I was not made to play sports. No one in my family played sports in school. My knees are bad. I’m slightly asthmatic. I got genes for long division and reading music and telling jokes, not ones for basketball or volleyball or even playing ping pong without hitting myself in the head (it has happened). I have the coordination and natural athletic ability of Paul on the wonder years. When they did the flexibility test on me at the gym I think I scored about average for an 80 year old. My parents never signed me up for softball, even when I begged. I took PE instead of athletics in junior high. I quit dance when I was 6 because it was “too hard”. I quit gymnastics because it was too much like dance (read – again, too hard) and played the piano and violin and read books instead.
I was not going to let those things stop me.
I ran across the driving range ducking and covering to take tennis lessons as a kid and would often spend hours banging a tennis ball back and forth on the side of my garage because only people over the age of 70 lived on my street. By the time my sophomore year rolled around I finally had time in my schedule, between all those honors classes and orchestra to fit in some JV tennis. I didn’t own a skirt or own of those matchy bags and most of the people on the team had taken it as freshmen and played on their respective junior high teams. My coach referred me to the counselor to get a schedule change. But I convinced him to let me stay. And even though I caused all kinds of havoc on the bus on the way to tournaments, and ripped my warmups climbing a fence and was the kind of girl that talked a little trash and threw her racket. I brought home my share of trophies and left more than my share of skin on the court. Plenty of those trophies said consolation bracket or 2nd place. But I got my share. And it wasn’t because I had any natural ability. I never had any fluid motion to my serve. I was no Serena. But I ran hard for every shot, even the ones I shouldn’t have gotten to and just kept hitting it back. I loved the competition. And the sound a ball makes when you have a particularly good shot and the look on someone’s face who shouldn’t have lost to me and did. I did my share of losing too, but was always good about shrugging it off.
I never lettered. JV was as good as it got.
Senior year, my school (thank you title IX) started a soccer team. I’d played soccer for a minute because my older sister’s boyfriend coached a team and he picked me up and took me to and from practice. The team was mostly boys and I was terrible and can’t even remember playing any games but I figured I might as well try out.
This was before the days of little girl soccer leagues. The only girls who played soccer my age were doing it on the boys teams or with their brothers in the back yard. But I went to Acadamy and bought a cheap pair of cleats and figured how hard could it be. And a lot of other girls thought the same thing….because about 30 of us signed up and most of us didn’t know a shinguard from an athletic cup. My coach didn’t know much about soccer either, or coaching girls (which was never more evident than when he told a teammate to pee in a Gatorade bottle because he wasn’t pulling over), but he knew plenty about running. And I guess he figured that he could run us down to a respectable team number and we’d go from there. I think someone threw up daily. I was occasionally one of them.
And at one of my first games I remember the sun going down and the lights coming on and just looking around the pitch. We all had rub on tattoos and double french braids and matching jerseys and I remember thinking tennis never felt like this. There was something about playing on a team that I had never experienced before. I still hadn’t really figured out offsides, but I ran and sweated and pulled jerseys and secretly hoped that the ball didn’t come too close to me or that I didn’t accidentally pick my feet up when I threw it in. I think we lost like 10-0. But I was hooked. I eventually earned a starting position, although I think that had a lot more to do with the fact that I took my coach to the ground while he asked me to help him demo a defensive drill than the fact that I had any skill. I was still a slow runner. I was more likely to toe punch the ball than kick with my laces, and I spent as much time on the ground as I did on my feet. But I always got up. I tried to hustle even when I wanted to puke and wasn’t afraid to use my body to make up for my lack of skill and I rarely complained. I never scored any goals out there and often road the bench as many minutes as I played. And it was no surprise that we only won like 2 games all season.
But I kept playing. In college. In grad school. Even after having babies.
And people thought I was crazy 12 (now 16) years ago when I told them I wanted to go to the Womens World Cup. They told me the US didn’t stand a chance. And that no one cared about women’s soccer. That no one in the US cared about soccer period. But I had seen Mia, Lily, Foudy, Scurry, Chastain, Akers etc… all play at an exhibition game back in high school. I had a few of their autographs. And I knew that I wanted to keep watching. A few weeks later girls around the nation were ripping off their shirts like Brandy Chastain and they were on the cover of every magazine and newspaper in the country.
Shaun and I went to DC four years later to watch for ourselves...and trust me those stands were packed.
I haven’t played soccer in years, because these days I’m too busy driving my kids to practice and games. My husband walks and talks ESPN and mostly I just tune him out. But the last few weeks I have been glued to the TV and the updates just as much as him. I’m too old to want to be Abby Wambach when I grow up. But I watched her in the college final four from the stands before most people knew her name. And I’ll be watching her again on Sunday. Maybe even with my face painted and my old US jersey on.
And what inspired this post isn’t all the TV/radio talk, but this great article that my husband posted on his facebook.…..which even if you don’t like women’s soccer is a good read: What if soccer isn't a big deal here? from the Wall Street Journal.
And I think I learned something important from my soccer days. You don’t have to be great at something to play. You just have to tie your shoes and go.
|me. and yes, i really do have 2 legs.|
Besides a W --the only thing that could make today's game more awesome would be: the announcer saying "Sasic's" name like sausage over and over just for fun, Wambach dropping the f word on national TV again....and my friend Bryan ripping off his shirt and running around after the US scores a goal. I feel like chances are good for all three.
my favorite old school commercial
my favorite new one