I was six the first time I kicked a soccer ball. And in that moment, the world stopped. I loved it so much that I'd spend hours at the local school kicking balls against the wall to perfect my technique. Even so, I always looked forward to the times when I would have my teammates beside me.
Growing up, I played on a team with the other neighborhood kids. My dad was our coach, our parents were friends, and my teammates were my sisters. It wasn't always perfect -- my dad actually sent me home from practice on a few occasions. His message was clear: I wasn't welcome on the field if I didn't have a positive attitude.Through all the growing pains, we learned the sport, and about ourselves, alongside one another. There was no question in our minds: being together, being a team, trumped everything. Even winning.
But there weren't women's professional sports teams for me to watch that replicated what my friends and I shared. Instead, I looked up to individual tennis superstars like Chrissy Evert, Billie Jean King, and Martina Navratilova, and I religiously followed my hometown Major League Soccer team, the San Jose Earthquakes.
The Earthquakes inspired me -- from the time I scored a goal in a half-time game to the post-game autographs I collected like gold. When I scored, and the crowd went wild, it was the greatest feeling ever. Other times, my parents would wait patiently with me so that I could get the player's autographs. I especially cherished meeting George Best, one of the world's best players at the time. Remembering that moment, knowing what it meant to me, and imagining what it would have been like to have female athletes to look up to, motivates me today to sign every last autograph and share those special moments with young fans.
Ultimately, my parents were my greatest role models. My dad was my sports partner and my mom taught me perseverance. She was a go-getter -- a Vice President at a time when there were even fewer women VPs than there are today. "No," she used to tell me, "does not mean you have to stop. It means you have to find another solution." Persistence was her middle name, and soon enough it became mine, too.
I tore both of my ACLs and missed back-to-back seasons in college. A few years later, after helping the U.S. to win the 1991 Women's World Cup, I was cut from the U.S. Women's National Team. Both experiences were devastating, but I have never been more driven to get back on the field. Slowly but surely, I both clawed my way back from injury and proved that I deserved to wear the United States jersey.
The importance of determination and follow-through is one of the messages that I hope to pass on through my organization, reachuP! My motto is "Dreams do come true," because when I began playing, women's soccer was not an Olympic sport. There wasn't a Women's World Cup and there weren't professional leagues. But I dreamt that one day there would be, and I worked hard so that when that day came, I was prepared.
As a result, I had the opportunity to represent the United States in three Olympics, winning two gold medals and one silver, and to bring home two golds from World Cups. Most people remember me for my penalty kick that won the 1999 Women's World Cup for the U.S. -- and my bra-tastic celebration. But I want to be remembered for more.
Despite the efforts of businesspeople and soccer fans to maintain a women's professional soccer league over the last dozen years, both the WUSA and the WPS have been unable to stay afloat. Just like when I was growing up, today's over 370,000 girls playing high school soccer are once again without a league that showcases what they share with their teammates. Yet it's vital for young girls to have strong, positive role models and to see the game they love played at a high level. Sport does this for girls and provides them with empowerment and positive body image. Lacking a pro league, we need to be creative. It's like my mom used to tell me, we just need to find another solution.
That's why my organization, reachuP! is hosting a Celebrity Soccer Challenge and Radio Disney Concert on September 22nd at San Jose Municipal Stadium. reachuP!'s mission is to provide authentic role models and to encourage girls to make healthy lifestyle choices and become true champions.
The full day of fun includes Ultimate Field Day activities with Radio Disney, a youth soccer clinic, and a Parade of Teams all before the celebrities take to the field and the stage. The highlights of the day are the Celebrity Soccer Challenge and post-game Radio Disney Concert. The game will feature elite female and male athletes, playing side by side and exemplifying what it really means for men and women to be equals in athletics. Women's soccer legends Kristine Lilly and Julie Foudy will be joined by Olympic figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi, San Francisco 49er Joe Nedney, San Jose Shark Mike Ricci, and many others. Following the game, Shane Harper, from Disney's Good Luck Charlie, is headlining an exciting Radio Disney concert.
On September 22nd, we'll play our hearts out on that field. We'll have smiles on our faces because we truly love playing. We'll embrace being role models for today's youth and recognize that it is both a privilege and a responsibility. We'll cherish every autograph, photo request, and chance we have to talk one-on-one with a fan. We'll instill in them that 'No' just means you have to find another solution. We'll instill in them that dreams really do come true. And we'll remember that having fun and being a member of a team is the most important part of playing sports.