Impacting the game on and off the field
Danielle Foxhoven accepted one of the more daunting challenges in college soccer when she chose to follow in the footsteps of three legendary goal scorers who helped tiny University of Portland become as big a name as there is in the women's game. Like putting on the pinstripes after Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, putting on Pilots purple and playing forward means living up to the legacies of Shannon MacMillan, Tiffeny Milbrett and Christine Sinclair, players who collectively totaled 300 college goals and went on to similarly prolific feats after graduation.
"I definitely knew coming here that I wanted to make my mark, just like the three people ahead of me did, and that was in terms of doing what we all do best and that's scoring goals," Foxhoven said. "I knew that's what my strength is, and I wanted to bring that to the program and really shine for myself and for the program, through the program."
She held up her end of the bargain on the field. The senior will finish her career with more goals, 54 and counting, than any Pilots player save the aforementioned trio and ensure her No. 9 jersey has its own place in program lore.
Yet it's what she thought to do with the rest of her gear that truly defines her.
Even in the midst of a frustrating season the likes of which Rose City fans have never seen, it's what gives the senior a legacy that stands on its own.
Shortly after Portland's 2010 season came to a rather stunning close with a second-round exit from the NCAA tournament at the hands of rival Washington, Foxhoven was charged with the annual chore of getting rid of excess equipment the team no longer needed. One of the perks of being a Division I athlete, one nevertheless often taken for granted, is the steady flow of fresh new clothing and equipment. Foxhoven found herself thinking of those without similar advantages, which left little time to wallow in the disappointment of a lost postseason.
"It kind of killed me inside to know that this was just going to go to waste or we didn't really have anything to do with it," Foxhoven recalled. "So I just came up with this idea that I wanted to help get that equipment overseas."
The idea germinated in her brain until an encounter in February with Nick Gates, director of Coaches Across Continents and a guest speaker in Foxhoven's social entrepreneurship class. Gates' organization uses soccer as a teaching tool to, according to its mission statement, "improve the health and well-being of disadvantaged children in developing countries." Foxhoven eagerly pitched her idea and found a receptive ear. From that initial encounter was born Equipment Across Continents.
Equipment Across Continents collects used gear from groups like local youth soccer clubs and distributes it overseas to programs affiliated with Coaches Across Continents, mostly in Africa. Companies donate overstock items, along the lines of apparel and athletic bags, which are sold online via eBay's Giving Works service to raise the money necessary to ship the gear. The program's founder and its director, Foxhoven oversees operations that include a warehouse in Florida from which volunteers distribute the collected materials.
I think this project is very reflective of who Danny is. [She's] obviously very involved in sport, but she's not looking at sport as 'How can Danielle Foxhoven better from it?' She immediately started looking at some of the issues from different organizations and what do people do with all this stuff that they have.
--Portland coach Garrett Smith
From her pitch to Gates to the first online sale, the whole thing went from idea to reality in about four months.
"I think this project is very reflective of who Danny is," Portland coach Garrett Smith said. "[She's] obviously very involved in sport, but she's not looking at sport as 'How can Danielle Foxhoven better from it?' She immediately started looking at some of the issues from different organizations and what do people do with all this stuff that they have."
Unfortunately, a storybook senior season isn't part of the equation. The injury-depleted Pilots already have seven losses in their first 14 games, more than in Foxhoven's first three seasons combined, and have major work to do just to avoid missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1999. But even as she talks about the newfound adversity on the field, you get a sense of someone who understands the bigger picture.
"I'm not going to lie; it has been hard," Foxhoven said of the 6-7-1 record through Thursday. "As a competitive person -- not even as a competitive person, as anyone -- it's more fun to win. But in saying that, it's a part of life, it's a part of sports. With wearing your heart on your sleeve and with exposing yourself and working as hard as you can and putting everything out there comes sometimes winning and sometimes, unfortunately, there comes failure."
She would like to continue playing soccer beyond graduation and certainly has the skills to follow a host of former Portland players already competing in Women's Professional Soccer. Whether working from the inside or not, she hopes to bring professional teams into the mix for Equipment Across Continents and looks forward to an opportunity to travel overseas with some of the equipment, getting a firsthand look at the children it's helping -- and a firsthand look at what still needs to be done.
Foxhoven embraced the chance to follow in the footsteps of greatness when she came to Portland. In helping those around her, she found a way to take the lead.
"It brings you back to a sense of just pure joy for the game," Foxhoven said of the community involvement. "I think a lot of times that's lost in our competitive spirit and our circumstances of a season, of the pressure of playing. And [it reinforces] being able to be a part of a community, even being a part of kids' lives here in the Portland area and just seeing how happy they are when they watch us play or whatnot. And that spreads to Africa, seeing how happy they are when they play.
"It just brings you back to a sense of why we started playing the game and the joy we have in such a simple thing as kicking a ball and chasing after it."
Even at a place where people have kicked it and chased it better than almost anywhere else, that's a legacy worth celebrating.
Graham Hays covers women's college soccer and softball for ESPN.com. Email him at Graham.Hays@espn.com. Follow him on Twitter: @grahamhays.