I’m the greatest futboller you’ve never heard of.
Give me five minutes and I’ll prove it to you.
Marta, Christie Rampone, Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn, Formiga, Carli Lloyd, Abby Wambach, Lieke Martens. Those are names you recognize — World Cup Champions, Olympic gold medalists, FIFA Players of the Year. They’re also all women I’ve played with. I’ve even captained a few.
I’ve represented my country and played in three different Champions League finals. I’ve won the Bundesliga as well as the Cups in Norway, Sweden, Germany, and France.
Which has to make you wonder, how have you never heard of me?
When I was five years old, I was given a piece of paper and prompted to decide then and there what I wanted to be when I grew up. In my fumbling, childish scrawl, I wrote “Football Player.” I couldn’t have known those words would end up guiding my life, fueling a dream I have never outgrown. Especially because I originally meant “American Football Player” — the sport my father played in college.
Since then, I have not only played alongside the greatest players in the world, but have also called seven countries “home,” learned to speak (albeit imperfectly) four different languages, and played in front of the King of Norway. Best of all, I’ve been able to make a living out of chasing my dream.
My success hasn’t been the product of natural-born talent. It was not so long ago that I was recruited as a “walk-on” in college, unable to juggle a ball more than 10 times in a row. But if I’ve learned anything from my journey, it’s that you have to have an incredible amount of stubborn belief and a whole lot of grit to make it. With that, anyone can make the impossible possible.
And somehow, I’ve done just that, reaching levels of success I could have only dreamed about but never predicted.
None of it has been easy. I’ve had to make my way without a national team backing and, even more humbling, without a shoe contract for most of my career. Despite having played for the best clubs in France, Germany, Sweden, and America, and being voted the 72nd best player in the world, I’ve had to pay for my own plane tickets to try out for international teams because they didn’t recognize my name.
It’s impossible not to think how different my journey would have been if I was a men’s player. I can’t imagine a men’s player with my resume having to fight as I’ve had to fight for recognition and opportunity. I can’t imagine a men’s player still having to pay for his own cleats and plane tickets.
But as I come to the end of my career — one that most of you have never heard of — I want you to know that none of this is said with any bitterness or regret. It is with pride and a belief that the next small town girl will have the chance to live an even bigger dream; that my career and those of the other unrecognized Greats with whom I’ve played have paved the way for younger athletes with starry eyes and crazy goals.
I want them to know that disappointment is an inevitable bump on this road, whether that means not making the team or watching your work go unappreciated. Those are the moments that help you see who you really are. Those are the moments that show you that you are stronger than you think.
Because it’s those difficult memories that I cherish the most. Yes, playing in front of 42,000 screaming fans with my country’s emblem on my chest was amazing. As was hoisting the Bundesliga trophy. But more often I think back on those times when tears were running down my face, on those moments of body-shattering pain when I felt like I couldn’t take another step but still found a way. I remember all those times I sat alone in a room, in Lord knows what country, wondering what the heck I was doing, asking myself, Am I really cut out for this? or, Is it time to walk away?
Those are the moments that let me look back and be proud of what I’ve done.
I have absolutely no professional regrets. I made it. I showed up and found a way to finish what I started when I scribbled down my dream in that wide-ruled notebook 28 years ago.
I am incredibly grateful for the experiences I’ve had, and I’m thankful for all of the lessons I’ve learned, for all the life-changing people I’ve met, and for the countless opportunities I’ve been given to discover what I’m made of. I’m confident that my struggles have left this game in a better place than where it was when I started my journey.
As this chapter of my life comes to a close, I can look myself in the mirror, hold my head high, and say, “Well done, you great. Well done.”