This article is part of the USA Women's Eagles Final in '14 blog. All entries are written exclusively by members of the women's national team.
One of my early childhood memories is setting my clock to watch the USA play Germany in the group stages of the 1998 World Cup, a game in which the current USA coach, Jurgen Klinsmann, would captain Germany to a 2-0 win. Back then shone the likes of Eric Wynalda and Claudio Reyna, but let’s be honest. The real stars in my eyes were players like Klinsmann, Zidane, Ronaldo, and my personal favorite, Michael Owen. As a young athlete, I was idolizing not only players from other countries, but other genders as well. Don’t get me wrong. Those guys are among some of the best of all time, but I didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of actually ever being one of them due to a few minor details. Fast forward a year to the 1999 Women’s World Cup and there I was again, on the edge of my seat, watching the final USA vs China match seared in all of our memories. When we came away victorious after a nail-biting finish in PKs, I did what only came naturally: ran around the room screaming and then proceeded to the back yard to practice for hours. At ten years old, I knew what I wanted to do with my life. And largely thanks to that team, it was becoming a possibility.
I’ve been seeing this Always campaign floating around social media, talking about what it means to do something “like a girl”, which I think is awesome. I never really considered it as a kid because I had those strong role models to look up to. I was going to be a professional athlete and that was that. Things changed a little as I grew older and migrated from soccer to rugby, but my dreams never faltered. Somehow, I would be a professional athlete, even if it was in a sport where that title didn’t even exist in America. At the age of 22, I was lucky enough to become one of the first eight professional rugby players in the country. Last year, I got to represent that country in a World Cup, something I had been dreaming of doing since 1998. And this year, I’ll get to do it again.
But no one knows about it.
For a while, that was fine with me. I don’t need recognition. I do what I do because it’s what I love and nothing brings me greater joy than fulfilling my dream by representing my country alongside 14 of my best friends. But then I thought about me 16 years ago, before I even knew there was a women’s national team. Would I have kept going if the 1999 women’s team hadn’t been so adamant about gaining coverage? I mean, those girls filled the Rose Bowl. Everyone knew they were here to play. Would I even have had a dream to chase without them?
Now that our men’s US Soccer team is killing it in Brazil, we’ve adopted the slogan “One Nation, One team.” You see famous athletes like LeBron and the Super Bowl champion Seahawks singing the nation’s praises. Because outside of our local rivalries around the Super Bowl and NBA Playoff games, we all call ourselves proud Americans, united on the world’s greatest stage through sport. I believe that we are #1N1T. We’re connected in so many ways. Our women’s sevens team linked up with the women’s soccer team in Atlanta this year, training on Michelle Akers’ farm. You see clips of the women’s soccer team watching the men compete in Brazil, much like we followed our men as they bravely defeated Canada a few weeks ago. And coincidentally enough, it turns out that Teddy Goalsevelt actually lives with one of our teammates.
As international athletes, we’re just playing the game we love for the country we’re proud to represent. But we’re also tasked with being role models for the future athletes, and I want to give them something to aspire to. I want the girl who picked up a rugby ball for the first time this year to look at us and know, much like I did, that playing rugby is what they want to do with their life. I want the kids to have that chance. But they can’t do that if all they know is the men’s soccer team. Wrong gender, wrong sport. As one nation and one team, we have to make it heard that we’re here to play, too. Just as the men are doing the country proud in Brazil, we’ll be fighting for the red, white, and blue in France.
Back in 1998, USA soccer didn’t have the best international reputation in the men’s game. Soccer was a foreign sport saved for those countries who didn’t play the “real” football. But over the years, that’s changed. Look where our men are now. Look how much we love to watch them win. We’re proud of our boys and honored to be a part of this great nation. I mean, we’re freaking Americans! We build something from nothing. That’s just what we do.
The dream starts now for the young players. There might not be much to go on now, but American rugby is growing. We’re building something here, and it’s time that people knew about it.