Former Soccer Olympians Back in Raleigh to Inspire Youth Athletes
Photos courtesy of Blue Cross Blue Shield North Carolina
As the world was watching the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Sunday, three former Olympic gold medalists and Tar Heel soccer stars — Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly and Tisha Venturini Hoch — were on a hot soccer field in Raleigh, inspiring young female soccer players to be their best.
The former Olympians and Women’s World Cup champions were hosting a sports clinic for girls ages 8-12 at the WRAL Soccer Complex in North Raleigh. The clinic — one of three the Olympians hosted across North Carolina this summer — was designed to promote healthy nutrition and training habits through Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina’s “Live Fearless” campaign. The attendees were chosen from those who visited the Blue Cross website and took the “Live Fearless” Pledge as well as players from local soccer leagues who were recognized for sportsmanship. This is the second year for the clinics, and Hamm said she has learned from the girls as much as she taught them.
“It’s a thrill every time I come back to North Carolina, where so much of my growth and development as an athlete — and as a person — took place,” she said. “I look forward to meeting more aspiring athletes who are living fearless.”
Hamm, Lilly and Venturini Hoch were NCAA soccer champions at UNC Chapel Hill and later went on to win gold at the 1996 Olympic Games. In 2010, the trio founded TeamFirst Soccer Academy — an organization dedicated to fostering healthy behaviors of young athletes. The Live Fearless clinics are sponsored by BCBSNC in collaboration with TeamFirst Soccer Academy.
During a Q-and-A session with media at the soccer field, I wondered how Hamm is able to balance being a mother and her work outside the home, so I put that question to her. “[I have a] very supportive husband, great kids and we have family close by,” she replied. “I don’t do it on my own. I have a lot of people that help, but if I didn’t have my husband and my family, it would be much harder.”
As I had arrived at the soccer field with my 17-year-old son — a big soccer fan — I asked her a question of which I thought the answer might help him: “What do you wish you had known when you were a teen that would have been helpful?”
“I should have stretched a lot. It might have helped my body when I’m older,” Hamm said with a grin, but she then waxed philosophical about enjoying the present moment. “We have young daughters, and I love the fact that they don’t live in the future and they don’t live in the past — it’s very much in the present. But sometimes, they forget to pick their heads up and observe a little bit more, but really to enjoy it. I know sometimes when I played — that intensity — it helped me be successful, but also I felt like my career went so much faster than it probably should have in that way, where I wasn’t that observant.”
Hamm also has some great practical advice for parents of young athletes, too. Check out her four tips on what parents can do to put their kids in the best position to succeed in sports and growing up.
I was impressed by how patient, humble and gracious all three athletes were in talking with everyone they met — especially the youth who attended — as they signed countless autographs and posed for photos. No one was turned away.( Hamm even took the time to give an interview to a 9-year-old girl who wrote this blog about it.) It's evident that stardom has not gone to their heads and they are grounded by the work they do — both in and outside of the home — caring for the next generation.