What have I done in the last three months?
I wish I had a good, clean, heroic answer for you -- something that would knock your socks off and move your heart to dance a jig. I wish I could tell you that life in the past three months was perfect, pretty and certain, like an impeccably painted image of Olympic triumph narrated by Bob Costas. I'm sorry. I just can't give you that. But life has been a beautiful, winding road for me.
Three months. It's amazing to think it has been that long since the Games. I thought time would stop after the Olympics. We had a very disappointing Games -- 12th (last) place, in fact -- and I rationalized maybe the triumphant return of the Spice Girls and Annie Lennox's closing ceremony theatrics meant the apocalypse was finally here.
But the world didn't end. Time spun madly and chaotically, and with it, I carried on down that winding road of life, feeling a bit like Jack Kerouac, having "nowhere to go but everywhere." So from one unexpected adventure to another, I've "just [kept] on rolling under the stars."
After the Games I said goodbye to teammates who'd become family, coaches who'd become confidants and dreams that'd become reality. I said goodbye to a part of myself that had been clothed for years with an immediate sense of Olympic purpose. Naked, vulnerable, and unsure of what was next, I stepped forward on the road to wander the great unknown of "life after the Olympics."
OK, that's a little dramatic -- I had clothes on -- but there's truth in it. The road is scary. I had no after-London plan. Most of my life had been paved with plans, but, this time, I craved the unknown. I was ready to trust in the winds of God and let life unfold.
So literally, I hit the road. I packed my apartment in San Diego, hopped in my car and drove with one of my best friends -- first north, up the California coast on Pacific Coast Highway, then east. Over the next 12 days, America's vast and beautiful terrain unfolded before our eyes. The road meandered from Santa Barbara to Monterrey, to San Francisco, to Tahoe, to Vail, to Denver, to Iowa City, to Ann Arbor, and finally, all the way to New Jersey.
The further east we drove, the more I felt an impending sense of purpose. I longed for home. I missed my family, and the time was nearing for me to give to them what I had so long given to myself: me. At my mom's house in New Jersey, I have a small, closet-less room. I arrived, and immediately unpacked. I was ready to settle in.
But the next day I got a phone call from Nick Conway, the (former) WNT assistant coach and head coach of the junior team. He was in a bind, and needed to find a quick replacement for a recently vacated junior team management role. He thought I'd be the perfect fit for the job. He asked if I'd go to Mexico as the team's video coach and mentor.
Sure, I was flattered he asked, but the truth is, I didn't want to go. I was tired, and I wanted to stay in New Jersey for awhile.
That night though, something fortuitous happened. From my mom's living room I listened as Michelle Obama delivered a powerful speech at the Democratic National Convention. She spoke of family, hard work and humble sacrifice, and the passion of her words struck a deep chord inside of me.
I knew what I had to do. For so long I'd been given kindness and limitless opportunity and now I needed to give back. I long to be the type of American who makes the First Lady, and the rest of our nation, proud -- proud not for the glamorous and celebrated role of Olympian, but as an unglamorous and uncelebrated simple, hardworking, do-what-I-can-for-my-country American.
Two days later, I was on a plane to Guadalajara. The team, a young group of enthusiastic college girls, was competing in the Junior Pan American Championships. On the line was a qualification spot in the 2013 Junior World Cup.
I spent 12 days in Mexico propped behind a computer screen and camera lens filming games and scouting opponents. It was quite an interesting juxtaposition with the last time I was in Guadalajara less than a year ago, when we'd earned an Olympic berth by upsetting world champ Argentina to win the Pan Am Games.
I didn't mind the work, or the new perspective, though. Actually, I found it purifying. My heart grew in gratitude for those who'd created such seamless competitive experiences for my teammates and I over the years. And the work helped me find something that I'd lost somewhere in the pressure, expectation and heartache of the Olympic year -- my love of the game.
In Mexico, I found love in simple moments: in the girls' enthusiastic singing, in their wide-eyed, bushy-tailed love of one another and the game and their devout support of the USA boys team. I saw it elsewhere, too. In Guatemala's epic and exuberant celebration of their country's first international goal. In the eyes of each of our staff members -- Conway, Shellie Onstead and Carrie Lingo. I saw a devoted passion for the game and a willingness to share it and sacrifice for it. I saw love in the impeccable technical brilliance of the Argentines. As I watched game after game, I saw new things, and I learned from them, and as I learned, my love grew.
I think I found that love at the perfect time. I left Mexico and hit the road back to California for a short national team training camp prior to the Champions Challenge Tournament in Dublin. It was an impromptu training camp; of the roster's 18 members only 12 were in camp, including four national team newbies. We felt like the field hockey equivalent of the Bad News Bears -- a hodge-podge group of unwanted athletes.
Yet somehow, the adversity made it more exciting. We had something to prove. We worked hard to prove it, and spent long, intense hours on the turf. We found joy in the work, and it bonded us. Excitement pervaded the group. Nothing was taken for granted. Somehow and from somewhere, each of our roads had led here, and we were thankful for it, because each of us was doing what she loved.
Then, two days before we left for Ireland, in an odd, long-awaited stroke of fate, my 23-year-old little sister Meghan got the call up to the national team. My heart swelled with pride. It's funny how the road works itself out when we least expect it. Sure, I was a little nervous for Moo, but mostly, I was thrilled.
I'm not sure what it was, but there was something magical about the trip to Ireland. Maybe it was the imperfect perfection of it: With all the cards stacked against us, we could have easily folded, but we didn't. We chose to stand. We chose to work for one other.
We gritted through games and won ugly. We made it to the final and got pummeled by Australia. But I didn't feel like we had failed. Maybe we'd actually succeeded greatly, having exercised one of life's most valuable lessons: We enjoyed the beautiful struggle of it all.
When I look back on these past three months, I am incredibly thankful for them, and for the imperfect brilliance of the winding road I've traveled. And here's the truth, at least as I see it: Life is full of hardship, full of lessons, full of joy, full of crossroads and full of goodbyes. We can't control everything on the road, but we can control how we travel it. So all I can do is pack up my values, and journey with a mindful head and open heart, trusting the road will lead me where I am meant to go. I am OK with that, because wherever the road leads, I'll trudge happily along.
So maybe I'll see you in Rio, maybe I won't. Who knows what the road has in store.