On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Kojo For Kids welcomes Abby Wambach to the show on Monday, February 22 at 12:30. Listen live by streaming the show on this page or by tuning in to 88.5 FM in the Washington, D.C. region. Kids can call in with questions at 800-433-8850.
Abby Wambach is a soccer legend. She’s led the U.S. Women’s National Team to World Cup victory and won two Olympic Gold medals. And she long held the record for goals scored in international play.
Off the field, Wambach has become a different kind of hero — one who fights for people who are paid less and otherwise discriminated against because of their their gender, race or who they love. She’s also recently published a book for kids, “Wolfpack: How Young People Will Find Their Voice, Unite Their Pack, and Change the World.”
We welcome Wambach to the show and the students from our “school of the week,” Tyler Elementary School in Southeast Washington. We know they’ll have questions for Wambach, and we want to hear your questions too — if you’re a kid.
This show is part of the “Kojo For Kids” series, a Kojo Nnamdi Show segment featuring guests of special interest to young listeners. Though Kojo has been on WAMU 88.5 for 23 years, this is the first time he has had the opportunity to reach out to an audience of kids, most of whom until recently had been in school during our live broadcast. We’re excited to hear from our youngest listeners! Join us!
Produced by Lauren Markoe
- Abby Wambach Former captain of the World Cup-winning U.S. Women's National Team; @AbbyWambach
KOJO NNAMDIYes, that was an electrifying moment in soccer history, when Abby Wambach set the world scoring record of 159 goals. Abby Wambach has had a career full of triumphant moments. She twice led the U.S. women's soccer team to World Cup victory and brought home two Olympic Gold medals. She is here today not only to talk about what makes a great soccer player, but also to talk about being a great teammate and standing up for yourself and others.
KOJO NNAMDIShe just wrote a book that is for kids, called "Wolfpack." We also welcome the students of Tyler Elementary School in Southeast Washington, our school of the week. We know they have questions for Abby Wambach. Abby Wambach, welcome to the program.
ABBY WAMBACHOh, thank you so much for having me, Kojo. Really, it's truly an honor. A big fan, and so is my wife, Glennon. So, thanks for having me.
NNAMDIWell, I was a big fan, especially when you played for the Washington Freedom. So, we'll get to your soccer career in a minute, but first, tell us about when you were a kid. Where were you born? Where did you grow up? What was your family like?
WAMBACHYeah, I grew up in Upstate New York, in Rochester. So, you know, kind of a blue collar, hardworking city. I grew up in a family, a huge family. I'm the youngest of seven, and most of my brothers and sisters -- actually, all of them, in fact -- they were huge into sports. So, when I was -- my first memories as a child, as a person, are sporting events, watching my brothers and sisters playing basketball, playing baseball, playing soccer.
WAMBACHIn fact, one of my interesting family anecdotes is my sister, Beth, her friends were playing soccer, and she wanted to learn how to play. So, my mom took her to the public library, and they checked out a book, a "How to Play Soccer" book from the public library. She came home and read it, and that is how soccer came to existence in my family.
WAMBACHWhich I think is so important for any kid listening to this that, you know, if you're interested in something and you don't know anything about it -- obviously, we have Google, right, more than long ago that we had to go to the public library for information. Just figure out a way to learn about the things that you're interested in. Curiosity goes a long way. Maybe one day, you'll be able to win a gold medal because of it.
NNAMDIIn elementary school, you were, it is my understanding, scoring so many goals, that you were moved to a boys' team. Were you nervous about playing with them?
WAMBACHYeah, well, you know, this is -- we have to remember, this is 35 years ago, 30 years ago, when there weren't a ton of women's sports, little girls' sports for just girls that were elite. And I was a pretty great athlete. I was a strong player when I was even a little kid, and playing against the boys was the only avenue for me to play against at the time. There are much better teams now. There are teams -- if I were to go through the system now, I would be on girls' teams, but at the time, there just wasn't enough competition for me.
