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After Unified Cup Success, Dominique DeHerrera Aims for Even Bigger Name

A female Special Olympics soccer athlete runs down the soccer field, dribbling the ball.
Dominique DeHerrera's passion for soccer and winning helps to drive her on the pitch.

Dominique DeHerrera may be undersized, but her size doesn’t hold her back on the soccer pitch. Having played the sport since the age of four, the now 20-year-old DeHerrera gets to show her athletic ability and intense competitive spirit at the forward position. Her fierce and mighty style of play has created opportunities that only a select few get to experience.

During the month of July, DeHerrera represented the United States of America in the Special Olympics Unified Cup hosted in Detroit, Michigan. “It makes me feel really inspired,” she says about the opportunity to compete against teams from all over the world. That inspiration helped push DeHerrera to be a scoring machine throughout the week: she finished the tournament as the second-highest-scoring female, but her personal success isn’t what matters most to DeHerrera.

Scoring Machine

Dominique DeHerrera led the Special Olympics USA women's team in scoring, with 7 goals and 1 assist during the Unified Cup.

“My favorite part was being able to be a part of an amazing team, getting to experience so much with them,” she expresses. "I’m just grateful I got this opportunity this year to participate with all the amazing teams.”

Her father, Lorenzo DeHerrera, has always been one of her biggest fans and supporters.

“Watching Dominique play on the biggest stage is very exciting, emotional, tense, and stressful,” her father says. “Watching her on the sideline, I’m pacing up and down, cheering at times and shedding tears of enjoyment. One of the best parts was Special Olympics USA took second and Dominique helped achieve that with seven goals.”

DeHerrera’s involvement with Special Olympics Utah isn’t extensive. She just got involved following high school graduation. “I didn’t really know what Special Olympics was until my grandma introduced it to me,” she says.

It was then that DeHerrera tried out for the Unified soccer team. She was hooked on the passion and joy she gets while on the pitch. Competing with Special Olympics, she says “has made my life richer and more enjoyable and I have a greater love of the sports.”

Three Special Olympics soccer athletes battle for the ball in front of the net.
DeHerrera (far right) stood out amongst her peers during the Special Olympics Unified Cup 2022 for her competitive spirit, shown here in a match against Special Olympics Egypt.

That love has transitioned to even a bigger stage. At home in Utah, DeHerrera is part of the Special Olympics Unified Sports® Soccer Exchange Program. Collaborating with each other since 2014, MLS Works, ESPN, and Special Olympics strive to promote inclusion by having a Unified team play exhibition matchups with the MLS team in their respective cities. Athletes and Unified partners experience authentic MLS first-team moments such as signing days, jersey unveils, practices and scrimmages with MLS front office staff and first-team players, and game day recognition.

A typical training session with the Real Salt Lake Unified team starts with stretching, running, and working on some skills. Once in the thick of practice, they’ll run a scrimmage. Immediately after practice, they end with the team oath, “We practice as one. We play as one. We win as one,” she says.

DeHerrera and her teammates are preparing to take on the Colorado Switchbacks on October 9, 2022. Training twice a week, DeHerrera makes sure she’s at her absolute best for competition. Her coach, Jenna Holland, says, “Dominique sets a high standard for herself and when the situation does not play out like she wants, she gets frustrated with herself. She has been a great asset to the RSL Unified Team and works hard!”

While DeHerrera has already played on one of the biggest stages with Special Olympics, her goals and ambitions don’t stop there. On top of being a role model to others with intellectual disabilities, she wants to take things to the next level. “My dreams are taking risks and trying new things that I have not done before,” she ends with. “Traveling to other countries, playing professional soccer.”

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