You Just Have to Go Get It by Carli Lloyd
For the latest submission to our Circle of Stars first-person written series, we hear from Carli Lloyd, the Delran, New Jersey native who was raised a Philadelphia sports fan, and has since become one of the most impactful, decorated soccer players in United States history. She's won two World Cups, two Olympic Gold Medals, and is eagerly looking forward to her 76ers' 2019-20 campaign. To read the first installment of this series, which featured Academy Award-nominated director M. Night Shyamalan, click here.
You Just Have to Go Get It
Do I remember where I was when the shot went in?
I've been a Philly sports fan since I was a little girl, and I've been following the 76ers my whole life.
So yeah, I remember where I was when the ball bounced four times, and knocked the Sixers out of last year's playoffs.
I was watching Game 7 against Toronto at home with my husband. I had been watching every game that series. I was really gutted. It was from an impossible angle, and the fact that it bounced four times before going in was unimaginable. But it was heartbreaking, because I felt like the Sixers had a good run that season and felt they were going to be successful. It was one of those amazing playoff plays - big players make big plays.
I played basketball up until my junior year in high school at Delran, so I've always loved the sport. Allen Iverson was my favorite 76ers player - loved his energy, his deadly crossover and super passion. He was fun to watch, and brought something very unique to the team and to the league. I'd also have to say the 2001 team with Eric Snow and Aaron McKie, the run A.I. and that group went on was one of my favorite all-time memories.
For me, soccer was always my sport, my passion. It was never a question. I never had a difficult decision to make - do I pick soccer or basketball? But I did love the thrill of getting the ball and driving to the basket, especially shooting from the 3-point line. I was really fast, I was fearless. I would take on anyone. I was a good athlete, and pretty good at basketball. I didn't enjoy practices per se, I didn't enjoy running plays, but I loved the games. I loved to compete.
During a lifetime around sports, I've endured painful losses. The toughest was probably the 2011 World Cup Final. It was in Germany, and we were playing Japan. The way our journey went throughout that World Cup, we just felt it was our time. We gutted through performances, we won an epic quarterfinal match against Brazil when Abby Wambach scored in the final seconds to tie it up. We just felt like things were going our way and it was our time to win it.
In the end, we didn't.
The Final against Japan was back and forth. We finished in a tie, went to overtime, then went into PKs. As a player, you want to take a PK. The pressure to step up when the whole world is watching is not an easy thing to do. I've always wanted to take PKs, but unfortunately in that match, when the stakes were at their highest, I missed mine. I remember doubt creeping in before I was stepping up to take it. We had a PK shootout prior to this one in a match against Brazil where we all made it, myself included. Against Japan, I remember thinking to myself, “Should I switch up my spot?” I decided to keep it the same direction, but put a little more pace on it. There ended up being too much pace, and the ball skyrocketed above the goal, which is even more demoralizing. It's not like the keeper made a great save or I hit it wide. It was 30 to 40 feet into the stands. I just remember feeling like I let the country down, my teammates down. It was a pretty bad feeling. It's moments like that you want to just sit in a room, not talk to anybody, and cry.
But here's the other thing about moments like that - whether it's a loss on PKs in the final of a World Cup, or a loss on four bounces in a do-or-die NBA playoff game. These moments can end up making you into a better player, a stronger person. I made sure that my moment of missing a PK in a World Cup Final, in that fashion, would never happen again. You can't go into the past and change it, but you can make the future better. That's what I set out to do, immediately.
After the loss to Japan, I remember calling my coach and mentor, James Galanis, and he said to me, "Look, don't let this define who you are. Come home, decompress, and we'll get back to work." So that's what I did. I came home, I was disappointed, our team was disappointed, but I came home hungrier for more. I came home wanting to push myself, wanting to make myself better by beginning my training for the Olympics in 2012. But then there was another twist - right before London, I was benched.
Not only was I benched, I was devastated, thought my career was going to be over. At that point, it was probably the lowest point of my career. I remember coming home, being in tears, showing up at the field with James. He said to me, "There's nothing we can do but work even harder so that you're ready at any time if needed in London." So I trained for six hours a day for about two weeks right before I left - skills, I did a ton of fitness, and James helped get my mind right. I grinded everyday to be the hardest working player in every training session, and took it one day a time. I also started my visualizing at this tournament, and it turned out to be the best thing I could have ever done.
In the opener of the Olympics, I was on the bench. Suddenly, my whole world completely changed. Sixteen minutes into our game against France - we were losing 2-0 - Shannon Box, one of our defensive midfielders, went down and got hurt. They called me in. I didn't have a second to warm up. I had to play a position I was told I wasn't good enough to play. I had to play defensive midfield and keep the game flowing, a different game that as an attacking midfielder I was normally used to. But I got in, we went 2-1, 2-2, then I scored the game-winning goal, 3-2. We ended up winning, 4-2.
From there on out, I never left the field again. The next game, I scored another goal against Colombia, then went on to score two goals in the Olympics Final to beat Japan, 2-1, for some revenge. In the blink of an eye, your whole world can get turned upside down. It's always about staying ready, staying in the moment, and being focused for an opportunity you might never know is coming. I was ready, and seized the moment.
We've been fortunate to have had a lot of success dating back to the 2012 Gold Medal finish. CONCACAF champions in 2014 and 2018, and World Cup wins in 2015 and again this past summer. I'm hoping that after experiencing pain against Toronto last season, the Sixers are able to write a similar script. This year in particular is a very exciting season. The team has a starting five that is arguably one of the best in the league. Now, it's just about getting it done, getting the wins, and putting it all together. I'm excited to see how the season goes. It is a long season and important to keep grinding it each and every day.
I was someone who started from the bottom. I wasn't the next big thing coming out of college, I wasn't going to be the star. Nobody predicted I would have had the journey I've been on. Nobody ever believed I could have gotten to the top. I hoped I've inspired people to know that you have to work hard, you have to be able to turn your weaknesses into strengths, you have to compete against yourself, and you have to strive to be the best version of yourself. That's what it comes down to. We're all able to carve out the path in life we want. You just have to go get it.
People always see the glorious moments. They see the moments when you're standing up there with the trophy, they see the goals and the awards, but no one sees what you're doing when nobody is watching. Those are the most prideful moments. It's getting up at 6 AM and training before a flight, doing a double-day or a triple day, sacrificing all that you sacrifice. That's what makes success so special. It makes everything worth it.
Select photo credits: CBS News, Getty Images, Sports Illustrated