U.S. soccer superstar Abby Wambach was in New York last week to share her experience as a World Cup champion and Olympic gold medalist.
On Thursday, Wambach spoke to 100 kids and a handful of adults gathered in an auditorium at Citi Field, home of the New York Mets. It was part of the annual Citi Kids event, which supports youth development through a variety of programs to motivate kids and help guide them in the future.
An important part of that effort is giving kids the opportunity to interact with popular and accomplished athletes — like Abby Wambach.
“It means the world to me to be someone who can stand up and speak about who I am authentically,” she said before the event. “I think it’s very rare these days that you can be so good at something, popular in some ways and still be true to yourself, and I pride myself on that. I am never going to be who you want me to be. I am going to be myself 100 percent, and that’s what I want to teach these kids today at Citi Field. I want these Citi Kids to learn how important it is to authentically be themselves and be proud of who they are.”
In her speech, Wambach was true to her word. She cracked jokes with the kids and asked questions to get them involved.
Once the kids were pumped up, Wambach got to her core message: It takes a lot of hard work off the field to be successful on the field.
“I can't just snap my fingers and do something. It takes a long time to get good at it,” Wambach said. She then listed all the things she had to do to get where she is today: practice, do well in school, listen to parents and teachers, exercise, and eat well. “These are all vital things about being a strong, happy, successful adult.”
“Do you guys think you can do it?” she asked the crowd. “Do you believe that you can do it? I believe that you can do it!”
After wrapping up her remarks, Wambach took some questions from the audience and gathered for a group photo. As she walked out of the auditorium, the kids and their adult chaperones were buzzing with excitement.
“[It’s great] for them to have somebody here to speak to them, to motivate them, encourage them to follow their dreams, don’t let anyone stop them,” said Ashia Broussard, one of the kids’ group leaders. “It’s just a very motivational day for them.”
One person inspired by Wambach’s speech was 11-year-old Markus. He said he was excited to meet a professional soccer player. But more importantly, he got some great advice.
“The most important lesson is how she said she got a scholarship,” Markus said. (In her speech, Wambach said educational scholarships are a way to help you realize your dreams.) “My brother goes to a good school, but my parents have to pay a lot. So I would like to get a scholarship so they don’t have to pay as much.”
When the event was over, the Citi Kids took their seats in the Citi Field stands to watch the Mets battle the San Diego Padres. Wambach, meanwhile, headed to the field to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
Before her speech, Wambach told SI Kids about her strategy for the pitch.
“The strategy is to not stand on the mound. The strategy is to stand on the grass just before the mound,” she said. “The mound is raised. That’s why a lot of people who stand on the mound, they throw it, but they bounce it up because the trajectory is just a little bit short of the plate. So there is a little bit of a tip for you if you ever get to throw out a first pitch.”
Her strategy worked! Wambach stood on the grass just like she said, and her toss made it to home plate.
And no one cheered louder than the fans in the Citi Kids section.
Photos: Liz Clayman