As an admitted groupie of the US Women's National soccer team and a Meadowbrook parent, two unrelated postings make me want to write.
As this year's soccer season began for the women's national team, I struggled with the emotional conflict I felt as I prepared to watch Abby Wamback overtake Mia Hamm's goal-scoring record. (I predicted last year it would happen during the Algarve cup and I was wrong, but it will certainly happen this year.) Then, the head of our Middle School wrote a nice piece about why Meadowbrook gives out Spirit Cups for their sports teams.
I have always watched in stunned disbelief as the media and most of our society turn atheletes into role models. Just because someone is good at riding a bicycle (quickly) or throwing a ball into a hoop, why do we immediately assume that they are people our kids should emulate? At the same time, year after year, I look at the women who play for our US team, and I think, "Now there are role models!" These are nearly uniformly amazing women who have dedicated themselves to an underappreciated and underpaying sport. They work hard on the field and off the field, reaching out to fans, working with young people, and dedicating themselves to important causes, without a lot of fanfare, without the trappings of superstardom, and without the negative actions that draw negative publicity. I can hear some of you, "Oh, they are just women soccer players." No, they are world-class professional atheletes. They are among the absolute best in the world at what they do. And they do it in a sport that is important to more of the world than any of our conventional American pasttimes.
At the risk of missing someone deserving, let me run through the list of past and present US Women's National Team players who are extraordinary individuals as well as extraordinary atheletes.
- Joy Fawcett, thank you for embracing your professional atheleticism and motherhood simultaneously, for showing us that the two are not mutually exclusive, that you can bring your kids to work and still perform at the highest levels.
- Michelle Akers, thank you for showing us what it means to give your all -- through illness, injury, and perhaps even beyond the point of what was good for you personally, you gave every last bit of yourself on the field.
- Heather O'Reilly, thank you for showing us what a work ethic is. In every minute of every game that you play, you are 100% engaged on the field, chasing down every last ball or player.
- Amy Rodriguez, thank you for being approachable, for understanding that just talking with and teasing the young people who admire you makes them feel special.
- Carli Lloyd, thank you for helping me never question whether I'd play soccer again after breaking my ankle. As I rehabbed, I watched you rehab. As you returned to the national team, I knew I too would return to my (not quite so competitive) team.
- Shannon Boxx, thank you for demonstrating the importance of having a professional league in this country.
- Cat Whitehill, thank you for seeing into the heart and soul of a recreational soccer team and treating them with the same respect you gave your national teammates.
- Brianna Scurry, thank you for always demanding the best, for handling difficult situations with grace, and of course, for stopping PKs!
- Tiffany Milbrett, thank you for making me proud to wear #16.
- Kristine Lilly, thank you for many things -- for redefining what age means in soccer, for demonstrating what commitment and passion really are, and for showing the world that it's not only OK, but good for women to wield power.
- Thank you Abby -- for everything -- for the role that's been thrust upon you as the bridge between the past and the future. More than anyone else, you have been the transition between "the 91ers" and the future of US Women's soccer. You have provided leadership through both good and challenging times; you graciously accepted the mentoring of your predecessors and pass that on to your successors. And, thank you for putting Rochester on the map!
- Last, but never least, thank you Mia -- for becoming the face of women's soccer, although it seemed you would have always preferred not to be in the limelight. Women's soccer needed a superstar, a spokeswoman, an idol. You showed us that teamwork was as important as personal performance by wracking up almost as many assists as you did goals (144 to 158). Regardless of whose name appears in what categories in the record books, you will always be Mia -- the first face of women's soccer in this country.