When team scoring leader Abby Wambach broke her leg in the final match before the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, the New York Times called it a “devastating blow” that left the United States “little chance of defending” its gold medal in women’s soccer.
Angela Hucles, by that time a six-year veteran of the U.S. women’s national team, replaced Wambach that day in San Diego against Brazil. She then went on to score four goals at the Olympic Games, including two in the semifinal match against Japan, leading the United States to a second consecutive gold medal.
The 36-year-old Hucles is not unaccustomed to taking her turn at the wheel, a pattern she hopes to repeat after being named president of the Women’s Sports Foundation earlier this month.
Not only will she follow in the position of another U.S. women’s soccer Olympic champion, Julie Foudy, but American women’s sports luminaries, such as two-time Olympic swimming gold medalist Donna de Varona, Indianapolis 500 driver Lyn St. James, Olympic gymnastics champion Dominique Dawes and boxing champion Laila Ali.
“I accepted this role knowing that the women who have served before me have all accomplished so much even before becoming president of the Women’s Sports Foundation,” Hucles said. “The fact that this position leads an organization that Billie Jean King — really the embodiment of the word ‘leader’ in every sense — founded is something that is not lost on me and is just really phenomenal, a true honor and tremendous responsibility.”
After playing in 109 games for the U.S. national team over eight years, including two Olympic Games, Hucles retired from soccer in 2009. She went into real estate, did personal speaking engagements, served as a commentator for NBC during the 2012 Games and started the Empowerment Through Sport Leadership Series in 2013, a set of educational and motivational conferences, speeches and workshops in Boston and Los Angeles for girls, their parents and coaches.
She became involved with the Women’s Sports Foundation 12 years ago, was named to its athlete advisory panel in 2008 and then to its board of directors last year.
As president for the next two years, her primary objective is to boost the exposure of the foundation and make its efforts more conspicuous.
“One of my biggest goals is to make all this good work more visible,” said Hucles, who succeeds four-time Olympic ice hockey medalist and International Olympic Committee member Angela Ruggiero as president. “The foundation and everything it has accomplished embodies this humility that I think is fantastic. I also want people to have a better understanding of who the foundation is and what it does.
“Some of the athletes aren’t aware of the resources, the opportunities, available. If a girl doesn’t have the opportunity to play in her school or community, they can contact the Women’s Sports Foundation for advocacy and their Title IX rights. I want to be creating awareness and letting people know all that the foundation can do for them.”
The foundation already has lent its support to an issue directly related to Hucles’ career: artificial turf for the upcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup. The foundation issued a letter of endorsement to the women’s soccer players, including Wambach, Alex Morgan and Heather O’Reilly, who have sued FIFA and the Canadian organizers demanding it abandon the plan to use artificial turf fields and install natural grass fields for this summer’s event.
“It’s a gender equality issue, so the foundation is involved,” Hucles said. “It’s for the rights of women, but it’s also a sports issue as well.”
To help publicize the foundation and its activities, Hucles will be looking to leverage her connections, particularly within the soccer world.
“I’ve had a lot of outreach from friends, teammates,” she said. “Some of them are already involved. It’s another good opportunity to call and get them more involved. Heather O’Reilly is on our athlete advisory board.
“It’s a nice chance to get some of the younger athletes involved, like Alex Morgan. She received our (Sportswoman of the Year) award two years ago. I’ll probably be calling on her.”
As for which old teammates should be expecting a call too: “They know who they are.”
Brian Trusdell has covered four FIFA World Cups and six Olympic Games during his more than 30 years as a sportswriter, mostly with the Associated Press and Bloomberg News. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.