From a Nurse to a Pro, Jenna Bike Reflects on Her First Season with Gotham FC
Jenna Bike is no stranger to adversity. The 24-year-old joined Gotham FC this year and signed her senior contract in August, but the pathway to going pro was not so straightforward for the Trumbull, CT native.
“I just wanted to see where everything would take me,” Bike told Nets Republic. “I had no plan, I knew I wanted to play as long as I could and as long as I had opportunities to. And one thing lead to another!”
From club soccer in Connecticut to collegiate soccer at Boston College, to a 13-month long injury and a year as a nurse during the COVID-19 pandemic, Bike’s journey to earning a senior contract with an NWSL was unconventional, to say the least, but the forward-turned-fullback wouldn’t have it any other way.
Now, the former nurse reflects on her first season in the NWSL and looks forward to what’s to come with her “hometown” team in the northeast, Gotham FC. “I’m excited,” she said. “I think this club is special, and the future is a lot brighter than the season we’ve had this year.”
A Nurse Turns Pro Soccer Player
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bike graduated from Boston College’s four-year nursing program and sat for her licensing exam that summer. She had sat out her senior year of college soccer due to injury but continued to play with the Eagles in 2020 while she pursued her master’s degree in nursing. In 2021, Bike began her doctorate and played a final season with Boston College while simultaneously working as a nurse at the school.
“I never really took a break from soccer,” Bike said. “The COVID year was tough because I was coming back from a longer injury. It was 13 months until I was playing again.”
Bike not only had to navigate through her first big injury but also start rehabbing it on her own while everything was shut down due to COVID. Once she got back to school she was ready to hit the ground running and continue her soccer journey.
Everyone is fighting until the end and not giving up even on the last game. We’re going into it like it’s the biggest game of the year.”
Bike had declared for the 2020 NWSL Draft, but went undrafted. She was undeterred, and still had hopes of breaking into the league. Then, in 2022, Bike was invited to Gotham FC’s open tryouts.
“I was invited to tryouts out of the blue and immediately thought, I have to do this. This could be my shot to get into the NWSL,” Bike recalled. “It’s hard for undrafted players out of college trying to get picked up. A lot of people resort to Europe. But because I had my nursing license, I wanted to stay in the states in case I needed to work while trying to get a contract. I feel so fortunate that Gotham gave me this opportunity.”
After tryouts, Bike received an invitation to join the club and immediately stepped away from her doctorate program and nursing to start the season with Gotham. Coming in as a trialist is a tough road for any player, but for Bike, the hard work and dedication required to tackle this path to the pros was no deterrent. “I was taking everything literally day by day,” Bike said. Eventually, she made her professional debut at home against the Chicago Red Stars on July 2, 2022.
Bike’s motivations to play pro were not to fulfill a lifelong dream, but rather to play the sport she loves for as long as she can keep playing. Soccer has been an integral part of her journey, and she wouldn’t want to be doing anything else right now.
“[Gotham interim head coach] Hue Menzies always says when we do community service or talk about younger girls playing soccer and going to school that soccer is an avenue that can open up doors,” Bike said. “I got such a great opportunity at Boston College with my coaches being able to let me do the nursing program. I ended up loving the profession and healthcare. I have such a respect for frontline workers now, and when soccer runs its course for me I’m so excited to get back to that.”
“There was a seven to ten day period where I had no contract but was still training with the team. I was in an area where I thought [signing a full contract] might not happen this season,” Bike recalled. “I called my father one day and was trying to make sure I was ok with that, and then the next day I got a call and [Gotham] offered me the full contract. It was a whirlwind of emotions, but I’m thankful and grateful that it worked out.”
For Bike, becoming a professional soccer player and earning her first start has been an incredible experience, and the Gotham FC organization has been behind her every step of the way.
“Even when I was a trialist, a practice player, a national team replacement player, up until my first start, everyone has been so supportive. The belief they have in me has made up for the doubt I’ve had in myself,” Bike said.
I feel like some people look at our team and think we have to get better tomorrow. But for me, I didn’t see the results of all my hard work for so long and I feel like this club is the same.
For Gotham’s coaching staff there is no reason that Bike should have any doubts. They see a player who is a fighter and has earned their spot on this squad and in this league.
“I think Jenna [Bike] has been a great story for us this season. She came into pre-season undrafted and we noticed her straight away in that she has that desire and mentality. She’s got that hunger. She more than wants to be a professional player. She will give everything she has to be in the best position to be successful,” said Gotham FC assistant coach Becki Tweed. “You never know what your growth is going to be until you’re put in the environment, but she’s really embraced the challenge. She’s had her ups and downs. She’s had weeks where she’s walked off the field and she’s felt like she’s achieved everything she could that week and she’s had weeks where she’s in with video [asking] what can I do better? How can I do better? What do I need to do positionally? And that’s the key to our success, right. She’s gone from being a college player, and her crazy story of being a nurse, and she’s really stepped up.”
