You’re 16 years old and things are about to change, quickly.
A little tired from your first flight overseas, you are eager to head up to your hotel room. It’s completely crazy to you that only a year ago, you were sitting in the stands in Portland for the 1999 Women’s World Cup watching stars like Michelle Akers and Mia Hamm take to the field, and in a few moments, you’ll take an elevator ride with them.
Please don’t be too awkward. You are a national team player now; you are exactly where you belong. Trust yourself.
I know it’s all very overwhelming. You are here to don the red and white for the first time at the 2000 Algarve Cup in Portugal, and coach Even Pellerud says you are starting. You go on to finish the tournament with three goals. This, goal scoring, will become your signature for the rest of your playing career. From here on out, the game will change so much.
Early on it will be about putting the ball in the back of the net. Just like it always was when you started out all those years ago. A four-year-old on a team with a bunch of six-year-olds, the Burnaby Bees. There was some crying, but mostly innocent fun playing football with some friends … or your brother and his friends because they always let you join.
Reading this, “What more could there be?” you’ll ask. If you will become the most prolific goal scorer of all-time and win an Olympic gold medal, then things must go smoothly, right? Well, pretty soon you’ll discover things aren’t so rosy behind the scenes.
You’ll learn Canadian women’s national team players were playing for $10 a day. You’ll hear the prize money for the Women’s World Cup is going to increase, only for the men’s prize money to increase by more, widening the pay gap. You’ll witness young girls slip through the developmental cracks because of the lack of a legitimate pathway to the national team.
This is when you decide to fight back. While people will know you for your accomplishments on the pitch, they will remember you for how you transcended the painted white lines. Creating equity is what you will be most proud of.
You will stand up to your federation to push forward on a landmark equal-pay agreement for the national team. You will help announce that a domestic professional women’s football league is coming to Canada. You will inspire generations of young girls to kick a soccer ball for the first time with real dreams of playing professionally. And you better believe we will continue to fight for what’s right. For equality for past, present and future generations. I’m writing to you 23 years, six World Cups, four Olympic Games, 327 caps and 190 international goals after it all began.
The same kid from Burnaby, B.C., with Major League Baseball dreams who instead, got to travel the world kicking a ball around all while proudly representing the country she loves. Speaking of that, maybe the maple leaf tattoo won’t be the best idea … so here’s a little advice for the journey ahead: Enjoy the ride, it is better than you could have dreamed.
Take pictures and explore. Soak in some of the most amazing places this planet has to offer, it’s okay to take in those moments. Cherish the times with your teammates, some of them will become your best friends and you will get through the highs and lows together. When your parents get sick, know it is all right to step away to spend time with them.
You will never get that time back and it is one of the best decisions you will ever make. But no matter what happens, don’t change. Your work ethic, your desire to be better and your mentality of never being satisfied are what sets you apart. Here I am preparing to tie the bow on an unbelievable international career shared with so many incredible teammates, coaches, support staff, fans and of course family. We are not here without them. Here I am in the 90th minute of our journey.
I suppose it will be fitting to end this thing the same way it started – with some tears, playing the game we love on some field in Vancouver. Home.
P.S. – Portland, how about one more year?