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Staff photo / Chattanooga Lady Red Wolves forward Summer Hernandez controls the ball during a home match against North Alabama Soccer Coalition last Sunday at CHI Memorial Stadium. Hernandez, who works as a surgical nurse for CHI Memorial Hospital, has been married to Chattanooga Football Club midfielder Juan Hernandez since April 2020.

When Summer and Juan Hernandez married in April 2020, it seems they were simply following through on what fate had already suggested: They were meant to be together.

That's because, in so many ways, the two soccer players' life paths and career arcs have mirrored each other.

Summer, formerly Lanter, was a high school standout at Soddy-Daisy who went on to star at Lee University in Cleveland from 2013-17. Back then, she used her time with the Chattanooga Football Club women's team each summer to get fit for her fall college season with the Lady Flames. Juan, who is from Spain and played at Bethel University, joined the Chattanooga FC men's team late during the 2015 schedule and is now in his sixth season with the club.

They were once the "kids" of their respective teams, able to go out and wow people with their ability and infectious energy on the pitch. While they still have that, the priorities have changed for both.

"Before, it was all about enjoying the game and just having fun, and whatever happens after that is great. Now all eyes are on you," said Juan, who has been with CFC during its transformation from nationally known amateur club to professional soccer team.

"Obviously, I'm part of the leadership of the team, so everybody's always looking at you, and every little thing that you do that's not right, it gets more notice, and the things you do right don't get noticed as much because that's what you're supposed to do, right? In my first year, everything you do people are like, 'Wow, that's incredible,' and now it's normal. When you make a mistake, it's not supposed to be like that."

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Staff file photo / Chattanooga Football Club midfielder Juan Hernandez, center, and his wife, Chattanooga Lady Red Wolves forward Summer Hernandez, said their understanding of each other's love of soccer has helped make their busy marriage work. In addition to playing for CFC, Juan works as a coach in the NISA club's youth academy.

Summer is now a surgical nurse for CHI Memorial Hospital and plays for the Chattanooga Lady Red Wolves. She scored in back-to-back shutout wins at home against North Alabama Soccer Coalition and Peachtree City MOBA within the past week to help the team to a 3-1 start going into Sunday's road match against the Nashville Rhythm (5-0).

Juan, a midfielder, spends additional time around the sport as a coach in CFC's youth academy. CFC began competing in the National Independent Soccer Association in 2020 when it joined the pro ranks, and this past week that meant the team made a trip to California for two matches, including one late Saturday night in San Diego.

Summer and Juan see each other whenever or wherever they can: She frequently attends CFC matches, and he was at the Lady Red Wolves' win last Sunday at CHI Memorial Stadium in East Ridge and watched his wife score her first goal of the season.

For her, soccer has become more of an escape from her work life, almost like an extracurricular activity that just happens to take place in front of hundreds of people. There are times she makes it to a Lady Red Wolves practice but leaves her phone with general manager Gretchen Hammel because she's on call and may have to leave at a moment's notice to go to the hospital.

It's quite a change for the 2013 Gatorade Tennessee Girls' Soccer Player of the Year who was twice named the top player in the Gulf South Conference while at Lee.

"Before, this was like additional training, but now this is all I have left," Summer said with a laugh. "Now this is it. Now these summer seasons mean more, because before it was just playing to get fit for college ball or whatever, and now this is the season.

"I have a lot of respect for the girls who are still playing in college, because they come in and they're so fit, and I'm just trying to keep up with them; they're incredible. Even most of the older girls — older, not old – are really fit, too, and I feel like with the amount of girls that are still in college that are still super fit mixed with the people that have played for a decent amount of years and have the experience, the athleticism, the fitness and the wisdom makes a really good combination."

What has made the couple's relationship work is understanding each other's busy schedules and appreciating why that's the case.

It helps that they met in the space that defined their lives at the time: soccer. So Summer's love of the sport (despite her work life trying to throw a wrench in it) is well known by Juan and vice versa. It takes an athlete to know an athlete, which is what has made their marriage so strong.

"I'm very thankful that I have a husband who understands the soccer world, because some weeks we see each other (only) a few times, because I go to work, he goes to coaching, he has practice, I have practice," Summer said. "Just being able to understand the whole soccer world is very important for our relationship."

This weekend is a prime example. Although the two probably won't see each other, that doesn't mean they're not supporting one another — both in their devotion to soccer and their marriage.

"I want her to be happy, and I know soccer makes her happy," Juan said. "So when she's happy, you know, they say, 'Happy wife, happy life,' right? But it's not just a saying, it actually makes sense; it's the truth. I want my make sure my wife is happy, because that eventually also makes me happy as well."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.

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