American soccer icon Abby Wambach, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and FIFA Women’s World Cup champion, shared some of what she’s come to know and believe through her storied career as a decorated athlete, activist, and author at an all-school convocation on March 3. Ms. Wambach’s visit continued Loomis’ conversation on this year’s school theme of “Belonging.”
After an introduction from Athletic Director Sue Cabot, Ms. Wambach bound into the Olcott Center to thunderous applause and gave a shout out to her nephew, Ben, who is a senior at Loomis Chaffee.
“What do you know? What do believe in? What feels like home to you?” Ms. Wambach asked. She said she knows that high school students are not often asked what they believe and, indeed, adults often just try to tell them what to believe.
“You all need to figure out what you believe. … You are going to be tested throughout your life and every decision you make is relevant,” Ms. Wambach said.
A compelling, vocal advocate for leveling the playing field for women in sports and everywhere, Ms. Wambach shared several anecdotes from her career that point to the inherent unfairness of female athletes making less money and being treated as “less than” their male counterparts. For the U.S. women’s national soccer team to make less than the men’s national team, despite repeatedly having more successful seasons and generating more money for the sport, is just unfair, she said.
Women often feel instinctively “grateful” upon achieving a measure of success in a male-dominated realm, Ms. Wambach noted. Such was the case in 2015 when Ms. Wambach was a recipient of a prestigious ESPY Icon Award (Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly) and stood on the podium of a nationally televised ceremony alongside Kobe Bryant and Peyton Manning, both giants in professional sports. She said she felt “grateful” which is “often the only emotion women are allowed to feel,” she stressed. She came to understand that while all three athletes were being celebrated for the same level of professional achievement, she would walk away from the event to face a very different retirement than her male counterparts — especially in financial terms. This left her angry and confused and she decided to do everything in her power upon her retirement to advance women in sports and in all areas of life.
Over time Ms. Wambach said she’s learned “Failures in life are actually opportunities,” and she gave some representative examples. In one, she pointed to when she was, at 35 years of age, told by her coaches that she was not going to be a starting player on the 2015 Women’s World Cup, and would, instead, come into the game from the bench as a “game-changer.” Despite being heartbroken, disappointed, and embarrassed, Ms. Wambach, who admits to being super competitive, knew that she could give her team the best chance to win by offering her full support as a bench player.
Reflecting on that experience years later, Ms. Wambach realized, “Everything I needed to learn about leadership, I learned on that bench.”
“If you are a leader on the field, and you don’t call yourself a leader on the bench, then you, in fact, aren’t a leader at all,” she stated.
Ms. Wambach spoke of the strength and value of bonds formed in groups through physical and mental challenges as well as in shared joy. Students should find their “wolfpack” of teammates, friends, classmates, teachers, and adult mentors with whom to share dreams and experiences. They will leave their imprint on you, and help “make you into what you want to be,” she said.
At the conclusion of her talk, Ms. Wambach answered questions from the audience regarding her stance on whether leaders are born or made; how much she thinks revenues generated by a sport should correlate to athletes’ salaries in that sport; and how women can find the courage to push boundaries.
After the convocation Ms. Wambach met with students in Loomis’ Longman Leadership learning community, and members of the girls and boys soccer teams and their coaches.
Her two two books, Forward: A Memoir, published in 2017, and WOLFPACK: How to Come Together, Unleash Our Power, and Change the Game, published in 2019, are available in the Alexander Bookstore in the Scanlan Campus Center, and booksellers everywhere.
Ms. Wambach’s visit to campus was made possible with support from the Robert P. Hubbard '47 Speakers Series.