As a child, the closest I got to doing anything athletic was listening to the Spice Girls and picking out which lines were sung by Sporty Spice. To put it simply, sports and I existed on separate wavelengths.
My father didn’t watch football games on Sunday, my mother didn’t keep track of Wimbledon, and my brother didn’t play on any school teams. Well, actually, my brother was the kid on the peewee soccer team who sat on the bench and drank water during every game–and then he completely quit going, yet kept bragging about being on the team.
In short, I didn’t grow up watching other people play sports.
Over the years, I tried my hand (sometimes successfully, most of the time awkwardly) at a number of athletic endeavors. I bent over backwards for yoga. I tiptoed through the tulips for ballet. I kicked up my heels for tap. I bounced about for basketball. I even swizzled and glided for figure skating.
When university sent my world spinning topsy-turvy, I sought to turn impotent rage, complete confusion, and total exhaustion into athleticism. I ran, I lifted weights, and I did high intensity interval training because I saw getting in shape as the easiest part of adulthood’s trial by fire. It was certainly an athletic journey, but I wasn’t athletic.
Just as I’d never watched sports, I’ve never been counted as an athlete. I thought I was inherently separate form the sporting world. However, that all changed amid a whirlwind cross-country RV trip in 2013.
Truthfully, the 2013 Sochi Olympics were my intro to a new view on sports and athleticism. For no apparent reason, the lure of Sochi drew me in and held me tight. After only a month, I found myself knowing entirely too much about the mechanics of luge, the scoring system of slope style skiing and snowboarding, and the physical demands of a biathlon.
I was rooting for Russians and cheering on Czechs. I was pushing for the Polish and aiming for American wins. I still have no clue why I got drawn into any of it but, it was awesome. And, at the end of it all, I was more motivated than ever to see the world.
Then came the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. The Olympics had left me needing another sport to focus on and learn about–I was caught in the thrall of international sports. When I told a good friend about all of this, he pulled me into the soccer fandom (Thanks, Matt!) and with each game I watched after that, it became clear that my interest was going to stick.
It didn’t matter who was playing. It didn’t matter who won the finals. I’d learned to love the game and so very many of its players. (On that note though, way to go Germany! I mean, really, hot damn!)
The World Cup showed me again where sport and a broad world vision collide.
By the time the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada came along, I was well and truly hooked. In all honesty, the 2015 WWC couldn’t have come at a worse time because I was in the middle of moving cross-country, but I watched every game I could.
More than the Olympics and more than the World Cup, the 2015 WWC made me feel connected and involved.
The number of fouls in the Mexico vs. Columbia game had my eye twitching. The first goal by Ivory Coast in the Thailand vs. Ivory Coast game nearly had me in tears. Meghan Klingenberg’s goal-line save in the USA vs. Sweden game made me (literally) jump out of my seat.
And, it didn’t just give me a world vision, it gave me a life vision.
In so many ways and in so many instances, these profoundly gifted women made me finally get sports. And, they also made me get me.
I loved the Olympics and the World Cup, but it was harder to relate to the pomp and circumstance of those events. It was harder to feel like I was a part of something. The 2015 WWC showed me how truly powerful women can be. It showed me how far dedication can take you. It showed me that women can flourish even when the world doesn’t try to nurture them.
Abby Wambach (aka the G.O.A.T.) was the first female athlete that I ever regarded as a role model. I had researched her (in a typically Hermione way) during the World Cup, when I was exceedingly annoyed by the men flopping for fouls every five minutes, and she was nothing short of astounding to me.
She could make the goals that no one else could. She could get injured on the field and still stay cognizant enough to call in a substitute. She could redefine an age-old game and make it her own. She was a beast.
Actually, she still is and she always will be.
Megan Rapinoe describes it perfectly: when I watched Abby in the 2015 WWC, I saw female fearlessness.
I didn’t see an anonymous player in an impersonal game, I saw a woman who would do whatever necessary to reach the goal that she and her teammates had committed themselves to. I saw a woman who went after what she wanted and made it happen. I saw the type of woman that I want to be, regardless of sports and athletic ability.
And, on a larger scale, I saw a team of women who were devoted to each other and the game and working together. I saw people who weren’t scared to show how they felt about what mattered to them.
Now, after 184 international goals and years as soccer’s ultimate female player, Abby is retiring. But, she’s going out in a blaze of glory and she’s making her exit on her own terms. Plus, Abby’s exit is really just another entrance.
Even without the game, Abby is a role model. Her willingness to fight for equality in not only sports, but every other aspect of life and society, is incredibly inspiring. Her decisiveness in choosing to live the life she wants to live–with or without the fame of the game–is encouraging.
She didn’t just change the game, she changed the way it was viewed.
Or, at least she did for me.
These days I’ve become pretty dedicated to the U.S. Women’s National Team, but I also have a growing weakness for the Seattle Reign and Portland Thorns. (Upside to being a newbie sports fan: rooting for rivals like it’s nobody’s business!)
More than anything though, I’ve come to love sports and appreciate athletes, despite not always understanding the games or knowing the players. I’ve learned that watching sports and playing sports do not have to be mutually inclusive.
And, I’ve realized that female athletes are important to female non-athletes because, regardless of the international power of mixed gender athletic competitions and men’s sports, women can uplift women in ways that nothing and no one else can.
In female athletes, a female non-athlete like me can find renewed purpose, and maybe even a bit of inspiration to try that community soccer league I’ve been eyeing.
Abby could not have won the 2015 WWC without her teammates and her teammates could not have won without her. If Abby Wambach and the USWNT aren’t #squadgoals, I don’t know what is.
Sometimes women just need other women to show them how to be fearless.