To Infinity and Beyond!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

This article originally appeared on The Player's Tribune.

I was mystified when my fifth grade teacher explained the concept of “infinity” to the class.

Imagine moving from point A to point B, but you are only allowed to go half the distance at a time. When you arrive at the first halfway point, you must stop and recalculate the new half point … and on and on and on. You will never arrive at B, because as you move closer to your target, you see how many halfway points there are between you and your target: an infinite number.

Wait, what?

How could there be a destination that you are approaching, but that seems to keep getting farther away?

The concept of achieving greatness reminds me of my elementary school math lesson on infinity. What is greatness, anyway? This alluring, ever-distant word both taunts and inspires athletes.

I have a weakness. I never feel like I’m good enough.

I’ve set tangible goals throughout my career. And I have attained a lot of them. Still, I’m sure that achieving will never satisfy my hunger to achieve.
Last month, Clint Bruce -- former NFL quarterback and Navy Seal Commander -- spoke to the USWNT about what he calls “pursuing elite.” Among the tokens of wisdom and experience he offered, one thing really hit home for me. “Elite is this land that is fit only for the restless,” he told us.

While I don’t know if I exist in the land of the elite, I’m definitely on the battlefield with restlessness. My restlessness leaves my mind racing as I try to wind down at the end of mandatory recovery day. It keeps me tossing after poor performances. And if I played well, well…playing well makes me itch to play better; there is always room for improvement. This process can be exhausting.

I have a strength. I never feel like I’m good enough.

That same discontentment that gets my mind spinning at night puts a spring in my step the next day when our assistant coach Tony screams, “MAX SPRINTS!” during practice. This restless energy ignites my spirit to push forward. The past is not just an indicator of where I was yesterday, but it is also a launching pad for tomorrow.

People often tell me before games to “be great” -- as if it is a choice I can make. Is it possible to choose greatness? If it were, I’m pretty sure most of us would choose it. Is greatness only available to a select group? Perhaps, but maybe not for the reasons I used to think.

By definition, greatness is a state of superiority: that is, being better than all others. But Clint’s speech has me rethinking this idea. As I listened to him, I realized that “elite” doesn’t mean greatness itself -- but the unwavering pursuit of greatness. That thought is as scary as it is much is in my control?

When speaking about his early days training to be a Seal, Clint said that he realized he was average. “There were a bunch of Olympic athletes and then there was me.” To make it, he needed angles, allies, and advantages to keep up with the people around him. Anyone can pursue greatness. It is not a club open only to the gifted or lucky. You simply have to train to get better and never give up; checking over your shoulder only to make sure you are not where you started. Clint’s advantage was his unremitting pursuit.

I got my first call-up to the USWNT in April of 2012. Before I could exhale in relief – I had made it – I realized this was just the beginning. The USWNT isn’t a place where you celebrate, put down roots, or relax. It isn’t a place at all. Being on this team is an honor as well as a responsibility to my country and myself. Maybe it is another halfway point on the line to greatness: because as long as you can look forward you haven’t arrived. What I do with this opportunity remains to be seen, but I know my success and my team’s success depends on that forward motion.

While greatness may always be viewed as a comparison to the outside world: good, better, best; inside, I know what really matters is the relentless fight for progress. Which means it’s only good when I demand better after I’ve done my best. Striving for personal excellence in this way can be like chasing infinity, which is often frustrating. But striving for team greatness is a bit different. Pushing myself is pushing the game and that is the best thing I can do for my team and my sport.  As we push ourselves we push each other, raising the average. Rising and falling as a team is ultimately more comfortable and shared success is more gratifying.

For the world at large, there is a constant demand to know who or what is the greatest, the best in everything. In soccer, we take measurements in the form of matches every weekend. There are numerous titles to be won. But the end-all, be-all measuring stick will always be the World Cup. Winning the World Cup is that tangible goal that keeps me motivated. But I have to wonder: is a World Cup victory my one and only shot at greatness? It is the pinnacle of football, the reward for a lifetime of work … or is it just another point on the progress line? It’s the one objective that forces me to put my individual goals aside, for the time being, and focus on something much, much bigger than myself. The fact that the opportunity only comes around every four years makes it that much more special. It takes the entire team to win a World Cup, a team that is greater than the sum of its parts. Or rather, a team made up of individuals in pursuit of greatness.

Maybe teams can achieve the kind of greatness that eminently eludes the individual. The World Cup Championship freezes time. The winning team’s name and country are recorded in history and maybe that moment when the trophy is hoisted and medal is placed around your neck is as tangible as greatness will ever get.

