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Commentary Oct 11, 2013

Dear Abby…

Editor’s note: This is the latest blog post from Dr. Wendy Lebolt, a longtime coach and physiologist who is the founder of Fit2Finish, a Northern Virginia-based training, fitness and rehabilitation company which works with teams and individual players to maximize health and performance. The Soccer Wire is excited to present Wendy’s learned perspectives on the mental, physical and psychological aspects of the beautiful game. Learn more about her background here.

The last time I spoke with Abby Wambach she was a newly-minted member of the (now-defunct) Washington Freedom women’s professional soccer team and had just been called up to the U.S. Women’s National Team. She was a rising star at about 23 years old.

She was, quite literally, going to be in my neighborhood. She was visiting relatives, in-laws to one of her brothers, who lived across the street. They called, knowing that me and my daughters were totally crazy about soccer, and asked if we wanted to come meet Abby and take some photos. We did.

I met a young woman full of confidence and totally gracious. She asked the kids about their teams, signed their soccer balls and posed for pictures. I asked her about herself. She told me a story I have not forgotten and I’ve oft repeated. It starts, “My brother idolized this pro baseball player” and it ends, “and this guy refused to sign his autograph. My brother was devastated.” Abby said. “I’m never gonna be that athlete.”

Abby isn’t. She has become the face of the national team. Its star. Its workhorse. Its target. Its interview. She didn’t ask for these. They came to her because of her talent, tenacity and commitment to the team. Along the way, she’s scored more goals than any player who has ever played the game. She has let her actions speak for themselves.

With this comes attention and celebrity. She’s a star. And our world wants to know everything about our stars. So, when Abby and Sarah Huffman were married this week, the media brought us the story. Thank you. I’m glad to know this.

What’s interesting is the firestorm around the same-sex relationship illumination. Abby never announced this, so should we “reveal” it? Is this exposition out of bounds, since Abby didn’t “publically come out?” Should we do it for her?

We’re asking, “Dear Abby, you knew this was coming. Why not prepare us ahead of time?”

I think back to that 23-year-old I met in my neighbor’s family room. The world was already expecting a lot of her, and she was prepared to give it. But she shied away from personal attention or personal acclaim. Making a public announcement was just not her way. She didn’t want to be a distraction.

Even when the microphone is thrust in her face, she talks about the team, their talent and promise. The depth they have and the young players coming onto the scene. She has taken the mantle of leadership seriously as well as the responsibility to be a role model to girls who dream about following in her footsteps.

Even, and perhaps especially, those who dare to achieve greatly without drawing attention to themselves. The ones who will choose to let their feet (or their heads) do the talking.

Our nation and our world are having trouble with conversation around sexual orientation. Abby didn’t want this to get in the way of going about her business. The business of becoming the greatest goalscorer of all time. If she wants to tell us how it feels to be her, I’m all ears. She will probably decline in favor of talking about her teammates and their preparation for the next game.

Maybe someday she’ll write her memoir and we’ll hear what it’s been like to be Abby: the daughter, the sister, the athlete, the star, the married, the…whatever comes next. I’ll be happy to hear her take on it all. On what’s made her who she is and what’s in store for the next chapter as she moves on to greater things, though it’s hard to imagine what might be greater for Abby Wambach. Perhaps a bit of peace and quiet.

But that’s not likely to come soon. We sports fans are, well, fanatics. Our heroes have personal lives and very little privacy. It’s fair to evaluate them based on their performance, but we do tend to speculate on the rest. Though, in my experience, the public stage does often illuminate. Character, or lack of it, becomes evident on the playing field or at the performance venue.

From what I’ve seen, Abby has lived up to her promise: She has not disappointed her fans, my daughters included. Can we please shift our attention away from “In the matter of The World vs Abby Wambach’s gender preference…” and take our cue from Abby the champion?

Let’s use our heads. And this is best executed with jaw set, mouth shut. Probably also reduces your risk of concussion.

Abby, if you’re reading this, can I please have your autograph?

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