Champion - Balevska - 1280x380

EDITOR'S NOTE: “Columbus Champion” is an initiative to recognize and tell the stories of local individuals who have gone above and beyond to make a positive impact on the Columbus community.

If you know someone in the Columbus community who has gone above and beyond to make a positive impact, nominate them as a Columbus Champion!

Written by: Lauren Braun, ColumbusCrewSC.com
Published: May 4, 2020

Kristina Balevska’s love for soccer originated from, of all places, an airport.

“I remember coming back from Europe in 1991 – we were stuck in an airport, waiting for a flight back to the US – we were sitting in this ice cream shop and I was five years old,” recalled Balevska, who explained how her family was coming back home from Macedonia, where her father emigrated from.

It’s unbeknownst how much the ice cream played a role, but it was in that moment – as the family watched a Manchester United game at an airport ice cream parlor – that she was hooked.

Ballerina shoes for soccer cleats

“It was unbelievable. I was like ‘Dad I want to play soccer, I don’t want to do ballerina anymore,’” Kristina recalled. “When we got back home, [my mother] was taking me to ballet lessons, and I told her I didn’t want to do it anymore. She asked why and I said that I wanted to play soccer. She told me soccer was for boys. I said I didn’t care – I wanted to play.”

Since that day in the airport ice cream shop, Kristina’s love for the game was automatically tied to Manchester United, her father’s club.

“My brother and I were watching the game and I remember him saying, ‘This is the club we should support,’ because that was the club that [my father] did growing up.”

During her childhood, that was about the only option the Balevska’s had when it came to tuning in to professional soccer. There was the Fox Soccer Channel on cable (which she said her family subscribed to), but as far as in-person pro soccer, the North American Soccer League had already folded and Major League Soccer had yet to start.

As April 13, 1996 approached, Mr. Balevski was able to secure three tickets through his company, and that was the moment where she shifted from a fan of her father’s club, to a supporter of her own Columbus Crew.

Kristina, her father, and her brother attended the inaugural Crew SC match as part of her brother’s birthday present from her parents, and it was, as she described, euphoric.

“We went to the game and it was unbelievable. The crowd was unbelievable. Just to watch what I watched on TV as a kid and see it on the field was unbelievable.

“It was just not something you can say you experience every day. I think that’s going to be a big thing when our new stadium opens. It was the same way when MAPFRE opened. It’s euphoric. It’s something monumental and special. I will never forget it.”

'We Love You!' in an LA conference room

The Balevska Family became season ticket members two years later, and later during her college years, Kristina bought her own season ticket and started attending every home match, in addition to multiple away matches, with her most memorable trip being 2008 MLS Cup in LA. After securing tickets & lodging for the match – and even a drum – Kristina attended the 3-1 win over the New York Red Bulls.

Following the game, an invitation from General Manager Mark McCullers led Kristina and about 100 other Crew Supporters to the conference room of the team’s hotel, where Head Coach Sigi Schmid was giving a speech.

When Sigi had finished, Kristina and a fellow supporter started the We Love You! chant.

“The entire room exploded – players, families, owners, front office members – we were singing to the top of our lungs,” she said.

Using that story evidence, if you ask her about what draws her most to the Crew, it’s the belonging, the idea that everyone is part of something bigger, together.

“What we experienced, not just that match, but throughout the season just reflected that we’re a family. A connected unity,” said Kristina about the ’08 run.

'Our voice is just a tiny little piece of what we bring to the field.'

She said the support has been felt even during these difficult times, particularly through the Nordecke family. A member of Nordecke since its founding, she now sits with the 129 West Side Supporters Group, whom you may recognize by their massive red and yellow cards.

Away from the field, however, Kristina is dedicated to calming the flames.

For 15 years and counting, Kristina has worked at Mount Carmel East as a certified surgical technologist. Serving as a team lead in general surgery, she currently works in the trauma center and often trains new technologists or nurses. During this time, she continues to go into the hospital, filling in shifts whenever necessary.

Her job requires her to be constantly attentive, prepared, and always working to stay a step ahead – parallels to what she tries to do for her club, home and away.

“We come together as a family on and off the field…You don’t get that vibe anywhere,” she said. “Our voice is just a tiny little piece of what we bring to the field.”