WAMBACHSo, of course, I was nervous, but also growing up in this big family with four brothers that were directly ahead of me in age, the fact that they were boys didn't really matter to me. It was just about competition, and I wanted to be the best. So, playing against the best was part of that process. But, yeah, of course, you know, the peer-to-peer, the social bit of it all is a little bit weird, and it got weirder as I got older into my teenage years. But when I was young, it wasn't nearly as weird. But, yeah, of course it was a little unnerving.
NNAMDIGot to get to the phones, but you actually got a college scholarship to play basketball. What made you decide not to take that scholarship?
WAMBACHWell, first of all, I was better at soccer. I thought that maybe I would be able to go further in soccer, even though at the time when I was making this decision, there was literally only one place that I could play professional soccer, and that was the national team. And in basketball, I could've gone overseas. There are many more places that I could've played.
WAMBACHSo, I think that I knew that I would've been able to go further in soccer. That's why I decided -- and, quite frankly, I could've probably walked on and played at the school that I chose to go to for college for soccer. But I wanted to have a college experience, not just a sports experience in school. So, I think I made the right choice. I don't know.
NNAMDIWell, you are most famous for leading the U.S. Women's National Team, but you actually spent years, as I mentioned earlier, playing for a team right here called the Washington Freedom. Tell us about your time in this region. What was it like playing for the Freedom? Where did you live, what did you like to do when you were here when you were not playing soccer?
WAMBACHYeah. You know, D.C. and the North Virginia area and that Maryland area, Gaithersburg and Germantown, have such a special place in my heart, because I've spent years living there and training and playing. Those first days out of college, I got drafted to play for the -- what was called then the Washington Freedom, and that was in the WSA. And since then, there have been a few women's soccer leagues, that have started and stopped, folded. And now we are finding ourselves in a very strong league called the NWSL. So, if you're wondering what the current team is called, it's called the Washington Spirit.
WAMBACHAnd so, I've lived in Northern Virginia. I've actually -- I lived in the Key Bridge Marriott, right across the river from Georgetown on M Street for many months before I could find an apartment to live, you know. And, quite frankly, that area really was the beginning of my professional career as a soccer player.
WAMBACHAnd I attribute so many of my successes to the people that I was around and, of course, the city, right. The city is a big reason why I was able to find some success. You know, the food and the people and the structure. I do have a special place in my heart for the entire community of D.C. and the surrounding areas of D.C. metro area. It was a wonderful place to become a professional for the first time.
WAMBACHI don't know if you guys know who Mia Hamm is...
WAMBACH...but she happened to play on that Washington Freedom team. I was lucky enough to get drafted to play on that team. And we were able to create a connection that was so strong, that I was able to transfer that connection on to the national team. So, you know, sometimes in life -- I was drafted number two, and so every athlete wants to be drafted number one. That's the thing, right. That's something that we want. We are the competitors. We want to be number one.
WAMBACHBut this was one of the times in life that being drafted number two was the best thing that could've ever happened to me, because had I not been drafted number two, I would've been put on a different team, and who knows, maybe I never even make it in the game, because I don't get that special connection with Mia. So, sometimes when life does hand you lemons, you do have to figure out ways to turn them into lemonades.
NNAMDIWell, fans in this region still have a lot of love for you and Mia Hamm, so you should know that. I'll start with six-year-old Sage in Washington, D.C. Sage, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Go right ahead, Sage.
SAGEHow did you get so good at soccer?
NNAMDIHow'd you get to be so good at soccer?
WAMBACHOkay, Sage. I love that. And, you know, at six years old, the braveness and the courage it takes to get on a phone and to talk live on radio is incredible. So, I appreciate that so much. I think the only way we get good at anything is if we practice and try at things, at new things, things that are interesting. Things that make you feel curious. Things that make you have that little bit of jealousy inside of us.
