Linda Caicedo in action for Colombia in a game in Cali recently (JOAQUIN SARMIENTO)
Colombian forward Linda Caicedo has already survived cancer, earned a move to Real Madrid and scored for her country at the Women’s World Cup.
She is also a hero among the LGBTQ+ community in Colombia having come out as gay. She also campaigns against marine plastic pollution.
And she is still just 18.
Whether in football or life away from the pitch, Caicedo seems to do everything at breakneck speed.
True to form, the teenager scored on her debut at the World Cup this week, getting Colombia’s second goal in a 2-0 win over South Korea in their opener in Sydney.
That result set the team known as The Powerpuff Girls up nicely for their second match, against much-fancied Germany on Sunday.
The teenager was at the centre of a health scare on Thursday when cameras captured her holding her chest during training before lying on the ground. Colombian team officials later said she was fine.
Caicedo may only now be becoming a global household name, but she is already a big star in her homeland.
Last year, when still just 17, she helped Colombia reach the quarter-finals of the Under-20 Women’s World Cup.
A few weeks later she stood out as Colombia went all the way to the final of the Under-17 World Cup, before losing 1-0 to Spain.
Before either of those tournaments, Caicedo played for Colombia’s senior side as they made the final of the Copa America on home soil, which they lost 1-0 against Brazil.
– ‘Born with a gift’ –
Caicedo comes from Villagorgona, a town near the city of Cali, in western Colombia.
She honed her skills there on a battered pitch as the only girl playing among dozens of boys, in a country where women’s football struggles in the face of sexism and a lack of funding.
Caicedo is “one of these people who was touched by God, who was born for this,” her first coach Diego Vasquez told AFP next to that bare playing surface.
She moved to Madrid in February, just days after celebrating her 18th birthday, with the Spanish giants aiming to develop a women’s team to rival Barcelona and seeing Caicedo as a future superstar.
The home of Mauro Caicedo and Herlinda Alegria has a space reserved for the many trophies and medals already won by their youngest daughter.
Alongside the awards is a photo of Linda with her school classmates after she graduated from high school.
She was the youngest, doing so aged just 15, when most school children do so aged 17 or 18.
“Linda was born with a gift which means that whatever she asks from God, she manages to get,” her father said proudly.
– Cancer diagnosis –
Caicedo started playing at the age of five at Real Juanchito, the local club in Villagorgona that up to that point was exclusively for boys.
She spent six years playing only against boys, and then against older girls at a time when women’s football in Colombia was still in the early stages of its development.
Her professional debut arrived in July 2019 at the age of 14 with America de Cali and in her first season she was the top scorer as her club won the title.
A switch to America’s city rivals Deportivo Cali brought another Colombian championship in 2021, but that triumph was particularly sweet for Caicedo.
It came a year after she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and carried on playing during treatment while wearing a wig.
She is now cancer free.
“Little girls look up to Linda Caicedo as someone they can dream of being like one day,” said Rafael Murillo, the president of her first club.
Eight-year-old Mariana Medina is one of a handful of girls training on the Villagorgona pitch, wearing the colours of Real Juanchito.
“When I grow up I want to be like Linda and play like her,” she said.