Throughout the ups and downs, Bike has leaned on her teammates and the coaching staff. In her first start against the North Carolina Courage, Bike was given the task of taking on NWSL legend Debinha, who scored three goals against the visiting Gotham FC that night.
“I really struggled, and it was something I was so upset about. I was down on myself but so many people lifted me up after it, telling me that they’ve all been there. I can take my first start and how poorly I think it went as a learning experience. It’s a chance to grow, but I wouldn’t be able to do that without my teammates being there and their belief,” Bike said.
In fact, Bike sees Gotham FC as a special place and is in awe about how her teammates have handled this long season and is grateful for their support as she comes to find her place as a professional and on this team.
“This environment is really unforgiving sometimes. I know what I need to do to be better in the future and I’m willing to do what it takes,” Bike said. “It took me 24 hours of sulking and being upset about it, and now it’s time to move on and grow from the experience. I’m really thankful the coaches and players here believed in me to go from practice player to starting this season. It’s just incredible to have them.”
A New Team, A New Role
Formerly a forward during her time at Boston College, Bike has taken on a new role at Gotham FC playing in the right back position. She has relished the experience to learn a new role and has gained an understanding and respect for a new position.
“I’m comfortable being out wide and being in the attack, so it’s just been about working with the backline that I need to work on, and I’m really enjoying it,” Bike said. “I feel like I’m gaining so much at practice, even if I’m not physically playing, but the mental piece of it. There is still work to be done, but any way that I can help the team, if it’s at right-back or at forward, I’m going to do it. I’m just happy they trusted me to take on this position and be part of the backline.”
During her time so far with Gotham, she has been able to learn from the players around her, many of whom are veterans of the game both on the domestic and the international stage. While every single player on the team has played a role in welcoming her and giving her guidance, Bike has looked behind her to the player in the net, Michelle Betos, to help her grow into her new defensive role.
“Betos has been so great to me, just the way that she explains the position where I’m supposed to be, and what she expects of me,” Bike explained. “Her support off the field has been so great and uplifting.”
In addition to Betos, the entire back line at Gotham has made sure Bike is ready on game day, helping her with her positioning, and helping her learn and grow with every conversation.
“Estelle [Johnson], Mandy [Freeman], Ali [Krieger], Imani [Dorsey], and Taylor [Smith], there isn’t a single person who isn’t willing to help,” Bike said.
In particular, former U.S. Women’s National Team right back and current Gotham FC center back Ali Krieger has helped teach her the tools to find success at this level.
“Ali Krieger was one of my heroes growing up,” Bike said, “She will pull me aside, give me pointers, and tell me where I’m supposed to be, and she does it in a way where it doesn’t feel like a veteran talking down to a rookie. It’s so respectful. They all genuinely want me to learn and grow. I can feel that in every conversation.”
“I really respect her, I think she’s a great young player,” Ali Krieger said of Bike. “She’s so dynamic and athletic and she can tackle and she has pace. She’s obviously still learning that position. I know at Boston College she was an attacking player, and now has just rolled her sleeves up and taken this opportunity and said, ‘Yes, I will absolutely play there!’ She’s done so well. She’s a great teammate and a great person. I really enjoy spending time with her every day on the field and getting to know her more. I’m really happy she’s had this opportunity because she deserves it.”
For Bike, even more important than the tactical advice are the words of encouragement and emphasis on believing in herself and knowing that she belongs. “Hearing it from players like that means so much to me,” she said. “Even when I doubt myself, those conversations lift me up.”
As her rookie year winds down, Bike is not letting Gotham’s poor results this season get her down. “I’ve seen how strong this team is. [Our mentality is] if we’re going to go down, we’re doing it together,” Bike said. “Everyone is fighting until the end and not giving up even on the last game. We’re going into it like it’s the biggest game of the year.”
Bike is inspired by her team’s resilience, and impressed that despite the standings or results, everyone always puts on a brave face and gets back to work. She is confident that eventually, the team will start seeing positive outcomes from everything they have been building this year.
“I feel like some people look at our team and think we have to get better tomorrow. But for me, I didn’t see the results of all my hard work for so long and I feel like this club is the same,” Bike said. “We will start seeing the positives and all the good stuff that we’ve been building. It’s just going to take some time.”
On an individual level, Bike has been able to reflect on her unconventional journey, and she’s looking forward to the future after waiting seven months for her senior contract.
“I have to take a moment and pat myself on the back, which I don’t do enough, and feel happy and proud I was able to do this and stick it out,” Bike said. “I’m so proud of myself for getting to this point and being able to get here. I think my future is really bright as long as I want it to be.”