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Marlborough's Ashley Mullin is not one to forget where she came from. And knowing where she is now, it would be hard for her not to reflect on that, and the unique journey that has taken her there.
From July 17 through next Saturday, Mullin is down in Trinidad and Tobago, where she is competing with that country's women's U-17 national soccer team in CONCACAF qualifying for the FIFA U-17 World Cup, which will take place in New Zealand from October 28 through November 16.

Becoming a member of the Trinidad and Tobago U-17 national team is a story in itself, but one has to go even further back to truly appreciate her accomplishment.

Ashley Mullin was just two days old when she became the foster child of Melinda Mullin, who at the time lived in Ashland. Ashley's health was a concern, as she was born at just five pounds.

Still, Melinda was not overwhelmed. She has three children of her own and Ashley was her 24th foster child.

"I'm very used to bringing up children," said Melinda.

Still, whether or not Melinda would get to raise Ashley was very much in question at the beginning.

"The parents were trying to appeal her in court," said Melinda. "They didn't even allow me to go to court. She was still custody of the state until legally adopted."

It was a long, arduous process to adopt Ashley.

"About 18 months. The parents finally dropped the appeals and it went through," she said. "It was (a relief)."

Ashley was officially adopted by Melinda when she was five. They had moved to Marlborough when she was three.

Despite Ashley's initial health problems, Melinda did her job well and her daughter showed few signs of the early troubles.

"She had to have checkups once a week," said Melinda. "She was developmentally fine. She walked when she was supposed to, talked when she was supposed to. Remembering, recall, stuff like that - that's her only problem right now."

Maybe her most glaring example of physical stability came through athletics. Ashley started playing soccer about the same time she was officially adopted, and immediately took to the sport. At first, she played pretty much any position in 6-on-6 before eventually deciding, at age 9 or 10, that she wanted to be a goalie.

Along the way, a few coaches saw her potential.

"Her coach for the town - Dave Allen - him and Rich Anzalone got her into the sport. Both coaches saw that she had some ability," said Melinda. "She talked to Dave and wanted to be the goalie, and she was just great at it right from the start."

After playing in Marlborough for three years, she started playing with the Stars of Massachusetts club team coached by Greg Cosgrove. Over the last four years, she has been the team's only goalie, and the Stars have won the state title the last three years.

It was playing for the Stars of Massachusetts that Ashley caught the eye of Notre Dame coach Randy Waldrum, who just so happened to be coaching the Trinidad and Tobago U-17 team this summer.

"He sent an e-mail asking if she had any heritage from Trinidad and Tobago. Everyone from the father's side is," related Melinda. "They had a camp in Tampa to try out for the team and she made it. And she's starting goalie."

She added, however, that "that in itself was a difficult process because she was adopted."

When Ashley got the opportunity, she jumped at it.

"She was ecstatic," said Melinda of her daughter, who was participating in the tournament this weekend and unable to be reached for this article. "She had always wanted to know her heritage, to go to Trinidad. She was nervous about flying by herself but very excited."

For Melinda, someone who had fought - literally - so hard just to give Ashley a chance to survive, there was little doubt she could get this far.

"With her determination, the way she played, I knew she could do it," said Melinda. "She puts her heart and soul in everything she plays. She practices with the team but also gets private goalie coaching three times a week."

And it seems Ashley has made good on her wish to connect with her roots.

"The girls have bonded. Half the girls are from Trinidad and the other half are from Canada or the U.S. These girls just met at the camp in Tampa in the beginning of June and the girls have bonded and become a wonderful team," said Melinda. "They're playing as a team and she's got many friends. They all like her."

Regardless of how her team performs at this tournament, Ashley's future, once so uncertain, now seems rife with opportunity.

"Absolutely, the fact that she was put on this team and talking to the coaches before I left, there's a huge future for her," said Melinda. "It opens a lot of doors for her."

If her history tells us anything, Ashley won't take those opportunities for granted.