FRANKFURT, Germany – For Abby Wambach, Sunday’s World Cup final is the culmination of a journey that began with a hockey goal, a library book, and a bunch of boisterous older siblings.
The Commerzbank Arena in Frankfurt is a long way from the quiet street in Pittsford, NY., where Wambach grew up as the youngest of seven children and took part in fiercely fought games of every sport imaginable that honed her competitive edge from infancy.
“My brothers were athletes and I just grew up in an athletic family,” Wambach told Yahoo! Sports. “My mom would lock us out of the house and tell us to go and play, we couldn’t come in even if we needed to pee – we had to go in the bushes.
“They would put me in goal when we played street hockey because I was the smallest and I would have pucks flying at me,” she added. “There was always something going on with us, we were either playing lacrosse or hockey or basketball or rollerblading. There was plenty of space for us to play in, so that is all we did.”
If the USA lifts the trophy on Sunday, Wambach can legitimately challenge Brazil’s Marta for the title of the world’s best women’s player. Yet her upbringing, in a childhood environment where sports and competition were inherent, means it is likely she would have excelled at any game she tried.
Her route to soccer stardom began when her sister Laura decided she wanted to try the sport. Her mother, Judy, checked out a book from the library explaining the sport, and from that moment on the beautiful game became part of family tradition.
While Japan is a tough opponent, ranked No. 4 in the world, Wambach has no fear of the final hurdle this tournament poses, a spirit instilled in her from her earliest years.
“I think I was bred to do what I do now,” she said. “Growing up as the youngest of seven was like being in a team environment, you learn all kinds of things. You keep your mouth shut when you need to.
“I learned how to compete, my brothers and sisters always played with me on the same level and they never let me win until I was better than them and deserved it. Being in such a big family makes you humble. You might have a certain skill or talent but there is always someone who is better at something than you.
“My eldest sister Beth is a doctor who studied at Harvard and Columbia, and played basketball for Harvard,” Wambach added. “She set the athletic and academic standard for the rest of us to follow. Being the youngest you need to speak louder sometimes and fight for what is yours, all things that have come alive for me in this tournament.”
The Wambachs are a sporting family who fully support their youngest in her dream to add the prize she wants the most – a World Cup winner’s medal – to her Olympic gold from 2004. Wambach, who missed the 2008 Olympics through injury, is being cheered on in Germany by both parents and her brother Andy. The rest of the clan will be watching on television in Pittsford on Sunday at the Back Nine Bar and Grill owned by her brother Matt.
That meeting spot has been the scene of some raucous celebrations over the past week with Wambach having scored her dramatic equalizer in the thrilling quarterfinal victory over Brazil, then heading home the decisive go-ahead goal against France to earn a spot in the final.
Those results have given the USA a feeling of invincibility prior to its game of destiny with the team’s exploits having generated mass attention at home.
Wambach though, is refusing to take her eye off the big prize until she has completed a career dream that is now just 90 minutes away.
“I am not thinking about the game or the outcome,” she said. “I am trying to stay true to the journey because if you get ahead of yourself problems happen.
“I am not dreaming this now. I am living it.”
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- Abby Wambach