My visit with Cheney

U.S. soccer star Lauren Holiday talks with kids at High Point Park in Plano last Saturday. (Oct. 3, 2015). (Anja Schlein/Special Contributor)
U.S. soccer star Lauren Holiday talks with kids at High Point Park in Plano last Saturday. (Oct. 3, 2015). (Anja Schlein/Special Contributor)

NOTE: Lauren Holiday made a brief stop in the Dallas area in early October, days after her club team, FC Kansas City, won the 2015 National Women’s Soccer League championship and before she played her last game with the U.S. women’s team.

I got to spend a few minutes with her. What follows is a Q&A that I wrote.

soccerball

Few great athletes walk away on top. One who’s doing so is Lauren Holiday.

Two days after the United States won the 2015 Women’s World Cup, Holiday, a starting midfielder, announced her retirement. The 28-year-old will play her last game for Team USA on Sunday (Oct. 25) — a friendly against Brazil at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla. Holiday and teammate Lori Chalupny, who is also retiring, will be honored before the game, which is at 1:30 p.m. CT. It’s on Fox Sports 1.

Holiday is married to Jrue Holiday, the point guard for the New Orleans Pelicans. The two, who met as students at UCLA, want to raise a family. Lauren Holiday has also said she may want to coach women’s soccer some day.

A four-time First Team All-American at UCLA, Holiday — formerly Lauren Cheney — joined the women’s national team in 2007, when she was just 19.

She became one of the team’s most versatile stars, adept as a scorer, a playmaker, or a holding mid. In 132 international appearances, she has 37 assists (10th most in team history) and 24 goals. She has gold medals from the 2008 and 2012 Olympics and was named to the 2011 Women’s World Cup all-star team.

Bringing home the World Cup this summer — the first for the Americans since 1999 — was the high point of what’s been a storybook year. On Oct. 1, Holiday’s club team, FC Kansas City, won its second straight title in the National Women’s Soccer League. The club retired her number (12) before its final regular-season home game.

Lauren Holiday's No. 12 jersey is retired before her final regular-season home game with FC Kansas City, Aug. 27, 2015. (NWSL)

Lauren Holiday’s No. 12 jersey is retired before her final regular-season home game with FC Kansas City, Aug. 27, 2015. (NWSL)

Meanwhile, the national team, with Holiday, is in the midst of a 10-city victory tour, playing to record crowds from Pittsburgh to Birmingham, Ala.

Holiday was in Plano earlier this month, visiting with youth soccer players at High Point Park as part of a nationwide promotion with Smoothie King.

Lauren Holiday leads kids through a ball-handling drill at High Point Park in Plano last Saturday (Oct. 3, 2015). (Anja Schlein/Special Contributor)

Lauren Holiday leads kids through a ball-handling drill at High Point Park in Plano last Saturday (Oct. 3, 2015). (Anja Schlein/Special Contributor)

Between leading drills and signing autographs, she spent a few minutes talking about the World Cup, her teammates, “giving back,” and how it feels to be hanging up her boots. Here are excerpts:

You just turned 28. Why retire when, clearly, you could have kept playing?

As much as I love soccer, it’s not my idenity. I know that I was called to do other things. I’m not a person who can focus on multiple things at once. When I’m playing, I’m so focused that I feel guilty if I go a day without working out or trying to better my game.

So for me, it just came to the point where I knew that I wanted to do other things. I had accomplished all that I wanted in soccer.

Anja Schlein/Special Contributor

Anja Schlein/Special Contributor

If the United States hadn’t won the World Cup, would you still have called it quits?

I had decided before the World Cup that I was retiring, win or lose. But I am a competitor. If we had lost, it would have been a lot harder. I think I would have struggled with the decision.

Juggling schedules must be a major challenge when two pro athletes are married.

It’s tough. It has its benefits, too, though, because you understand each other. But it does get draining — the travel, sometimes only seeing each other five or six days a month. Yeah, it’s hard. But I wouldn’t ask for anything different.

Anja Schlein/Special Contributor

Anja Schlein/Special Contributor

Was it harder to walk away knowing that the Olympics are right around the corner? [They’re next August in Rio de Janeiro.]