WAMBACHSometimes when we see other people do something, try to go inside and figure out, ooh, that looks fun, or, ooh, I want to know how to do that or, ooh, I want to be able to do that. When you can figure out some of the internal curiosities that you have and then ask your parents or your guardians or anybody who can help you put yourself in those situations or those environments to learn those skills, that's it. Baby, that's life. And for me, curiosity is the best way to go through life, because I'm always curious about stuff. So, I'm constantly learning and trying new things.
WAMBACHNow, that does not mean I am good at everything that I try. And that doesn't mean I'm going to win gold medals at everything that I try. For me, it just means that curiosity is what keeps me going throughout my life. And I hope you all can stay curious, too.
NNAMDISage, thank you very much for you call. Here is six-year-old Michael, who's a student at Tyler Elementary. Michael, it's your turn. Go ahead, please.
MICHAELHi, Kojo and Abby. My question for Abby is: When you were learning to play soccer, did you have any challenges? And how did you show perseverance?
WAMBACHOh, my gosh. What a hard word that is to read, at the end. I barely can read that word, and I'm 40 years old. That's amazing. So, here's the thing about sports and life, that no matter who you are -- and, for me, I was a gold medalist and I won World Cup Championship -- I was daily and sometimes minute by minutes in practices, confronted with challenges.
WAMBACHConfronted with, gosh, I made a mistake. How do I handle that? Or a teammate just yelled at me. How do I handle that? Or the coach told me I didn't do that good. How do I handle that? Or I missed the shot. How do I handle that? So, what I like to say is that we are all going to make mistakes and fail, okay. Failure is inevitable. I know that we are all -- for me, I have failed a thousand times already today. But it's not about the failure, okay. It's about how we respond to the failure.
WAMBACHAnd if you can figure out and understand that life is about trying new things, making mistakes and learning from those mistakes, right, and the response from when you learn from that failure to what you do is, in fact, what can change your life. And I was able to learn, from a young age, that failures was actually a good thing. Failure was me trying. You know, we're not all going to get 100 percent on our tests. We're all not going to understand everything that the teacher is teaching us. But it's not about not understanding or failing that test. It's about how you respond.
WAMBACHSo, what kind of a kid are you? When you don't understand something and your teacher's just gone through a lesson and you just sit there and quietly don't understand, and then you go home and you don't ask your parents or you don't do a little extra research or you don't ask your teacher, you're never going to understand this complicated problem.
WAMBACHNow, you also have the ability to say, gosh, I don't understand this, and after class maybe ask the teacher, you know, I was really confused at the way that you were explaining that lesson. Can you help me? Or go home and talk to your parents or your guardians or your brothers or your sisters and say, you know, I didn't really understand this concept, or I didn't understand this lesson. Can you help me?
WAMBACHBecause here's the thing. As a young child, as a kid, as a young adult, as an adult, we don't know everything. We have to learn them, and sometimes it takes a few tries. It takes a few lessons. It takes a few attempts to figure out some of the answers. And it doesn't mean that you're stupid or that you can't do it. It just means that it's a challenge. So, that's a longwinded answer, but I love that question. It's so great, and good pronunciation on perseverance.
NNAMDIThank you for your call, Michael. Zara, who is eight years old and goes to Tyler Elementary, says: I love playing soccer. What is your favorite goal you ever made?
WAMBACHZara, I love it. I love this, because, you know, I've scored a lot of goals in my life. And, you know, I scored this goal back in 2011 far before you were born. It was a really big goal that, we were just about to lose the game. There was like a minute or two left and in overtime, and I needed to score the goal for us to go into penalty kicks to tie the game. And I did it, and I was really, really proud of myself.
WAMBACHBut here's the thing. I've scored so many goals in my life, and those are awesome. But one of the things that I can' tell you enough is that I have never scored a single goal without the help of one of my teammates. So, you might see some of your favorite athletes, that they scored a point or the touchdown or the goal, or whatever. But there's always often somebody that set them up or that goal. So, if you look at any of the videos of me scoring goals, you will see me pointing, because I am always trying to look for the person who are helping.
