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Professional Sep 13, 2011

Soccer leads to globetrotting existence for WPS vet, Silver Spring product Joanna Lohman

By Charles Boehm

Professional soccer players around the world have readily leaped into the emerging medium of Twitter and Philadelphia Independence midfielder Joanna Lohman is no exception.

A Silver Spring, Md. native who starred for Bethesda SC Scorpions and Penn State University before moving on to a successful career in Women’s Professional Soccer and several stints with the U.S. Women’s National Team, Lohman regularly posts updates and corresponded with fans throughout the Independence’s run to this year’s WPS Championship game in Rochester, N.Y. on August 27.

“It’s goodbye 2 Philly & West Chester 2moro for a long time.@liannesanderson & I r ready but will miss all the great ppl in this grt city,” tweeted @JoannaLohman that day, as a penalty-kick shootout loss to the Western New York Flash ended her team’s memorable 2011 season.

Since then Lohman’s tweeting has popped up at many points along a long offseason itinerary that has already taken her from Philly back to D.C. and across the Atlantic to visit England – where tickets to English Premier League matches and late-night dance clubs have featured in similar proportions on her schedule – and will eventually lead to Barcelona, Spain, where she and her Independence teammate Lianne Sanderson will spend the fall playing for the women’s team of RCD Espanyol before moving on to a monthlong community service stint in the forests of eastern India.

It’s a thrilling existence, and one of the payoffs of a female pro’s unsteady work environment. Lohman and Sanderson hope that WPS will still be in existence for them to return to next spring, and while most signs point to at least one more year for the young but battered league, the ongoing questions surrounding its survival have taught veterans like Lohman to keep one eye on the horizon at all times.

“You have to, unfortunately,” the articulate Lohman, who also blogs for the WPS website, told Potomac Soccer Wire in an in-depth conversation last month. “It’s just a factor in this league, the fact that it may not be around for very long. It’s a sad statement to make, but it’s an accurate statement, because a lot of teams have folded already. So one day you have a job, and the next day you won’t, considering that St. Louis [Athletica] folded within a week [in 2010].

“I think you always have to have a plan B when it comes to the WPS. If you’re smart, you do have a plan B, and just try and take it one day at a time. Unfortunately you can’t sign contracts for $20 million – usually you’re signing one-year contracts and once that contract’s over, you’re probably going to a new team or a new city, and it’s a very transient lifestyle.…You can’t really buy a house, you can’t set up a life necessarily in one city. But that also makes it exciting.”

Lohman is a posterchild for this phenomena, having already proved herself an avid entrepreneur and multitasker during her time with the Washington Freedom, where she helped build a D.C. commercial real-estate firm called Tenant Consulting, LLC. She remains involved with the firm as its vice president, though now to a lesser extent thanks to her roaming ways.

Now she’s equally focused on making an impact in the wider world, having signed on for an extended coaching role in Jharkand, India with Yuwa Inc., a nonprofit group which uses soccer as a vehicle to improve the health, education and economic prospects of girls from at-risk communities in one of the massive country’s poorest regions.

It’s a step towards Lohman’s ultimate goal to develop a global soccer academy, and spread the game that she learned to love as an teenager in Washington Area Girls Soccer league competition to underserved areas around the world.

“That’s my passion, is to really take the opportunity to help the women’s game grow on a global scale,” said the 29-year-old. “I’ve been given so many opportunities from playing soccer, and I want to be able to give back to the game.

“We’re going to India in January of next year and we’ll be running soccer clinics, working with both the women’s national team in India and also at the grassroots level for an NGO in India called Yuwa. I’m really, really excited about this because I think I can make a huge impact, just with the experience I have and the knowledge that I’ve gained through playing youth sports, and be able to share it with other young women. It’s not only about soccer, it’s about really increasing quality of life for many people [for whom] it’s hard to find a meal every day.”

Known as a hotbed of human trafficking, life is difficult for lower-caste girls in the Jharkand region thanks to arranged marriages and widespread inequalities in schooling and other basic needs.

“You see young women getting married off at 10 years old and having kids at 14,” said Lohman. “Yuwa really helps these women increase their quality of life through playing the sport of soccer. So that’s something I can do with my career – I’d be very thrilled, I want to give back and I want to make a difference.”

Unlike her extremely well-paid counterparts in major U.S. pro sports, Lohman probably won’t ever make enough revenue from her soccer career to retire on. But she credits the sport with giving her “characteristics that last you for a lifetime” and clearly won’t break stride when it comes time to hang up her cleats and start a new chapter.

“With competitive athletes, you find that you’re very successful in the sales and business world, because you’re very competitive and you’re goal-oriented, and used to being focused and disciplined. That really helps off the field as well as on the field,” she noted.

“I can’t complain. It’s a great lifestyle and I get to do so much traveling, and I get to see so much of the world through soccer. It’s such a great experience.”

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