At 18, being homeless and living out of a car with her father wasn’t exactly Christina Burkenroad’s idea of living the dream.
But now, the 21-year-old Cal State Fullerton women’s soccer player is a first generation college student who credits her rough start as the motivating factor behind her drive to seek greatness.
Life for the CSUF junior advertising major has been filled with hardship. When Burkenroad was 4 years old, her mother passed away, an event that altered her life. After her mother’s death, her father spiraled into a deep depression, which resulted in instability in the home.
Support financially and emotionally would rest upon her father’s shoulders, but the depression put a strain on their relationship, Burkenroad said.
She appreciated her father for his support in everything she did yet financially, Burkenroad acknowledged that college was going to be difficult to attend without money.
Due to the lack of financial stability, Burkenroad described living out of her father’s car when she was 18 as a “terrible” experience.
“We stayed at the beach, just like in the parking lot,” Burkenroad said. “Everyone assumed I had it made because I lived near the beach, but no one really knew that for some unknown reason my aunt kicked me out of her house,” she said.
As much as it killed her pride, Burkenroad chose to move in with her dad for a couple of weeks before reaching out to a friend.
“I really had nowhere to go and I knew my dad had been living in his car for a while. I felt like I had no other way to turn,” Burkenroad said.
After all, it was only her and her father.
Money was an issue, yet Burkenroad found joy in doing the one thing she loves most: playing soccer.
Burkenroad was always energetic, she said. Playing outside with friends on the soccer field helped her escape from reality and the struggles at home.
She admitted to never being confident with academics. Her family never pushed getting good grades, so Burkenroad focused less on her homework and more on the field, she said.
She still struggles in the classroom, but she motivates herself to go to class, do the work and get a good grade point average mostly to stay eligible for soccer.
Soccer would be her golden ticket.
Senior year of high school was approaching and Burkenroad had not been recruited by a college team. She was a guest player for a few different clubs but was never settled on one club team.
One day, during a tournament at UC San Diego, her club coach noticed that CSUF was playing on the field next to them.
Coincidentally, Burkenroad’s club team coach,previously coached Demian Brown, CSUF women’s soccer head coach, when he was a youth soccer player.
The two coaches talked about the possibility of Burkenroad joining the women’s soccer team at CSUF. Brown knew he wanted her to be a Titan because of her athleticisim and maturity, he said.
“We were able to see a real strong amount of potential in her and then obviously her, life story was motivating. It felt like someone who was right for us, for our program,” Brown said.
Three weeks after their first encounter, Burkenroad committed to play Division I soccer for CSUF.
“This was always (my father’s) dream—his and my mom’s dream, for me to go to a Division I school and play soccer,” Burkenroad said. “His constant belief in me is always good, but he’s not there emotionally or financially, so that’s a huge struggle.”
Even though her life has been difficult given the circumstances, Burkenroad was able to turn it around in her junior season at CSUF.
In Fall 2014, the CSUF women’s soccer team defeated Long Beach State to claim the conference championship for the second consecutive year.
Amanda Howard, 20, is Burkenroad’s best friend, roommate and teammate. She described their relationship as, “inseparable.” Burkenroad plays a vital role as a team leader off the field and as a star player on the field, constantly looking for the ball, Howard said.
“She is the center of our attack … we count on her to score,” Howard said. “She leads us on and off the field, whether she’s on the sideline cheering us on or if she’s on the field dribbling past a whole other team.”
Burkenroad was named Most Valuable Player of the 2014 Big West Conference tournament.
“I think that’s what Division I sports has the potential to do for people,” Brown said. “It’s to give them a chance to become who they are going to be for the rest of their lives regardless of where they came from or the beginning of their life was.”