[THE PITCH] It was all a dream…80,000 enthusiastic fans filling up Wembley, English football’s hallowed grounds…Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt floating around a mythical village…cameras flashing… Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony stopping by for congratulations …parties…press conferences…presents…and still more parties…Yes, it was a dream…a dream come true at the 2012 Olympics. But was it my dream?
For… well forever, my dream of playing football at the international level has been just that: a dream… but actually, a different kind of dream. The kind of fuzzy, frustrating dream that you can’t articulate or grasp. The kind that feels so real when you’re in it, but dissipates abruptly and leaves few traces in the memory. More than a notion, but not completely thought out. The kind of dream that consumes you, while all along being so elusive that you really have no idea of what you are dreaming.
Over the last five weeks, I had the rare opportunity to step into my dream world. To see, taste, smell, and even touch this fantasyland. And in this dream, I dreamt. (hmmm..A dream within a dream? You’re killing me Leo!) Feeling pregame jitters in my US soccer jersey…”Gold or bust!”… Standing on the podium when they place that gold medal around my neck…and suddenly, I am drawn downward. I'm acutely aware of the heft of this pristine emblem of victory …Oh the sheer weight of it! I am humbled. And now, I can’t help but wonder, what does it mean to me?
I came into this dream as a dreamer (I’m still confused by Inception), an outsider. I was the new kid on the block. As such, I felt that this experience was not truly my own. Instead, it was glimpse into that which I someday hope to make my reality.
Here is my present reality. The Games were a lot more than a peek into future possibilities. My time with the USWNT has been a foundation for me to build upon… a blueprint of sorts. I’ve learned so much. I was afforded an opportunity to spend time around a world championship team. I was a part of their training and their everyday preparation for gold, and in the process, I earned respect from these teammates. I viewed football from a new perspective, familiarized myself with the international game, even stepped out of my role and played some center-mid! I could see women’s football growing before my eyes and was inspired by it all. On top of that, we won! We won games. We won gold. But the medal symbolizes so much more than football success.
I am wandering the streets of the village lined in an array of unflappably patriotic flags and cluttered with people. Super humans of all shapes, sizes, and colors are huddled in masses. The brightly colored team gear and the juxtaposition of petite painted gymnasts next to long volleyball players illuminates our global differences. And yet, our presence in the village alone is a reminder of our commonality. I stop to read the print on one of the many posters. It is the Olympic Creed and it states, “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well." Hmmm…. Wouldn’t it be nice if all of our dreams came with clearly written interpretations? You see, by viewing the Olympic experience from the “outside-in”, my vantage point is an advantage. While I don’t know what it feels like to have a gold medal around my neck, I do know how to go about getting one, and even more importantly, I now understand its true value.
Yeah, the ‘RAH! RAH! RAH!’ is great. Only a monk could honestly deny a little desire for fame and fortune. But there is so much more to life, to sports, to the Olympics, to my dreams…
I want to continue the pursuit of excellence, to sprint by the distractions in record time. I want to dive into opportunities and take aim at distant goals. I know there will be hurdles, but I’m even looking forward to pushing myself through the struggles and seeing how I fare.
I dream of spreading joy through entertaining, having the power to affect, someday being somebody’s hero. I want to be a part of inspiring a nation…a world…a child. By decimating barriers and building good will, I’d like to bring hope to those who have little or none. I want to represent my country, not as a banner but a symbol, not a doctrine but a model of what sports can and should be.
In the words of Wilma Rudolph, the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field during a single Olympic Games, despite running on a sprained ankle at the time, “Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us.”
[Off The Post!] I always use camp as my reprieve from the primping duties that come with being a woman—known to many as basic hygiene. Away from the world, lost in all things football, it’s nice to sometimes just let it all hang out. Given that this was the longest camp of my life, and the 3 weeks mark snuck up quite quickly on me, this habit was getting borderline… no actually… absolutely disgusting!
I was playing ping-pong with Meghan Klingenberg in our hotel when the men’s Brazilian national team let out of a meeting and began hovering around the table. The presence of a very rare specimen in my current life: males, coupled with a wee bit of starstruckenness (I’m coining that term) made me hyper aware of the fact that I hadn’t brushed my teeth in hours, hair in weeks, and my leg hair was beginning to be in need of a brushing itself, at this point. My only redemption is I’m an incredibly talented table tennis superstar… oh wait, I’m lying. I’m not only terrible, but also, terribly embarrassed about it. So this scene put me in an instant and profuse sweat. Perfect, considering I wasn’t wearing deodorant.
Clearly, the boys wanted the table, but we continue to play… and by play I mean take turns hitting the net or missing the table. Finally, one of them decided to jump in (one of them being Real Madrid’s Marcelo). Another joined my team to make it a mixed doubled match. The awkward language barrier (I told Marcelo I could speak Spanish, but when I went to respond, Swedish came out… I thought, “You’ve got to be kidding me. NOW I know Swedish??), the sloppy ping pong play, and my stench (not to mention my increasing need to change my tampon) ensured that I did not look up from the table the entire game. In my head, I was dying a slow and painful death by humiliation. I was a hot mess.
Finally, when the game ended, I looked up to find none other than Neymar coming toward me for a victory hug. In all my dishevelment, I had been playing alongside Brazil’s star player—deemed the world’s best player by Pele himself… and not even realized it!
And while I will always remember playing mixed doubles table tennis with Brazilian football starts Marcelo and Neymar, I’m sure they will never forget the day they played ping-pong with a smelly, sweaty wildebeest!