A few weeks before the Olympics, I sat down with soccer legend, Mia Hamm. Hamm, a forward for the US Women’s National Soccer Team, still leads as the country’s top goal-scorer—beating out both men and women with 158 international goals. Deservedly so, she’s widely considered and has been named the best female athlete of all time. However, she just might be most known for her another of her contributions—around the time Hamm was applying for colleges, Title IX allowed her to get a scholarship to the North Carolina Tar Heels to play soccer on the collegiate level, the same privilege given to men for so many years. Without this opportunity to play sports in college, Mia doesn’t believe she would have been able to continue playing soccer into her future. Mia’s unbelievable presence on the field, opened up the eyes, hearts and hopeful minds of millions of young girls across the world. Hamm told me that she understands one of her greatest goals may not actually be one of the 158 she’s tallied, but perhaps that girls needed to see other girls playing sports and that her ability to be a role model at such an important time may actually be her best goal yet.
Mia has a building on the Nike headquarters in Portland, Oregon named after her. When the women’s professional soccer league was created, it was Hamm’s silhouette featured in the logo. She’s been inducted in numerous Hall Of Fames and she helped the US women’s team take home the gold at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. She has definitely made her mark in the history of sports. But after Athens, Mia decided to retire and settle down to have a family with her husband, also a professional athlete and former Major League Baseball player. Since then, Mia spends her time taking care of her twin daughters and travels the country inspiring young girls and teaching them the importance of playing sports—undoubtedly passing on the legacy that she helped to create.
Read on to see what she thinks of the US Women’s Soccer Team in London, her thoughts on cover model Hope Solo and what workout she’s doing these days!
Most young girls today have played soccer at some point their childhood. How did you get into the sport?
We lived over in Italy when I was a young girl and we lived in Florence with a whole bunch of Italians who played soccer. My brother’s friend took him to a game and he just fell in love. When we came back to the States, soccer was starting to become popular and so he got my sister and I involved. I would hang out at the practice, but I wasn’t allowed to play in games because I was too young, so I would shag balls or jump in when I could until I was five.
So when did you know you had this talent in the game?
Well I didn’t know how good I was until about 15, when I made the youth national team. I was like “Well, at least I’m one of the best 18 in the country right now at my age group.” I’ve always only cared about playing the game, but knowing I was one of the best out there was a cool thing.
What does the 40th anniversary of Title IX mean to you?
I wouldn’t be here without it. I think, on so many levels, first and foremost, going to a publicly funded university on a scholarship, it gave me my education. I wouldn’t have been able to further my studies at the University of North Carolina and obviously not on an athletic scholarship. I value this so much because you can’t put a price on education and playing soccer was able to provide this for me.
What’s your fondest memory of your soccer career?
A lot of it is off the field, laughing a lot on the bus with my other teammates as we traveled to games, and just being a part of a really amazing group of women who really let me be me and embraced me. Your teammates have seen you at your best times and your worst times and they’re still there for you. And a lot of us started playing together when we were 16, so we’ve been teammates for more than half of our lives.
What do you think can be done to encourage girls to participate in sports today, that they’re not already doing?
I think there are so many more opportunities now. What’s great is I just remember growing up playing on boys’ teams, or co-ed teams because there weren’t enough girls playing. And now, I think girls’ participation in youth soccer is higher than boys, whether it’s professional leagues or just local leagues, and there are scholarships and opportunities to play beyond high school for these young girls. I think around 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies of CEO’s who are women all participated in sports. I think the lessons you learn, whether it’s goal-setting, self-esteem, time management, communication, a lot of the times you’re on a team learning how to motivate yourself but motivate others.
After retiring, you created the Mia Hamm Foundation. Why is this so important to you?
I had a brother who passed away after complications of a bone marrow transplant. He was adopted, so he struggled to find a match. I wanted to be able to help other families who are going through the same thing, struggling to find transplant matches. My brother and I also shared a love for sport—he was the reason I started I passing the ball around—and through that we always wanted to empower other young girls and encourage them through sport.
Do you see yourself a role model to young girls today?
Oh yeah! I’ve been pretty consistent throughout my life with this message that playing sports can open up the world to you. I mean, for me, I have nephews and a niece that look up to me. It’s not seeing your face on a cereal box that is a legacy, but knowing that young people care what you’re doing. They’re watching what you do and mimicking what you’re doing, so you want to be doing the right thing. And I hope they can see that through sports and soccer I was able to be successful, maybe in ways I didn’t know I could be.
What do you think of the US Women’s Soccer team in London right now? Going to the finals for redemption against Japan!
I’m so excited for them! They were playing their best soccer at the end of the World Cup and you just hear about how focused they have been on this very moment—they’re committed and they’re playing really well!
So, what are their chances for taking home that gold?
Pretty good! I think they’re playing with a lot of confidence. In the Olympics, there aren’t as many teams as in the World Cup, so the margin for error is very slim. You have to be playing and focused and ready, and I think they are and have been. This will be a good game!
Which player on that team do you admire the most?
Well you look at Christie Rampone, who’s playing in her fourth Olympic Games, and clearly she’s been playing forever and she’s still one of the fittest there is. She’s the team captain and sets a very high standard for that. Abby Wambach, the team forward, is just a warrior, I mean, she’s a winner, and she just goes out and she will find, every way possible to help her team win. You saw that in the Brazil game last year. You look at some of the young players coming up. Heather O’Reilly, a midfielder, is playing some of her best soccer. I think Alex Morgan just keeps getting better, she’s a goal-scorer and she takes advantage of every opportunity she gets (for instance, USA’s semi-final game against Canada where Alex scored the winning goal!). And all these girls are playing hard and they’re playing for each other and I think, when you go through tournaments, you need that, you need to make sure you’re a team, first and foremost.
What do you think of Hope Solo? She’s a FITNESS magazine cover model!
She’s one of the best goalkeepers in the world and she’s definitely a personality. I think you need that in that position because as a goalkeeper, you can be on top of the world one minute and being blamed for your team’s loss another minute. She has shown time and time again that she’s up for the challenge and it’s such an important position on your team. It really is. You can have a great attack and a great defense but at that level, other teams are going to get chances and to be able to have someone who’s that great of a shot-stopper to shut these goals out, Hope has the ability to change the game like that.
You have two young daughters. As a mom, what do you do to keep your kids and your family active?
As a family, we try to be active together, whether it’s taking them to the park or kicking the soccer ball. I talk about all of the lessons that they can learn and what they can learn about themselves, like dealing with and overcoming failure and disappointment. I try to show them how they can impact people and how other people can impact them. Outside of all of the health benefits, it’s really those lessons that they learned the value of for the rest of their lives, that would be incredible.
What’s your typical workout routine now?
I like to run and do strength training. I’ve gotten into a little bit of yoga just to help with my core strength and come back from my C-section.
Do you have a go-to move that you love?
My lack of flexibility is now coming to bite me in the bum! That’s really what I’m working on, so I’m just trying to do a lot of yoga. I do like the plank because that hurts—it’s a challenge! But I swear every other pose in yoga I’m just struggling. I’m like, “How many blocks am I allowed to use again?” [laughs]