Luke Poudel has often flown in front of the goal to stop a soccer ball. This summer, Poudel did a whole different kind of flying that kept the Lee’s Summit West goalkeeper out of the net.
Poudel, the returning starter in goal for the Titans and member of the school’s Air Force Junior ROTC program, spent two months in the inaugural Flight Academy class at Liberty University in Virginia. Poudel and Lee’s Summit North cadet Austin Merit were two of 120 cadets nationwide selected to participate in the all-expenses-paid program and earn a private pilot’s license.
“As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been interested in flying,” said Poudel, who is entering his senior season. “I never had the financial means to do so. This opportunity came knocking and I took it.”
That opportunity came after Poudel completed a lengthy application process last December that included an evaluation from his ROTC instructor. And as much as he wanted that opportunity, Poudel knew it would come with a price.
Not only would he miss two months of offseason camps and practices with his team, Poudel would find squeezing in workouts around the program’s rigorous schedule of studying and flying a challenge.
“Studying all day, there wasn’t much time to work out,” Poudel said. “You have to balance this. You have to ask, ‘Do I need to study or do I need to work out?’ And most of the time the answer was studying.
“When I worked out, I went until I couldn’t walk anymore. It might have only been two or three days a week, but I went until I dropped.”
Poudel returned home two weeks before the first practice Aug. 6, which gave him an opportunity to get caught up. Even though it’s still early in the preseason, West soccer coach Chris Brizendine said Poudel already is up to speed.
“It was a great opportunity for him and I know he was training on his own,” Brizendine said. “He’s jumped right back in and he’s doing well.”
Poudel jumped back into a West team that lost only three seniors from last season’s youthful 9-13-1 squad. In his first year as a starter, Poudel had 76 saves and gave up 31 goals with five shutouts in 18.5 games.
“He’s a great kid and shown good leadership qualities too,” Brizendine said. “He’s continued to get better and better every year he’s been here.”
Still, as one of at least four goalies expected in the program this season, Poudel isn’t taking his starting job for granted.
“In my four years here there’s always been competition,” Poudel said. “It never goes away. You don’t have to worry about it as long as you put your best foot forward.”
Which is what Poudel plans to do, whether he’s in goal or in a cockpit.
“It’s all stimulating for me,” Poudel said. “It’s all hard, don’t get me wrong. Playing soccer and flying planes are the hardest things I’ve ever done in the world. But I love it so it’s worth it.”