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Saturday, September 15, 2012

It's all in the Celebration

Dear Nick and Ben,

Your mom is a World Champ. :)

Well, in a roundabout way.  I didn't shed one drop of sweat or have to apply on the field what was discussed.  I didn't have to make sure my hydration and nutrition and sleep and mentality and guts were all in check.  But I felt as if I was on that field with every touch of the ball, with every run and most definitely with every save.

To watch our team COMPETE in every sense of the word was inspiring.  To watch the skill and composure in an environment that is foreign to our players compared to our European foes: their WC Qualifications are 18 months long.  Many of the foreign players are professional playing in some of the best pro-leagues in the world. Our players are club players, playing in tournaments that last a weekend, or in college playing  a 20 - 26 game season with limited training hours mandated by the NCAA. However, when it comes to rolling up the sleeves, enjoying the challenge and competing, we seemed as if we were the veterans.  A team of veterans, watching each other's back, trusting each others decisions and simply going for it. That is "Sport" at its best.

Jaime Frias, Janet Rayfield, April Heinrichs, Amy Griffin, Steve Swanson
People have asked me if being on staff and winning a World Cup is even close to as exciting as winning as a player.  I thought the answer would be 'no'.  However, the commitment of the team, the growth, the love and respect that grew and was earned over time made this experience every bit as memorable as the 1991 World Championship that I also was fortunate to share with teammate, and now "coaching teammate", April Heinrichs.

A few of the many lessons the players and staff taught me.

1)  You don't ever have to be perfect or have your best game, but you can always be extraordinary.
2)  Sleep is overrated and coffee is like oxygen....that is for the staff!
3)  When every person does all they can all of the time success is attainable.
4)  Cohesiveness all of the time, is essential.
5)  There is comfort and confidence in being prepared.

The celebration.  A few months ago when the team qualified in Panama, the celebration was... kind of a dud.  Out on the field individuals wandered around staring at sad Canadians and feeling relieved they had won aimlessly wondering, "what do we do now?"  It wasn't until the ceremony was over, the trophy had been lifted and we finally straggled back to the locker room with our inner circle of people that a slight celebration broke out.   The looks on their faces seemed to say, "Is it okay if we shout?"
Slowly but surely the crescendo of happiness became apparent, but in my book... still very lame.

Many fitness tests, training logs, pressure moments, hydration tests, bus rides, foam rolling sessions, gut checks, trust issues, homesick bouts, lost hotel keys, passport checks, ice baths later, another trophy was hoisted.  This time the celebration much different: it was pure joy! Everyone was sprinting, hugging, crying, dancing.  The German team laid on the ground forever, right up until they had to step onto the silver platform, with Japan on the bronze. The USA group shouted and danced up to the top step, received their award and continued the celebration while most the fans left the stadium.  FIFA officials could tell we were not close to exiting and commented, "We are going to begin cleaning the stadium but you are welcome to stay as long as you like."  Stay we did.  The players made snow angels in the confetti and stuffed some in their bras for mementos.  They weren't looking for friends and family in the stands until well after the celebration.  They wanted this moment with their teammates, their US Soccer sisters!

The bonds, the trust, the teamwork the love that had formed and been worked at over the year stood out to me and was just as tangible as the World Cup Trophy. By the time the stretching and ice baths and post game rituals ended we did not arrive back into the hotel until close to 11:00 PM.  On the bus ride back, windows were rolled down for pedestrians to hear, "Hey Tokyo!!!!  We are World Champs!" An exhausted, drained, content team sat happily and ate their last dinner at the hotel.  No more mandatory chicken, salmon, rice, veggies, fruit, yogurt, or  peanut butter as the "go to" 2nd option.  Tomorrow we would pack, turn in uniforms check out and head to a karaoke place where we had rented a room to eat dinner and sing to our hearts content before boarding the plane. 

One of my most memorable moments happened at the Karaoke place.  Dinner was average as well as the singing, but a good time was had by all.  We had time for one more song and the request was "Don't Wake Me Up" which was a popular song in the locker room and the song that was played while the team was on the Gold Medal podium.  When they heard the first notes of the song they jumped out of their seats and it was as if they were right back at the stadium screaming their lungs and hearts out to the song!   But what happened next that was unplanned and surprised everyone was what I will always remember.

Right in the middle of the song while everyone was jumping and singing in a circle and looking into each others eyes,  the tears began to flow.  Happy tears? No not happy, but sad tears.  The unspoken words at the same instant were comprehended by everyone.  It was over.  This team, this dream was over.  The journey was what made these bonds, and how lucky and deserved they were for reaching their dream.  Not many people get to do that... be the best in the world.  The tears, for me, made me so happy that these wonderful young adults achieved their dream.  The lessons were not lost on them.  Forever, these players will seek each other out on the soccer field, in each others hometowns and whenever the chance arises.  Not because they have their gold medal in common, but because they got out of this experience exactly what they put into it: everything. Dont Wake Me Up (please click)

Going back home for me has been bittersweet.  I feel empty and sad leaving the people with whom I have been attached at the hip. Leaving Japan with an exhilaration that I  know I will never be able to fully explain to everyone. It has meant so much to me.   I am happy and excited to see my families... the ones I am related to and the Dawgs.
Remembering that sitting down at dinner with the family is a treat and sitting on the bench at a game is a great place to be and a privilege.  Thanks for helping me keep my sanity Ben and Nick.  Sitting and writing this has been my "deep breath" and helping me keep things in perspective.  You get out of life what you put into it and if you put everything into it... please, please celebrate!

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