Wednesday, May 30, 2012

On Becoming Hope Solo


Dear Mackenzie,

A couple of years ago you decided you wanted to play soccer.  So your mom and I registered you at the local AYSO and you were assigned to a team. I remember how excited you were when you got your uniform, how you wore it around the house for days, and how you said you couldn’t wait for your first practice.  

As we drove to the field, my sweet daughter, I started fantasizing about your potential future in competitive soccer and what all that could mean for you. I also started reminiscing about the not so distant past.

On a blistering hot day in July of 1999, three friends and I drove to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, along with 90,000 other people, to watch the finals of the Women’s World Cup.  I’d never been much of a soccer fan, let alone of the women’s game. Yet along with much of the rest of the nation I’d been riveted as the U.S. team defeated Germany, and then mighty Brazil, to advance to the finals.  Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Kristine Lilly and others had captured our imaginations and we wanted to experience them, and the moment, first-hand.

By any objective measure the game turned out to be as incredible a sporting event as I’ve ever attended.  Both teams fought valiantly. Many spectators wilted in the sweltering heat and it would have been completely understandable if the players had too. Yet neither side did. Regulation time ended with the teams in a scoreless tie, as did the overtime period.

The fans roared throughout the entire penalty shootout as each side took their respective turns. When Brianna Scurry made a diving save of a kick from one of the Chinese players it felt as if we were in the midst of an earthquake. The very foundation of the stadium was rocked by the foot stomping and by the sound of 90,000 people chanting USA! USA!

And then Brandi Chastain made the final kick of the shootout and the U.S. women became World Cup Champions. The feeling inside the stadium in that moment, and no doubt in front of millions of television sets across the country, was one of unparalleled catharsis and jubilation.

Chastain famously took off her t-shirt and whirled it around as she sank to her knees, and not a single fan left the stadium for a good hour or more after the game.  Players hugged each other. Fans hugged each other.  Players hugged fans.  Fans hugged players. A lifetime’s worth of exaltation and celebration played out in front of me.

In full evidence throughout that match had been many of the life lessons which sports teach us. Teamwork. Dedication. Courage. Perseverance. Hard work. The thrill of victory. And unfortunately for the Chinese team, the agony of defeat as well. 

What Brandi, Mia and the gang left on the field that day, and how they did it, shaped Hope Solo’s generation, is shaping your generation, and will shape all future generations who follow.  The 1999 national team showed millions of young people, and especially young girls, that you can achieve anything and that everything is possible.

From that moment forward, every young woman in this country would know that no limitations exist other than those you allow into your sphere.  That the path you forge is the path you take. These players taught us that grace, power, athleticism and beauty are not mutually exclusive, and that champions come in all shapes, sizes and yes, even genders.

As befits a doting dad, I thought how great it would be if one day you were able to experience a life-affirming event like that World Cup final. Maybe you’d watch Hope Solo make a game winning save at goal during the finals of the 2015 World Cup.  Maybe you’d watch Sydney Leroux bury one from the corner to help the USA win the 2019 World Cup.

I even wondered privately if you yourself might one day become a Mia Hamm or a Hope Solo.  Maybe in the final seconds of the 2023 Women’s World Cup, a young rookie on the national team named Mackenzie Aladjem would pass the ball from the right wing with surgical accuracy to a grizzly veteran named Alex Morgan coming across the middle, who in turn would score the winning goal as time ran out and a delirious crowd chanted USA! USA!

These were the thoughts that occupied my mind as we pulled up to the park.  You were nervous, and since you didn’t know any of the girls on the team your mom walked you over to the coach. We watched you run around during practice and you seemed to be having loads of fun. At one point someone passed you the ball and you took a shot on goal.  Though the kick went wide of the mark you were grinning from ear to ear.  If I didn’t know better I would have sworn you were posing at the point of impact instead of focusing on the ball, but I was bursting with joy and pride nonetheless.  

Team pictures were taken at the second practice, and you were more excited about that than about the practice itself. When the proofs came, you picked several of the shots for us to print, and then happily announced you didn’t want to play any more. Just like that your soccer career was over. 

Periodically you ask me to take you to the park and we kick the ball around, but at least so far that seems to be the extent of your interest in the sport. Unless you change your mind it looks like the 2023 national team will have to win without you.

Yet I hope that the lessons of the 99ers, and their glory, will shine their light on you wherever your life and passions take you. I still have the cutest picture ever of you in your soccer uniform. I may even take it with me to Japan in 2023.

All my everlasting love,

Dad

6 comments:

  1. Norm:

    The lesson learned is one that will repeat itself on a truly regular basis. The secret, the art if you would, if being a good parent is to exhibit and genuinely express the same enthusiasm each and everytime -- from soccer to softball to performance art to Indian chief.

    It appears that is a lesson already learned.

    Enjoy the moments, they come and go in the blink of an eye.

    Best,

    Parker

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    1. Thank you for your comment Parker. You are right on the money!
      Norm

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  2. Wonderful! Thank you for sharing! I enjoyed it! What love for your daughter! And believe it or not, I was there in '99 also!! I remember all of it and Michelle Akers being helped off the field in sheer, overwhelming exhaustion from being ill! I remember the chants! And I remember being a grown woman who desperately wished to be young enough to have watched all of them as role models rather than being too old to make try outs at the time. While I truly do not hold Solo in high regard, I encouraged my children to know that Scurry was AMAZING and BRILLIANT and I still have pics of everything before Chastain's goal and the frenzy after...and the fan frenzy on Colorado Blvd. Sad that neither of us had the soccer prodigies that we envisioned. But, that game opened the world to everyone playing in 45 minutes in Game 2. Sorry to go on... just so happy to see someone with similar experience and dreams for their child. You may remove this after I post! Best of luck to your beautiful Mackenzie!!! ESPECIALLY if she ever takes up The Beautiful Game again!!!

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  3. Thank you so much for your wonderful comment!!! And yes, what a great day that was!

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  4. This is a beautiful post. The hopes and prayers of every parent for their child's success are crystalized in your lyrical prose. Thanks for sharing, Norman.

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