Winning is addictive. You win a gold medal, and you want to go back. You win another gold medal, and you want more. It’s going to be tough for me not to go to Rio. But I’ll be cheering for Team USA, supporting them all the way.

Just north of here, in Frisco, the Olympic qualifiers start in February. Those will be the U.S. team’s first meaningful games without you in eight or nine years. Will that feel weird?

It will be strange. It will be difficult. But I’m going into it [retirement] with eyes wide open. I feel very confident in my decision. I know the transition phase is going to be different. I’m ready for it.

Lauren Holiday autographs a soccer ball for 9-year-old Jay Mokkapati. (Anja Schlein/Special Contributor)

Lauren Holiday autographs a soccer ball for 9-year-old Jay Mokkapati. (Anja Schlein/Special Contributor)

Still, with your days growing short, you must have mixed feelings.

It is bittersweet. The end of a time in my life, closing a chapter and moving on — that will be hard. It’ll be hard not seeing the teammates that I’m used to seeing every single day, three weeks out of the month. It’ll be hard saying goodbye to what we have.

<In this year’s World Cup title game, the United States dismantled Japan, the defending champion to whom the Americans had lost in heartbreaking fashion in 2011. Led by three quick goals from Carli Lloyd and one from Holiday, the Americans pulled ahead 4-0 in the first 16 minutes, befuddling their normally poised opponent and delighting the pro-USA crowd of 53,341 at BC Place in Vancouver. The final score, 5-2, was the most lopsided victory ever in a Women’s World Cup final.>

After the World Cup, Hope Solo said that going into the championship match, she had absolutely no doubt that the United States would win — she was 100 percent confident. Did the rest of the team feel that way?

One of the things that’s truly special about the U.S. women’s team is that we always believe we’re going to win. You could tell us that we were going to play anyone in the world, and we were going to play a man down, and I guarantee you that every single player on our team would tell you that we were going to win that game.

I think that’s really what caught the hearts of the nation, why people fell in love with our team. It’s that tenacity, that never-give-up attitude. We truly believe in one another, and we truly believe in what we do.

Was there a point in the title game when you realized, OK, we’ve got this?

Honestly, that first half is the wildest thing I’ve ever been a part of. We score a goal [in the 3rd minute] and we’re like, ‘OK,great. Focus.” We score the second goal [in the 5th minute] and we’re like, “OK, great. Focus.” We score the third goal [in the14th minute] and we’re like, “What the heck is happening? What’s going on?”

And then we score the fourth goal [in the 16th minute] and all of us are looking at each other like, “What do we do? This is the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to us.”

At halftime, Abby [Wambach] said, “If we scored four goals in a half, they can score four goals in a half.” In the second half, we just tried to ride out the game and maintain our mental toughness.

What do you enjoy most about events like today’s?

I love talking to kids. To have an opportunity to share my story, to tell them what has propelled me in life and tell them about the game that I love so much is huge.

Jrue and I both recognize that we’re on this pedestal for a reason, and that’s to give back and to help. I can’t thank soccer enough for what it’s given me, so if a kid has a passion for it and I can help inspire that, I love to do it.

You told them about a medical crisis that occurred when you were a child. 

I had open-heart surgery when I was 3 years old. It was to correct an atrial septal defect [a hole in the wall between the two upper chambers of the heart] and to have a pulmonary vein rerouted.

Afterwards, the doctors told my parents to get me involved in activities, that I needed to have a strong heart. They threw me into every sport, and soccer was what I fell in love with.

 

<Holiday still experiences arrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat. In the closing minutes of the NWSL championship game, she alarmed the crowd, the officials, and, most of all, her Kansas City teammates when she fell to her knees untouched, then lay on the turf for more than a minute while a stretcher was brought out. She later said that everything was fine — she just needed to relax for a moment until her heart settled down. She was able to finish the game.>

 

 

Last question: Do you really like Smoothie King?

I do. It’s part of my game-day routine. I can’t eat a lot before games. I have a sensitive stomach. But I can always have a smoothie. My favorites are Pure Recharge, Pineapple Surf with protein, and Apple Kiwi Kale.

Anja Schlein/Special Contributor

Anja Schlein/Special Contributor

 

Questions and answers were edited for brevity and clarity, to correct grammar and sentence structure, and to eliminate needless repetition.

 

 

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