U.S. women's national team star Abby Wambach can credit the public library in her hometown of Rochester, N.Y., for getting her start in soccer. And while her family's support has been instrumental, her focus, belief and mindset have been pivitol to Wambach's success.
"I actually first started playing soccer when I was, like, 4 or 5. The way my family kind of got into soccer growing up is that my sister [Beth], the eldest in the family, wanted to learn how to play. And my mom was like, 'All right, well, let's go to the public library.' They checked out a book [about soccer] from the public library, came home, read it, and that's how soccer became in my family. I'm really lucky and I think it's pretty ironic that I was able to take, one session, I suppose, or one decade with my sister from a book all the way to world championships and Olympic medals. I'm really proud of that fact. I think it's pretty indicative of what you can do if you set your mind to something.
"One of the best stories I remember is being out on the basketball court and my brothers and sisters not really letting me win. I think then and there I was learning the definition of competitiveness and I think it really has kind of pushed me along throughout my career. It definitely has helped in being a professional athlete.
"Growing up playing basketball and soccer, I thought that for me, at the time, it was really perfect because I didn't have to focus all of my attention on one thing. Being a younger kid and having both to go to throughout a year was really good for my spirit and kept me excited about going to practices and going to tournaments and whatever. But at the end of the day, when push came to shove, I knew I was always better at soccer. I knew I probably would be able to play longer at soccer and hopefully one day get a scholarship to play at a D-I school.
"In 1999, when women were playing in the World Cup here in the United States, everybody remembers when Brandi [Chastain] took her shirt off. I was in college [at the University of Florida] and that time for me was very impactful. I remember thinking to myself, 'Wow, I really would love to do that.' And I had had some time with the youth national program and realized ... if I was gonna dedicate myself to this and try, I really had to do it. And I'm an all-or-nothing kind of person, so I put all my energy in training. And, the beauty of that is that a couple years later, I'm playing alongside Mia Hamm, I'm playing alongside Brandi Chastain. I think that that's also really important for people to understand ... your mind is a very powerful tool. And once you set your mind to something, don't quit until you reach your dreams.
"When I got first got called into the national team, I was in college and April Heinrichs was the coach. And I remember coming into camp and being fairly nervous, to be honest. I was meeting some of these players for the first time ... these women who I had pictures [of] up on my wall in Rochester, N.Y., growing up. I idolized Mia. Kristine Lilly. Michelle Akers. You know, Michelle had retired, but she was one of my most favorite players growing up.
"And, you know, those first couple of practices you feel slower, you feel ... your thoughts aren't as fast as these players are. You feel like they're on just a different level. And I suppose that's the way it should be. Because until you've played at that level, until you played at that speed, you wouldn't know what to expect. I think that that's just the way life is, you know. You have to try new things in order to get better and you're probably not gonna be good at them at first. So I was pretty mindful of that. And stayed positive and I guess it worked out.
"My very first cap on the national team was against Germany and I had made the team that was gonna be playing in this tournament in the United States. And I remember being really excited, telling my Mom and telling my family ... because it was in Chicago. My parents decided they wanna show up and be there for my first game. They were very much involved and excited about this opportunity. Not only I sacrificed to get there, but they were the ones who came to a lot of my soccer games in college. They were the ones who worked hard and worked tirelessly to make sure that I could get to certain tournaments throughout my life to be given this chance.
"We get on the field, and I guess there was 19 minutes left or 18 minutes left and April calls my number . What was cool about that experience is that April was my very first youth national team coach. And she put her arm around my shoulder before I went in the game and she said, 'We met many, many years ago. And I think it's really amazing the growth that you've had. This is your time. You are ready.'
"And I went out there, Mia was on the field. And it was me alongside Mia. And I think that Mia yelled at me for the entire 18 minutes. 'Uh, what are you doing? Stay high!' You know, and I was just nervous. I had no idea what to do, what to expect. I didn't really do much I suppose, but it was a really good experience for me and it's definitely something I'll never forget."