WAMBACHSo, you know, like Mr. Rogers would say, "Look for the helpers." And that's what I did throughout my career. So, yes, I scored a lot of goals. Yes, that one goal against Brazil is my favorite, but Megan Rapinoe -- and, by the way, three other of my teammates -- had a specific direct impact on that goal, in it happening. So, yes. That's my answer.
NNAMDIThank you very much. And speaking of Megan Rapinoe, let's hear from 12-year-old Cooper in Silver Spring, Maryland. Cooper, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
COOPERHi. So, I play soccer, as well, and it's pretty awesome talking to you. So, I was just wondering kind of what went through your head when Megan Rapinoe crossed that ball to you and kind of what you felt when you saw the ball go into the net.
WAMBACHWoo, okay, here we go. This is such a great question because, first of all, when the ball took flight, for the previous few seconds, the ball was going from our own end line where our goalkeeper is, Ali Krieger, or sorry, Christie Rampone kicked it to Ali Krieger. Ali Krieger kicked it to Carli Lloyd. Carli Lloyd then kicked it all the way across the field to Megan Rapinoe. And when Megan took a touch and looked up and saw that I was in the box, we made a connection.
WAMBACHAnd that's one thing, as a soccer player -- and, quite frankly, in life -- when you're going to do something special with another person, you have to make sure that there's an energetic connection. There has to be some sort of cue. And when Megan looked up and saw me in the box, I knew she was about to put her head down and kick the ball as hard as she could and get it into the vicinity of where I was. I just knew it, in my bones.
WAMBACHAs soon as the ball came off of her foot, I thought, first and foremost, don't mess this up, because I knew she hit it perfectly. I knew this ball was coming quickly because Megan has a very, very strong foot. So, I put my body position in a place where I felt like I would be able to attack the ball once it started to come down from what felt like space.
WAMBACHNow, the entire game, that defender and the goalkeeper just, they kept getting, like, a hit on the ball or punching the ball, like, just before I headed it. So, I took my body positioning further away from them than I had in the previous rest of the game. And I just was thinking, please let this ball go over their head. And the ball ends up sailing over the defender's head and over the goalkeeper's hands who came out, for what reason, I'll never know. And there I was completely alone on the back post with me, the ball.
WAMBACHI leap in the air, and all I need to do is just redirect it towards the goal. There's nobody in the goal. It doesn't have to be perfect. It doesn't have to be pretty. And as the ball comes off my head and it goes towards the goal, I think, please don't mess this up, Abby. And then everything kind of goes black. So, as soon as the ball hit the net, my instinct was, oh no, did I make it? I didn't know, because it was, like, so intense.
WAMBACHAnd I thought that it hit the side of the net not through the net. I thought it went to the right, and I missed instantly. But then I heard the crowd go nuts. And so, then I just peeled off to the corner flag (laugh) and started celebrating. I mean, it was really one of the most special moments of my life. And one -- even though I don't know if I could -- if my brain or my being or my spirit could really take it all in at that moment, it was just madness, true madness, and one that I'm so proud to have been a part of, because, like I said, that ball that Megan Rapinoe sent in might have been the best service in the history of soccer.
NNAMDI(laugh) Thank you very much for your call, Cooper. Here is six-year-old Brock in Washington, D.C. Brock, it's your turn. Go ahead, please.
BROCKSince you retired from soccer, what do you do now?
NNAMDIAnd I should add that 10-year-old Quincy who goes to Tyler Elementary says: I wonder what it was like to win a World Cup, and if it was hard to retire. What are you doing now?
WAMBACHOh, yes. Well, whenever you do something at such a high level for so long, it is really hard to walk away. And people don't talk enough about the trauma, in some ways, of the transition from playing to not playing. Well, now, I am an activist. I am an author. I am a businessowner. I am an investor. And most importantly, I'm a parent. I have three kids, who are all awesome. And my two youngest daughters play soccer, so I'm like a soccer mom, which is so weird. I sit on the sidelines, and I cheer on my kids. And, you know, I think I put fear into the eyes of the opposing coach, because they can't believe that Abby Wambach is sitting there, watching their game.