In a math class long after my Lunada Bay Elementary School graduation, I learned that for all intents and purposes, the concept of infinity is not functional. So instead of trying to reach infinity, mathematicians describe what the value is approaching: a limit. With limits, the end point becomes irrelevant and the focus falls on the direction you are moving.

The World Cup is the limit. And we’re moving forward.

Ny Tid Ny Strid

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

These words come from one of the wisest and best footballers I’ve ever played alongside. Lisa Ek was my teammate in 2012 for Kopparberg’s Gothenburg FC. I have loosely translated this from her Swedish blog.

When I was six years old, I said that I would become a professional soccer player in Italy and play for the Swedish national team. My dream to be on the national team has brought out the best in me in many ways. I've been training like a madman, I have always been motivated and I have fought my way back from five years of injuries with rehabilitation. I have given everything for the team I've played for, partially for selfish reasons-- because I know that if the team feels good and is good, I have a greater chance of success. I have been traveling all over the world and won matches with players who have been like a second family to me. In the 26 years of my career I have truly lived because I have chased my dream. I have met people. Oh what people! The finest and the best people you could wish for. People who have been a part of my everyday life, and who are still a big part of my life. And for that life, I thank the dream.

With the dream has come demands on myself. I never thought of it as a requirement, it just felt natural to run additional sprints every preseason, to train my eyes by watching my thumb, to do mobility exercises for two hours every day to optimize performance, to rehab many hours a day during the five years that I was injured, to analyze all my matches and to constantly search for new ways and new research that could optimize my performance. I have loved the journey. I have loved to optimize but for awhile I have had an insight that I cannot ignore.

I can not take more. I have done everything to reach the national team. And then I did a bit more… but life decided otherwise. I was not destined to reach all the way. It was the journey that was the goal, and my task was to demonstrate the benefit of daring to dream.

I made a last effort last fall. The year before I had been injured and away from football for a year and a half. I went into the venture aware that I could not afford to miss a single workout. Shortly thereafter I injured my hip and could not take a stride for 10 weeks. My body gave up. Once again I had to fight myself back just to keep afloat, not to progress. When my other teammates were lifting weights, I worked hard just to be able to lift my own body…just as I had done previously, for the five years that I worked hard rehabing, far from the football field. The only difference was that this time I lost the urge.

I can no longer double work… To do extra to keep me afloat and then the extra premium to optimize. I can not chase performance anymore. Now I just want to play. And people are playing in other places.

I have always believed that the most courageous thing to do is to follow your dream. I never thought that it required even more courage to let go of a dream and let another take over. To look at yourself in the mirror and say "damn good job! You did everything. You made some. And you held out for 26 f***ing years. It is time to set yourself free!”

It feels crappy sad. Bye dream of the national team, have a nice day! There is an emptiness now and I will certainly feel lost in the beginning when I do not have the light eminating from the blue and yellow jersey that has led me for so long.

I am painfully aware that I no longer have anything to give or take in the environment I find myself. To continue here without the dream would be to continue without momentum. It would be to go to work and collect salary. To be here, but without optimizing, it's not me. That will never be me. And it is not “Booyah” against anyone, not the club I represent, my lovely teammates nor myself. After 26 years of struggle I owe myself more than that. I owe it to myself to let my second dream begin. A dream that for 26 years has stood sideline and watched as I look like a crazy person directing all my focus towards the national team. This dream is to play football abroad.

I feel selfish because I do not want to leave a team in the middle of the season but I know deep down that it is the best for everyone and that it would not be good for anyone to have an Ek without momentum.

I know I'm living on borrowed time. After recent knee injury, they said that I could never get back to the football field. I wander around like I am walking through a minefield, and I am grateful for every week that I can play football. When my body breaks down, and that is the end, I want to feel like I have released myself free and have followed the dreams that I want to follow. That I have experienced what I want to experience. . . Now, I'm ready for another country, and I’m hoping another country is ready for me!

She says, “I have always believed that the most courageous thing to do is to follow your dream. I never thought that it required even more courage to let go of a dream and let another take over…” Perhaps it is just as courageous to share your story.

Caught... In A Moment: A Photo Journey

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

This article originally appeared on The Player's Tribune. 

I am always moving.
Pit stops... rest stops... refueling...
Trying to fit in.
My lifestyle demands flexibility.
And wherever I go...
...There I am.
With this job, I have the power to do what I want.
But like everyone else, I get caught up in the fray.
The smiles you see...
Well, they come at a cost.
Behind closed doors, the work begins.
With the people and places I love far, far away...
New friends and favorites begin to surface.
Just in time to leave again.
Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
But I've learned to bring the things I need with me.
My calm. My commitment. My game.
Wherever I go, there I am.