Mia Hamm – one of the most important and influential female athletes of all time — dropped in and surprised a girls’ soccer team in Palo Alto, Calif. The five-time U.S. Soccer Player of the year, two-time Olympic gold medalist and Soccer Hall of Famer was invited by Volkswagen of America to crash the girls’ practice, train with the squad and offer advice to the next generation of young female soccer players.
Hamm, who retired in 2004 as the leading goal scorer – male or female – in the world, played an integral role in popularizing the sport and changing the status of the women’s athletics back in the late-1990s. Her role in the record-setting 1999 Women’s World Cup paved the way for today’s powerhouse team.
For weeks, Volkswagen of America – who is the presenting sponsor of U.S. Soccer – and Palo Alto Soccer Club worked behind the scenes to make the event possible, coordinating with coaches and parents to keep the surprise under wraps for the players.
“We wanted the girls to have the best experience possible,” says the team’s main coach, David Madrigal.
And it worked. The 18 starry-eyed, pony-tailed players exploded in fits of laughter and screams of delight when the soccer legend crashed their team huddle.
Among the crowd was eighth grader Finley Craig. The 14-year-old fan says she was empowered by Hamm’s comments on self-determination, teamwork and goal setting. “She’s one of my role models and not just in soccer, but in life,” says Craig. “She told me ‘don’t let anyone tell you that boys are better than girls’ and to ‘follow my dreams without interruption.’”
Her mom, Jodie Craig, who was standing on the sidelines during the reveal, was also star struck. “Mia was so kind and down to Earth. She’s a great inspiration for these young girls coming up as young women and as young women athletes,” Craig says.
Hamm stuck around the field for several hours, running drills, snapping pictures and signing soccer balls for the group before they headed to a U.S. women’s soccer match against South Africa at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. The team was even able to head down to the field and watch the national team perform warm up exercises before the game started. “It was a surreal moment for all of us,” says Madrigal. “I think it sunk in for all of us then that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Weeks later, Madrigal still says the magic of meeting Hamm still hasn’t worn off his players. “I see a fire, an energy, a boost of confidence, really, instilled in them that I haven’t seen before,” says Madrigal. “When somebody like Mia tells you can achieve it, you believe in it.”