WAMBACHBut, you know, this retirement from soccer has been such a thrill, because, you know, there are so many things that go into being a national team player and traveling the world and so many sacrifices that I had to make to be able to do it. So, now living kind of a quote unquote "normal" life has been wonderful. I'm a professional speaker and, you know, I'm just living and loving -- I'm loving watching and being a fan of our current national team.
NNAMDIWell, thank you very much for your call. But you recently became part-owner of a brand new soccer team. Can you tell us about this team, and why you wanted to be an owner?
WAMBACHYeah. So, like I said, the NWSL, the National Women's Soccer League -- that is the premier professional league in this country, and I would dare say the world. This is the league the Washington Spirit play in. Los Angeles did not have a team, up until recently. And the story kind of goes like this. I was doing a speaking engagement a couple of years ago, and Natalie Portman -- the famous actress and activist -- was in the audience, listening to my talk on pay inequity between men and women sports.
WAMBACHAnd after she listened to my speech, she got inspired to do a little bit of research in that space and that topic. And she found that there was no women's professional soccer team in Los Angeles, where she lives. So, she went about to solve that, and she wanted to rewrite the way sports ownership has been. It's usually a space only occupied by men, and so she put together an ownership group of mostly women. It's a majority-led, owned team by women. And our team is called Angel City.
WAMBACHWe will take the field in 2022. It's one of the highlights of my life/retirement. I cannot believe that me going around and talking about the pay inequity between men and women was able to land me in an opportunity of ownership of a professional sports team. And, you know, it just goes to show the kind of owners that Natalie and Kara Nortman and Julie Uhrman and Alexis Ohanian are, that they actually wanted to make sure that they gave the opportunity to the very women who built women's soccer in this country, to also be part-owners of this team.
WAMBACHSo, they asked 15 or so of us former National Team players if we wanted to be a part of it, and, of course, all of us said, yes. When? Where do we sign? And so, it's just a wonderful, a wonderful thing that is happening. And it's been so cool, because we aren't just owners and investors. We're actually active in talking with building the structures of the specifics of the team, you know, the management style and whatnot. And that's been so, so special.
NNAMDIYou're also an author, recently published a book for kids called "Wolfpack." Why did you write it, and why do you call it "Wolfpack"?
WAMBACHYeah. So, when I retired from playing, I understood that I had experience and an expertise at team leadership, which is a very sought-after specialty in the business world and beyond. One of the reasons why I wrote "Wolfpack" -- that is now a book that I have adapted for kids -- first of all, I just think that the wolfpack idea is so beautiful.
NNAMDII'm afraid we only have about a minute left, but go ahead.
WAMBACHYeah, no worries. The idea of staying together in a pack, I know that the only success I was ever able to achieve on the Women's National Team was because of the collective unit of us, right. And so, the idea of wolfpack and the ideas in the philosophy of our national team lives inside of this book. And I believe that kids are not given enough leadership ability or education at a young age. Because all of us are leaders of our own lives, and that's why I wrote this book. And I truly think it's something that every kid can take a hold of for themselves. You can become the leader of your own life.
NNAMDIIndeed, I've read both versions of "Wolfpack" and found it inspiring. Abby Wambach, thank you so much for joining us on Kojo for Kids.
NNAMDIKojo for Kids was produced by Lauren Markoe. And our conversation about gentrification was produced by Kurt Gardinier. Coming up Tuesday, the Maryland legislature's grappling with police reform, and Baltimore aims to regain local control of its police department. We'll talk about what changes may be in store. Then we sit down with Marty Baron, the outgoing executive editor of The Washington Post, to discuss his career, his retirement and the future of journalism. That all starts tomorrow, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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