Written by KYLE JORREY Photos by RICHARD GILLARD
Like a puppeteer with a marionette, Tasha-Nicole Terani brings a soccer ball to life. Up, down, left, right, foot to heel, head to shoulder, the checkered sphere stays in constant motion, never touching the ground, never leaving its orbit around Terani’s slender 5-foot-10-inch frame. To watch her is to risk being hypnotized.
For most of her life, Terani, like that soccer ball, lived in a state of flux, refusing to stop moving for fear she’d be forced to look back—at the mother who left her for dead, at the adopted family she left at age 13.
“You can never get over being abandoned, but you can learn to channel it. I’m a master of channeling, of turning my painful emotions into motivation,” she says. “I’ve done more than come to grips with it. I grabbed it and I’m running with it.” Today, Terani’s not only come to terms with her painful past but she’s paved a path for a prosperous future. She is the founder and CEO of the Every Child’s Dream Foundation, a nonprofit providing emotional and financial support to orphaned and abandoned babies worldwide, and the creator of a best-selling soccer DVD, “TNT Training System’s Soccer Ball Control with Tasha-Nicole.”
“I couldn’t possibly be happier,” the Westlake Village resident says of her present life. “I went from a very underprivileged type of scene, worked so hard, and now I’m finally able to enjoy life."
Terani takes nothing for granted. Born in Tehran, Iran, during a time of unrest leading to the country’s revolution, she was left to die in the street just weeks after birth.
She spent the next two years in an overcrowded Iranian orphanage, where babies were sometimes kept five to a crib and the well-being of the boys was placed ahead of the girls. Her first piece of good fortune came when a Newbury Park couple on business in Iran adopted her and brought her to live in the United States.
Despite the love of her adopted father Nick, the young girl struggled to fit into her new life. She found solace in two places: animals and a soccer ball, which she’d kick around in the backyard with her two older brothers.
“Soccer is like this flower that blossomed out of a very sad childhood—that was all I ever had,” she says. “That was my sanctuary, either being with animals or out on the soccer field.”
It didn’t take long for Terani to figure out she could do things with a soccer ball that others couldn’t. She starred in club soccer and eventually at Westlake High School, but when the time came to pick a college, Terani took another route.
She moved to Atlanta and spent the next seven years as a model, traveling the world and landing a few major gigs—including a spot in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition—but never feeling as if the profession truly suited her.
When she found that path less than satisfying, she turned back to the game that had brought her so much happiness, eventually breaking five world records for ball control and going on to mentor and train thousands of kids around the nation and the globe.
Few recognize Terani’s passion for paying it forward as much as her students. Though most of her time these days is dedicated to running her nonprofit and promoting her DVD, she still finds time to train the occasional youngster in the fine art of ball control. Once a week for 30 minutes, Terani meets 13-year-old Lexi Kerner at Bowfield Park in Thousand Oaks. Though their time together is brief, the teen soccer player says it’s valuable.
“She helps me out with more than just soccer,” says Lexi, an eighth-grader. “Tasha can relate to me more than my other coaches.”
And she’s already picking up a few of Terani’s tricks.
“At soccer practice the other day I was juggling the ball and everyone was watching me, trying to keep me going,” Lexi says. “It’s fun. I’ve gotten up to 75 touches (without the ball hitting the ground).”
Terani accepted Lexi as a student after receiving a surprise call from Lexi’s father. Jay Kerner knows the world record holder from the time she spent training Lexi’s older sister, Jordan, 19, when she was a preteen.
“I think she’s amazing,” Kerner says of Terani. “Her passion for what she does and for her students is just amazing.” Often, when Lexi’s 30 minutes are up, Terani wants to keep working. “It’s not about the money for her,” Kerner says. “It’s about seeing her students succeed.”