Win Goals with Heart

I’m not quite sure what compelled me, but I recently found myself researching soccer players. And on this deep road, I had to explore a woman player whom I think is the greatest of all time, Michelle Akers. Like me, a #10 starting midfielder, she played every minute with such intensity and passion. Her love of the game and drive to leave everything on the field, holding nothing back, inspired me so many of my own soccer playing years.

And the 1999 U.S. Women’s World Cup Championship?—I can’t forget that time. Michelle Akers and the entire team powered through that championship like a true team does, with authentic teamwork and great tenacity. I was young back then, and only now can I truly appreciate not just the sport at this intensity but the lives that these players lived, the challenges they faced. It’s a different perspective to see that they are indeed human like everyone else on and off the field. They had challenges of being a mom while also a player, of endured athletic injuries, and of the slow yet sudden growth of the sport in the media, especially for women, during this time.

I remembered Michelle Akers always being injured in some way, and it was her continuous fight to play that I thought of often when I wanted to quit. Being one of the oldest women players to play in the World Cup, she sported cuts on her face, wrapped up wrists, sore ankles, dashes across her knees that have been operated on multiple times, and a damaged shoulder. Then to learn that she too was battling Chronic Fatigue Immune Deficiency Syndrome (CFIDS) just blew my mind. How was she playing 90 minute games and with such strength? I had to learn more and picked up her autobiography, The Game and the Glory.—I can hardly put it down.

I’m still in the midst of reading, but I am so absorbed by its detailed description of Michelle’s minute-to-minute perspective leading up to the 1999 World Cup final game against China and the time during that matchup. It’s as though I am right there with her and just urging her to not give up while her tank deteriorates toward empty even though I already know the outcome of the championship. And while she was able to hold on during the final game regulation time but got helped off the field from exhaustion prior to penalty kicks, you can feel her sense of just never giving up. It took me right back to this sense I always got while watching her play back then.

So where does this endurance come from?
From my perspective, a few things:

First, curiosity. In the book, she describes how, with CFIDS, she wasn’t in self-pity and thinking “why me?” She was asking better questions. Akers says in a NY Daily News interview, “It was ‘What does this mean?’ and ‘How do you want me to change?’ That was the question I would shout at God.” The book describes how most people decide to change their lifestyle with CFIDS, but Michelle decided to compete with it. Her curiosity opened herself up to learn ‘how’.

Second, awareness. She checks in with herself to see how she is feeling. While it may seem small, this act of self-awareness is key to understanding what next steps to take.

Lastly, heart. She loves the game and has such a commitment to her team, herself, and to her faith.

These three things stand out at me while I read.

I’ve only owned this book for a few hours now and am just a quarter in, but I’m learning and gaining so much. The energy in this read is so powerful and inspiring. I highly recommend checking out this book. I cannot wait to finish the rest of it.

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