Retirement isn't something you spend much time thinking about while
traveling from one continent to the next, especially while winning World
Cups and capturing gold medals. But eventually, time catches up with
us all, and so it has with Michelle Akers. She's women's soccer's first,
and only, living legend. She walked away from the U.S. National team
for good in August 2000, ending a 15-year career as the team's central
"I just wanted to stop playing soccer and stop beating myself to death
on the soccer field. And yet, God had told me last year, 'No, you're
not done,' says Michelle. "I have been waiting and waiting and waiting,
so when He finally gave me the thumb's up to quit, I was, like, 'Oh,
yes! Rock on.' I was so happy. I mean, I was sad because I was ending
my international career, but I was so happy that I had been faithful
to the plan He had for me."
It hadn't been an easy road. She battled chronic fatigue syndrome and
she struggled much of her career with an injured shoulder that, even
after 13 operations, refused to heal. She injured it again during practice
for the Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. It was a moment she'll
"I was in Annapolis training with the team. We were playing Russia
a couple of times. And, actually, I got in and played a couple of halves.
I re-injured my shoulder, so I came off the field and I looked out at
my trainer. I was like, 'Now what are we going to do?' because this
thing's hanging off and I was in so much pain. So I knew it was kind
But Michelle was overwhelmed by a sudden sense of peace. And though
a flood of emotions would come later, time seemed to slow down that
day and seconds seemed like minutes.
"I sat on the field with the team warming down, stretching out. I was
just looking at my teammates and chatting with them and looking at the
stadium and they were screaming our names. I just knew that was it,
I was done," she says. "It was really neat to be able to relish the
moment and really spend time with my teammates and appreciate them.
I would kind of stand outside of myself and look at the big picture
and really enjoy myself."
And then it was done.
flew home to Florida and cried the entire way on the plane and cried
for a week straight, really, because I was just so upset and so sad.
But I still knew it was the right decision. It was just the process
of grief you have to go through in saying good-bye to a lot of people
you love and going for what God wants for you."
Michelle endured one more surgery to repair the damage from the latest
injury. Now she's trusting in God to restore her and to provide an oasis
where she can gather strength for the next phase of her journey.
"He's going to give me the rest I need because we've done so much.
We have been walking through the desert and climbing all the mountains,"
says Michelle. "Now it's time to kind of sit by the water and rejuvenate.
"Right now my greatest passion is to spend time with people I really
care about and haven't really had time to see over the years because
of the soccer and the health issues. Then I've got a lot of things that
are swirling in my head and in my heart. But I'm waiting for God to
kind of heal one or two of those things before I really take off in
One of those things is hosting the Michelle Akers Invitational Golf
Tournament. Michelle started the tournament to raise support for a ministry
she founded called Soccer Outreach International. Its goal is to teach
children the fundamentals of the game and the value of a personal relationship
with Jesus Christ.
"I'll be using Soccer Outreach International and the platform of soccer
in general to influence people and get to know people and share my faith,"
she says. "I'm sort of seeing how my story and how my life and how I've
handled things and how that has really impacted people all over the
world and in so many different ways. I've had a lot of tears, but there's
also been a lot of smiles just hearing from people and what God's done
in their lives, through all the tough stuff in my own life."
Michelle maintains close contact with her friends and former teammates
from the U.S. national team. And while her presence on the field is
clearly missed, she continues to influence those she left behind.
"The way you impact people is how you act and how you treat them. I
think that's what she's done," says former U.S. soccer teammate Mia
Hamm. "You see the strength of her faith in that and not in trying to
tell people that the way they live their lives is wrong. I think you
just see her happier and more fulfilled now than you have in the past.
I attribute that to her growth and faith in her life."
Adds former teammate Siri Mullinax, "You could tell how much she depended
on her faith. You can just see that in her actions. She wasn't necessarily
out preaching. She got her word out just by what she did. You knew what
she stood for and you knew what kept her going and what her driving
"She was just a tremendous leader. Obviously, her faith is a huge part
of her life," says former teammate Cindy Parlow, "and I think it's helped
her tremendously to get through a lot of the battles that she's been
fighting with the past couple of years."
the life stuff and it's the God stuff and it's the spiritual encouragement
or inspiration over the years where I was totally oblivious that even
anybody was watching or noticing and now those comments are coming back,"
Michelle concludes. "You hear it from an eight-year-old kid or somebody
who's fighting through cancer or an elite athlete at the top of their
game. It just means so much to my faith, as well, to know that He's
working even when He's not talking to me or even when I don't feel close
to Him, even when things are so hard I want to give up and just die
and He's still doing his stuff. And the fruit comes out of it later.
So I've learned a lot of patience and a lot of trust and the fact that
I don't hear from Him to know that He's doing His thing."
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