received a full scholarship to play soccer at LSU. Her time in Baton Rouge has been record-breaking. As she progresses through her senior season, Isom holds the LSU alltime school record in wins (35) and shutouts (25). She was also invited on multiple occasions to train with U-23 U.S. National team.

Off the field, Isom has been something of an athletic celebrity on campus. She has appeared on local commercials, billboards and an LSU web series called "Meaux vs."

To the naked eye Isom has lived the perfect life: Little girls admire her, guys want to date her and athletes respect her.

But it's what lies inside that has shaped Isom into the person she is today.

Isom played three seasons at Lassiter High in Marietta, Ga., where she holds every goalkeeper record in school history. After received a college scholarship, Isom passed up her senior soccer season to graduate high school after the fall and enroll at LSU for what would have been spring of her senior year in high school.

Trying to shed a "giant looking" image high school students placed on her (she's 6-feet), Isom became bulimic. She progressed from barely eating, to making herself throw up 10 times a day, to then working out for close to six hours a day. When she realized that she did not have adequate energy to normally function, let alone play soccer, she turned to diet and energy pills.

"The root of all of my problems was from the demand for success," Isom said. "There was a lot of pressure in high school, both on the field and socially."

However, during Isom's battle with bulimia, she was at the top of her game. Isom was a part of the Olympic Development Program, where she traveled the world competing for the U.S., allowing just one goal total internationally. The paradox created conflicting emotions for her.

"Everything on the outside looked so great," Isom said. "I received so much praise, but inside my body was breaking down. I was caught in a serious web of self-consumption."

With college approaching, Isom knew she couldn't keep this going and finally opened up about her struggles. Like she did years ago -- Isom made another promise to her mom.

"I promised her that I would not fall back into my old ways," Isom said. "I would overcome the temptation through faith and hard work."

Fresh off one of the best freshman seasons of any goalkeeper in NCAA history Isom was riding on a high. Earlier that season Isom appeared on ESPN's Top 10 Plays and Sports Illustrated's Faces in the Crowd after she became the only goalkeeper in LSU history to score a goal. Keep in mind this was not any ordinary goal -- Isom scored on a 90-yard goal-to-goal strike.

But as fast as things rose, they fell even faster.

Isom went back home to Georgia for Christmas break, and on New Years, Isom and her family witnessed firsthand LSU's 38-3 win over Georgia Tech in the Chick-fil-A bowl game. Everything seemed so normal for Isom -- until the following week.

"We knew something was wrong," Isom said. "After a frantic morning I remember hearing my mom sprinting up the stairs screaming for us get in the car. She shoved a piece of paper in my hand. When I read it, my heart stopped."

In her hand, Isom held her father's suicide note that he emailed to the family in the wee hours.

John Isom ran a law practice and was a family man through and through, Isom says. John played an important role in Isom's development on the soccer field and was the reason Isom visited LSU in the first place. But after Heidi Isom discovered a financial issue with the IRS, John "went into panic mode."

"I don't think he could handle the fact that he lost control and hurt the one thing he cherished the most -- his family," Isom said. "I think his pride really took a hit and I think he was heartbroken and wasn't able to forgive himself."

On Jan. 2, John checked into a hotel in Huntsville, Ala. It was here just 55 miles from his hometown of Cullman, Ala., where John put the gun to his heart and pulled the trigger.

"It was then that my world froze," Isom said. "No one should have to see and hear their mother's heart break."

As time passed since her father's suicide, Isom found herself living a double life. In public she acted like everything was fine and people praised her for how well she was recovering. But deep down inside Isom was crippled by depression and anxiety.

"There was such a hole in my heart and I lost my grip," Isom says. "I looked for anything that could temporarily fill that hole and ease the pain."

After starting her sophomore year of college, Isom finally began crawling toward recovery. Come November, Isom was looking forward to spending time with her family and a fine Thanksgiving feast.

Isom left Baton Rouge on Nov. 25, 2009 eager to get home for the holiday. But late in her drive, around 1:30 a.m., a deer jumped out in front of Isom's Jeep. To avoid the deer she jerked her wheel left and ended up on the center medium. Startled, she attempted to get back on the main road, but she pulled her wheel back to the right and lost control of her car. She smashed into an embankment where it flipped three times before landing upside down, wrapped around a tree.

Hanging unconscious from the inside of her car, a passerby stopped to help Isom. The man, a retired paramedic, later told Heidi Isom that he heard Mo unconsciously saying, "God is beautiful" over and over while he attempted to get her out.

"I thanked him so much, but he will never realize what he meant to us," Heidi Isom recalls. "Those of us who trust the Lord and know the Lord shouldn't be surprised that we saw his preservations in that instance."

Isom was lucky to be alive. She suffered a broken neck, broken ribs, damaged lungs, damaged liver and severe brain contusions, but Isom never gave up. After six grueling months of rehab with the LSU athletic trainers, Isom was cleared to play soccer in the summer of 2010.

One week later Isom got called to train again with the U-23 U.S. National Team.

This January, after an injury to her Achilles tendon cut her junior season short, Isom started her own ministry project entitled, "Kissless until next Christmas."

"As young adults there is desire for fulfillment in another person," Isom said. "God called me to be still in Him. He challenged me to tell everyone everything about my life."

Isom started a personal blog where she writes about her journey while also sharing Biblical scriptures and her life-changing stories. People immediately noticed and the blog accumulated over 50,000 hits. She's also appeared at schools all across the country as a motivational speaker.

Most 21-year-olds never endure what Isom has over the last four years, especially while being the face of a collegiate soccer program. But it's her strong will and faith that has kept her moving.

"After everything that's happened in my life God has never stopped carrying me," Isom said.

 
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