GREAT FALLS — As the United States Women’s National Team closed their practice ahead of last week’s game against Japan in the SheBelieves Cup in Nashville, star forward Mallory Swanson welcomed a special guest to the pitch.
Great Falls High junior Emma Pachek stepped into the huddle featuring some of the best soccer players in the world and confidently broke them down.
“Team on three,” she said. “One, two, three… Team!”
A surreal moment for the lifelong soccer fan who grew up idolizing several of the players she now stood shoulder to shoulder with.
“Oh it was so cool,” Pachek told MTN sports this week. “They asked me on the field and they asked me to break the team and I just said okay.”
It was the culmination of a challenging two years for Pachek.
In the summer of 2021 she collapsed on the pitch following a drill and was rushed to the hospital where she underwent tests. She was eventually flown to a hospital in Denver where she was diagnosed with aplastic anemia.
It’s a rare life threatening disorder with no known cure. It robs her of strength and energy, requires round the clock monitoring and kept her from playing the sports she loved, chiefly soccer.
“There’s just constant swelling in my feet and whole body,” Pachek said. “I have to get up every morning at 4 a.m. to take medicine and have been poked thousands of times by needles in the past two years.”
After months of uncertainty and heartache, Emma and her family are back on solid ground in managing her illness. After missing her sophomore season, Pachek returned to the pitch as a junior and even contributed to the state championship swim team at GFH.
Just last week, her doctors declared Pachek in remission. But her health challenges will never be over. Her medical treatment team has mapped out a treatment plan that seems to be working in the interim, but she’ll always face the prospect of requiring a bone marrow transplant in the future if there are flare ups or complications.
“Emma’s strength is inspiring,” said her mother Julie “In the face of everything she’s going through she rose to it and fought it with zero complaining. She tackles everything that comes at her.”
Back to Nashville.
Because Emma lives with a critical illness she was eligible for a wish from Make-A-Wish South Dakota & Montana. She didn’t have to think about her choice for very long.
“(Meeting Team USA) was always my first choice,” Pachek said. “I grew up watching some of them and I’ve always wanted to meet them. So it was a no-brainer.”
Make-A-Wish flew Emma and her entire family to Nashville for the SheBelives Cup. And this wasn’t just meet & greet. They made Emma part of the team. She visited with players like Swanson, Alex Morgan, Lindsey Horan, Rose Lavelle, Megan Rapinoe and more.
And Team USA went above and beyond to make Emma feel at home.
“Everybody knew Emma's name everybody knew her story,” Julie said. “And it was just great to see her so happy. And so just in her element.”
Emma left with autographs, jerseys, photos, team swag and much more. Emma’s twin sister Bella is a goalkeeper for the Bison and received gloves signed by Team USA goalies Adrianna French and Alyssa Naeher as well.
“And watching everyone talk with Emma and seeing the smile on her face, it's just so amazing,” Bella said. “Just seeing her happy after the past year that I've seen her down, which was hard.”
But most importantly, she left with memories and warm feeling that will help ease some of the health struggles she’ll face in the future.
“I don't think I could pull a smile off of my face,” Emma said. “I was just so beyond excited.”
And the Pachek family returned to Great Falls with perspective. Both on the Make-A-Wish experience, and the trials of the last two years.
“Definitely changed our perspective on life, that's for sure,” said Emma’s father Ryan. “The little things turn into the big things and try not to sweat the small stuff anymore.”