Heather Forster, a new journey

by Sapphires Sealey

“I was able to see that I really had to put in work, put in at least love for the game too because if you don’t love the game, you’re never gonna get there.”

Heather Forster can’t remember a time when basketball was not a part of her life.  She grew up in a family that admired the game. As the youngest of four, she would watch her siblings play ball. Her sister went overseas to play and her dad loved the game. Basketball was all she knew. But she questioned if she chose to play basketball because she loved it, or if she only played the game because her siblings did.

As she got older, Forster’s passion for basketball was evident. Her realization came when she noticed that she endured the constant workouts and basketball tournaments because she loved the game. ” When school or life got too tough, I found just going to the gym to shoot bought me joy,” she told FanSided.

Seventh grade was when Forster begin to start the recruitment process for college. “It’s early but in seventh grade, my coach was having me talk to college coaches. So that’s when I started to think about college basketball.”

Most kids her age would not be thinking about college, they would be enjoying their childhood not caring about the decisions of the future. But Forster knew that she wanted to play ball and what it would take to get there.

“I knew my sister was a good basketball player and I knew the amount of work she put in,” she said. ” I was in seventh grade when my sister started college. I was able to see that I really had to put in work, put in at least love for the game too because if you don’t love the game, you’re never gonna get there.”

Forster beamed while talking about her sister’s accomplishments in basketball, but she also remembered how the constant reminders of just how good her sister was felt. “I always had a love-hate relationship with basketball. Since my sister was successful, I constantly got compared to her and a lot of people saw all my accomplishments as just being her little sister. We play completely differently on the court and I’m so proud of all she’s done but it made it hard for me to love the sport when I was younger.”

When Forster was in the 11th grade, her sister was playing professionally overseas. Forster smiled while reminiscing on the times she would look at images of how happy her sister looked in another country. “I started to say, if I get through college basketball and I like that, maybe I’ll go do overseas.”

Forster attended the University at Albany, where she played forward for the Great Danes women’s basketball team. She averaged 5.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 0.6 assists in her four years on the team.  During her first year, the team made it to the NCAA tournament and beat Florida in the opening round. Forster got a chance to be a part of that game. ” I was a freshman and wasn’t expected to play,” she said. “Things kind of happened and I was on the floor for our biggest game of the year. Just seeing the crowd was incredible. It was such a team effort and it was such an amazing moment.”

Forster continued to have success while a part of the basketball team. In her senior year, she averaged a career-high 9.9 points and 7.3 rebounds a game. She received the Glass Cleaner award for rebounding and she made the America East All-Conference second team.

Photo Credit: Heather Forster

Spain became Heather Forster’s new home

In 2019 Forster stepped off the plane in Porto. She was embarking on a new journey in a country she was unfamiliar with, having signed with the Arxil basketball club in Pontevedra. This was her opportunity to do what she loved professionally and she couldn’t be more excited. But panic set in when she couldn’t find her bus. Forster realized the club had wrongly translated the name of the bus that was supposed to take her to her new home.

The language barrier was a challenge right from her first moments in the country. Everyone spoke Spanish or Portuguese and she did not. She tried to ask for help in the few words that she did know but was unsuccessful. Finally, she was contacted by a member of the club who gave her the correct name of the bus and she eventually was on her way.

Over the next couple of weeks, Forster began to practice with her new teammates for the start of the season. “My first game I was nervous. Just because I knew being a foreigner, as a signed player you’re expected to do well for your team. You get paid more to come over here, than some of the local girls. They might just get housing. So I knew as a foreigner there’s pressure to do well,” she said.

In Forster’s first game with Arxil, she was coming back on defense and got called for a foul. Since she was the last line of defense her foul was considered intentional. “I was so scared. I didn’t mean to hit her that hard. I was so nervous because in the U.S. an intentional foul is the equivalent to a technical, but here it’s different.”

“In the U.S you can foul someone intentionally, if time is running out or if you don’t want someone to get a shot,” she explained. “But here if I’m running back on defense on a fast break and I foul someone, they get a shot and they get the ball back……there were just so many rules that no one had told me.”

Forster played basketball all her life, the way she was taught from a young age. But now she had to learn how the game was played in Spain. The language barrier was an ongoing challenge because during away games, she relied on her teammates to try and translate the coach’s directions to her and they barely spoke English.

Aside from that, Forster was trying to grow accustomed to a new environment. There were little things that she had to get used to, like all the stores being closed on Sundays, or the roads only going one way, and that it was acceptable to drink alcohol at any time of the day. These were small changes, but it took some time for her to get used to a new culture.

Forster’s first year was cut short because of COVID. But when she returned to Spain in 2020 for her second season with the team, she had plenty of time to get accustomed to her new surroundings. Forster was confined to just her city during the pandemic, but she did not let that stop her from exploring. “COVID made me appreciate my city a little bit more,” she said. “It made me go out and do things on my own and go explore the places I have within my city.”

In between exploring her city, Forster is contributing to the Arxil’s success.  For the 2021-22 season, the team’s regular-season record was19-7 and they made it to the playoffs. Forster averaged 11.1 points and 10.1 rebounds a game. She also was placed on the All-Spanish Liga Femenina 2 Second team.

Moving to a new country and learning a different language was challenging at first for Forster. But in a way, COVID forced her to face those challenges head-on. She grew to love Spain. Forster has been an Arxil for three years now and she finally feels at home. “This place is a little bit homier because now I have people I can talk to. I can go out and be by myself, and still be ok.”

Sapphires has experience working in various sectors of news and sports. Her experience includes working for WCBS880 as a news assistant and Interning for the Albany Patroons basketball team. She loves basketball, but she has written pieces on all types of sports.