From Orange Slices to Gold

How One Soccer Player Secured Her Place in History

Photo credit: John Mena

I started playing soccer when I was five years old. I liked it because all of my friends played and I loved that we got orange slices at half time and snacks after the game. I was also enamored with the Olympics, both summer and winter. I watched the games on tv non-stop and always dreamt of being in the Olympics one day.

Quite a few people laughed at me along the way and told me that it was a silly dream — soccer wasn’t even an Olympic sport for women.

I was first brought into the US Women’s National Team in 1993, just after my freshman season at the University of Portland. While I was finishing up my senior season at Portland, women’s soccer was announced as an Olympic sport for 1996!

I went into training camp in early January the most confident I had ever been, especially after winning all of the Player of the Year awards for college soccer. After the ten-day training camp I was cut from the team. My college career was over and now I wasn’t going to be able to fight for one of the 16 roster spots on the first US women’s Olympic soccer team.

I played college soccer for Clive Charles up at the University of Portland. When I started there, I was a shy, timid young woman, afraid of her own shadow. Clive, without a doubt, had the biggest effect on me as a player and a person. Clive was the coach who taught me about how the game and the lessons we learn from it translate into life and being a good and successful person.

Under Clive, I learned about teamwork, overcoming adversity and being a leader — all great tools to have to be successful on and off the field. His belief in me and his coaching style helped my confidence grow and empowered me to continue chasing my dream.

After my devastating cut from the Olympic training camp, I went straight to Clive’s office where I proceeded to bawl my eyes out and yell and blame everyone — the entire woe is me scene. Clive listened patiently for about an hour, periodically handing me a clean tissue when needed.

Clive then asked, “Are you done?”

I said no and went on for another 10 minutes or so crying and yelling.

Clive then looked at his watch and said, “You have 24 hours to mope and feel sorry for yourself. It is 2:15pm right now so I will see you out on the field at 2:15pm tomorrow — and I’m going to kick your butt!”

I looked at him completely dumbfounded — eyes red and swollen and dozens of wet tissues balled up in my hands. I somehow mustered, “WHAT?”

He proceeded, “You WILL get another opportunity and the difference will be if you are ready to take advantage of that opportunity. So, this time tomorrow we will work harder than you ever have before.”

I left his office shortly after that still just numb and now wondering how Clive, my rock for so long, had now lost his mind! They had already invited about 30 players to live and train in Florida and fight for 16 roster spots — how could I possibly even have a chance? I went back to my house and mulled over what Clive said. Clive had never let me down and never led me astray so I started to warm to the idea that maybe he was right.

I went out to that field the next day and true to his word — Clive kicked my butt with drills and running and I trained harder than I had ever worked, each and every day.

Shannon and Clive

Toward the end of January, US Soccer called. The team was set to travel down to Brazil for a tournament but the core of the team, Michelle Akers, Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and a few others had decided not to go as they were fighting for the women’s players to be put on salary so US Soccer planned to send a “scrub” team down to Brazil. Clive had been right after all.

Up to this point, I had been a forward — a goal scorer — my entire career. When we got down to Brazil, Tony DiCicco, the coach, said he needed me to play right midfield. Because I was willing to do whatever it took to make the Olympic team, I didn’t hesitate to jump in and try a new position.

By the time we finished down in Brazil, the leadership had resolved everything with US Soccer and I had earned an extra spot in training camp. From there, knowing that I was still such a long shot, I battled during training and stayed afterwards for more work. When the Olympic roster was finally announced, not only was I on the roster of 16 but I was a starter for the team. When the Olympics were over, we were gold medalists and I was the leading scorer for the US Team!

Nine years later I retired as a World Champion and Olympic Gold Medalist, having played 176 games representing the USA. I was blessed with a twelve-year career playing for the US Women’s National team. A career that took me around the world playing the game I loved. Throughout those 12 years I became a World Champion and an Olympic Gold Medalist. I was a part of two World Cups and three Olympic games.

Because the game had given me so much beyond the field — from the life lessons and the amazing friendships — I knew I had to give back to the game. Growing up, soccer was always my release and a safe haven. No matter what was going on — bad day at home or school — whenever I stepped onto the field everything disappeared except for the ball and my teammates. It was two hours where I could shut everything off and just play.

I now run the Del Mar Carmel Valley Sharks, a youth soccer club with the goal of inspiring all players to dream big, word hard and never let go of their dreams!