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Mia Hamm: Driving Ourselves To The Limit And Beyond
In schoolyards all across America these days, millions of little girls are chasing soccer balls – and dreams of glory.
In high schools and colleges it’s the same situation. Women’s’ soccer has become a major sport, and countless female athletes have their sights set on Olympic Gold Medals and a successful professional career.
Of all the recent heroines of women’s soccer that America’s up-and-coming players look to for inspiration, one name stands head and shoulders above the crowd: Mia Hamm, the American soccer star, now retired, who perhaps more than any other player helped propel women’s soccer from the sidelines into national prominence.
Mariel Margaret Hamm, nicknamed ‘Mia’ as a child, was born on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1972, in Selma, Alabama, the fourth of six children. Mia was the American women’s soccer player who overcame daunting odds not only to become a soccer star, but to become an athlete at all. And then she trumped it all again by scoring 158 goals during her career – more goals than every other player in the world, male or female, in the history of soccer.
Mia was an “air force brat”, raised by Colonel Bill Hamm and his wife, Stephanie, on different Air Force bases around the world. She and her five siblings grew up in such places as California, Texas, Virginia and Italy.
Sports were an important part of Hamm family activities, but when Mia was born it appeared she would never be part of it. Mia was born with a club foot, a fairly common birth deformity that causes the foot to “turn in” at the ankle towards the middle. The foot and toes point sideways towards the other foot instead of pointing ahead, deviating as much as 90 degrees out of position.
If left untreated, club foot prevents the sufferer from walking normally, which has been the case for countless generations. Victims could limp painfully along, putting some weight on the outside edge of the affected foot, and generally would require a cane or a crutch to assist walking. When both feet were twisted, the condition doomed the victim to life as a cripple.
Mia, however, was fortunate to have been born in the late 20th century. Various kinds of treatment have been developed which attempt to correct the condition, and are successful for many individuals. Mia became one of those success stories.
The results of treatment for club foot don’t come easily. Infant sufferers have to submit to treatments which forcibly twist the tiny ankle and foot back towards normal, stretching the ligaments and muscles as much as possible. Sometimes surgery is performed, cutting the Achilles tendon to allow it to stretch more easily. A cast is put in place to hold the foot in its new position. Treatments, and new casts, are repeated for weeks, after which the patient wears a brace, at least while sleeping, sometimes for years.
Lucky for Mia, the treatments were successful. Mia was able to learn to walk. And lucky for world soccer, she could do a lot more than walk.
“As soon as those things were taken off her feet,” recalls Caroline Cruikshank, Mia’s sister, “you could not stop her.”
It was while the family was in Italy that Colonel Bill, a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, became a fan of soccer – called ‘football’ everywhere in the world but North America. He encouraged the kids to take up the sport, and that’s where Mia, still a toddler, went after her first soccer ball. Caroline remembers that day: “Mia was in a park in Italy playing, and the next thing they knew, she went darting across the green. And she was taking away a soccer ball from a kid that was 5 years old, and she was maybe 2,” Caroline said.
As the years flew by, and the family moved to other bases, Mia tended to play any sport in season because it was a good way to meet new kids. “You moved to a new base and had new friends as soon as you joined a team,” she once said.
After the family moved to Texas, Mia, now 5, joined her first soccer team. That same year, her parents adopted an 8-year-old Thai-American orphan named Garrett. Her “new” older brother became a constant companion, playmate and athletic role model. Soccer eventually became Garrett’s favorite pastime. Although she liked other sports, Mia’s admiration for Garrett drew her to concentrate more on the game. The kids played soccer and were coached by their dad.
These were the early days for female soccer. Girl’s teams at American schools were few and far between. Mia, accustomed to playing with boys as she was growing up, simply joined boy’s teams, and they were generally happy to have her because she was so fast, and so good.
Mia decided to really focus on soccer, and joined a North Texas regional team when she was 14. As it turns out, the world of soccer has never been the same since.
“Skinny, gangly, faster than the wind,” Coach John Cossaboon said of Mia. “The athleticism just jumped out at you and then, quickly after that, you could just see the natural instinct.”
At 15, Hamm became the youngest player on the women’s U.S. national team. At 17, she was at the University of North Carolina (UNC), a powerhouse in women’s soccer. While at UNC, Mia won four NCAA championships. She earned All-America and ACC Player of the Year honors, and finished as the ACC’s all-time leading scorer. She also graduated in 1994 with a degree in political science.
In 1991, at 19 years old, she sat out the NCAA season at UNC to concentrate on the U.S. women’s national team. She went with the team to China, and won the inaugural Women’s World Cup, the first major international women’s world soccer tournament.
The International Federation of Association Football (French: Fédération Internationale de Football Association, commonly known as FIFA) is the international governing body for soccer. Mia was named the women’s FIFA World Player of the Year in 2001 and 2002 – the first two times that award was given – and she is one of only two women on FIFA’s list of 125 best living players, the other being her U.S. teammate, soccer great Michelle Akers.
Mia Hamm never liked the spotlight, and never thought of herself as “the best player”. She has said many times, and in many different ways, that she excelled through the power of team play. She depended on her own fierce determination to “play up” to, and try to match the abilities of, those she considered were really the best players.
In her book, Go For the Goal: A Champion’s Guide To Winning In Soccer And Life, Mia writes: “My teammates are the driving forces that push me to improve. It is the responsibility of your teammates to nurture you through competition. Their intensity and determination set the tone of your training environment, the crucible in which you as a soccer player are formed. We live for situations that challenge us…because we want to drive ourselves to the limit and beyond.
“I firmly believe that success breeds success. Once you have achieved something, your confidence begins to build. You realize you’re capable of doing it again. But each time you must work harder, because the old saying is true: It is more difficult to stay on top than to get there.”
Here at Novus, our patients face the tremendous challenge of overcoming the adversity of addiction, and winning at this game is a team effort. As members of each patient’s personal team, we nurture and support their intensity and their determination to drive to the limit and beyond. And we are as thrilled as they are when they win through their detox program.
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