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Women's History Month: Kristina Kearl


Amidst a sea of fans, silence seemed to envelop the sideline as Real Salt Lake Justen Glad began his walk towards the penalty spot. Heads bowed down, eyes squeezed shut, hoping to hear the swish of the net indicating the ball’s safe arrival into the back of the goal. Standing, the RSL sideline was locked arm-in-arm, among them First Team Massage Therapist Kristina Kearl. Much like the team, the match marked the culmination of a tumultuous year, the payoff after months of uncertainty.

Eventually the ball did trickle in over the goal line and those donning the Claret-and-Cobalt erupted in front of a stunned Seattle Sounders crowd, Real Salt Lake had accomplished the impossible, unexpectedly, impossibly vanquishing the proverbial giants on their home turf.

But as the celebrations died down, Kearl’s reality remained unchanged, stuck in a place of choosing between her passion and her worth.

Kearl first joined Real Salt Lake as an unpaid intern, working one day a week during the 2013 season to provide massage therapy to any and all players who needed them.

“Tony Beltran was my first client, and I was utterly terrified,” Kearl said. “He knew exactly what he wanted and in retrospect I know it had to be a terrible massage, but it solidified that this is what I wanted to be doing.”

As a student, Kearl had made the decision to pursue a career in sports over a multitude of other fields, loving the high stakes of it all. This was not just about providing temporary relief to pain, or providing recovery; it was about healing peoples careers.

Unlike general massage therapy, in sports the work is incredibly specific, focusing on muscle groups with goal-oriented results. Despite her resolve to pursue a career in sports, Kearl viewed Real Salt Lake as a dream job, likely unobtainable. Therefore, taking an unpaid internship for years at a time seemed like a no-brainer, her passion outweighing the ramifications of working for free.

“On the days I wasn't with RSL I was working at a spa, and the entire time I looked forward to the days with the team, I preferred working for free than any other job I could have gotten,” Kearl said.

Her work was crucial to the success of the team, and she was quickly carving out space as one of the best, as more and more players began to request her by name. This led to the Club creating a full-time position specifically for her.

And for nearly six years she was a valued member of Real Salt Lake’s medical staff and an important piece of player health and fitness. But as 2020 came and furloughs were handed out, Kearl began to have reservations about her work and her place within the organization.

“My first salary was below minimum wage, but I never really cared about the money,” Kearl said. “I was so excited about the work I was doing, that nothing else mattered, and that worked for six years, until it no longer did.”

At the end of the 2020 season Kearl made the decision to step back from her full-time position, chasing a career outside of sports, while working on Mondays with RSL to provide some part-time assistance while they looked to find someone to fill her shoes.

But her absence was greatly felt, especially by the players, as she had become not only part of the routine, but a vital part of the team as a whole. So, when the team made the 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs she was asked about a possible return to help as the locker room prepared for their postseason run. But many of the same issues remained, there was no clear path forward, knowing she may have to “hang up her cleats, permanently,” which led to uneasiness on the sidelines, despite the joy felt from the on-field of the players.

By the time the postseason rolled around, players began fighting for her full return, recognizing the importance of her role.

Current Club Captain Damir Kreilach was a prominent voice of that charge, having worked with her for much of his tenure, with Kearl helping to keep him as one of the most consistent on-field athletes across the league.

“We are more than grateful to have a human being like her in our group,” Kreilach said. “The way she treats people, her positivity and at the end all the hard work she does behind the scenes is something truly special for our team.”

Two days before the team was set to head down to Tucson, Arizona for 2022 preseason, Kearl got a call from the front office. Under the leadership of new owners David Blitzer and Ryan Smith, the Club finally had the resources and people in place who valued her, proudly bringing her back into the fold as the team’s full-time massage therapist.

“RSL has always been my dream job, and to be back and valued properly, doing what I love and am passionate about makes it that much better,” Kearl finished.

In terms of how grateful the team was and is to have her as part of Real Salt Lake, Kreilach says it best: “With all due respect to the other massage therapists I’ve worked with, she is the BEST I have ever had in my entire career.”