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July 21, 2008
Wambach takes injury in stride, shows leadership from off the field

By Michael Lewis Editor

Abby Wambach says the U.S. team wil be fine without her.
Abby Wambach says the U.S. team wil be fine without her.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
As she wound down her conference call Monday afternoon, injured U.S. star striker Abby Wambach literally sent a message to the American media about the U.S. Women's National Team's chances at next month's Beijing Olympics.

Wambach had all the faith in the world that the Americans would be standing on the podium at Worker's Stadium in Beijing with gold medals hanging around their necks Aug. 21.

ďItís going to be important not to forget about this team because one of their star players has gone down," she said. "This team is special. I am a component of this team. I am a moving part of this team, and I do not encapsulate this whole team. With the missing parts, the bus moves a little bit differently but thereís no doubt that this team can win a gold medal.

"They have to play with passion and ultimately with honor. This can happen with this team. You just have to open your eyes. I will be proud to see them win a gold medal. I am going to be fine, this team is going to be fine and I hope that our team can bring home gold for this country.Ē

In a call that lasted almost an hour, Wambach sounded surprisingly upbeat for someone who last week had her Olympic gold-medal hopes crushed with a pair of broken bones in her left leg. The woman who scored the game-winner against Brazil in the championship match at Athens 2004 won't be able to duplicate her feat this time around.

Instead, Wambach wil be watching the Summer Games with fellow injured teammates Leslie Osborne and Cat Reddick from her living room in Manhattan Beach, Calif.

Perhaps Wambach's calm demeanor comes from the fact she accepted the injury and fate only seconds after she fell to the grass in San Diego last Wednesday. She collided with Brazil's Andreia Rosa in the 34th minute.

U.S. trainer Gigi Garcia came out to assess the injury, and she told Wambach that she thought it was either her knee or ankle.

"My tibia and fibula are fractured," Wambach said she told her. "Don't touch it."

Wambach's no doctor or a pre-med student and she doesn't have a long history of injuries. But she knew something was wrong, drastically wrong.

ďI realized in that moment and accepted in that moment that my Olympic dreams were not going to be what I had planned," she said. "I accepted the reality of this situation. This was a deep down acceptance of my reality. A lot of the times when you freak out about stuff is when you are more unsure of reality. It was an all encompassing moment. I wasnít freaked out.Ē

Wambach was put on a stretcher and taken off the field. If you looked at her face, Wambach was not panicking at all. In fact, she felt it was the best time to show some leadership. It was difficult enough for her teammates knowing she was in dire straits. She didn't want to add any fuel to the fire and get in the way of what was happening on the pitch.

ďI surely didnít want to affect the competitiveness on the field. I know what it takes to win a gold medal and I know that one person isnít going to be the answer. I want to set the example for my teammates, to see on my face, that whether or not Iím on the field no matter who it is weíre playing, that we can win on any given day. I accepted that I knew what was going on.

"I am proud of the way I reacted because it was truly the way I felt. I was only scared because I had never experienced that before or ridden in an ambulance. The most important thing at that moment was winning the game and showing my teammates by example that they have to lean on each other a little bit more to get that gold medal that weíve been desperately training for over the months.Ē

So, it shouldn't be surprising that Wambach continued to demonstrate her leadership off the field -- from her hospital room. She called one of the team's original alternates, forward Lauren Cheney, to tell her that she had to be prepared to join the team and make an impact in China.

Wambach said he told Cheney "You got to get your shoes out and start running because when youíre told that you were a possibility and now itís a reality, I want you to go there and not feel bad about being selected in this type of way. It wonít do you any good or this team any good."

Wambach then told those listening on the conference call: "Ultimately, it will not make the team perform better. Whatís important is that the team going into this tournament is feeling that they can win this. At the end of the day, thatís what makes you stand at the top podium.Ē

The Rochester, N.Y. native turned philosophical when she tried to put herself into the general scheme of things for the American team, which many people might forget is defending Olympic champions.

ďIt made me realize even more how insignificant one player is in a team environment," Wambach said. "It really does take a team to win a championship. I canít express my thanks enough to the outreach from people from all different walks of life. I am really appreciative of the support that I have, the country that I represent, and I am proud of my teammates."

Wambach said she realized that a major injury could happen some day.

"This is kind of an occupational hazard and we all take the risk, knowing that this is possible every time we step onto the field," she said. "Thatís sports. Itís the risk you take when you lace up your boots. I play one way and thereís no other way to explain it. Iím not going to take it easy just because itís the last game before the Olympics.Ē

Wambach said no one should feel sorry for herself because she certainly isn't.

"Do I feel sorry for myself about this accident? Not for one second," she said. "Did I cry for myself? Yes I did. This is very bad timing but this is what my life has shown me and these are the cards that Iíve been dealt. I think for the experience factor, in terms of being there with my friends and training for so long, all of the sacrifices in terms of preparing for this event; those are what weigh down on me. Yes, I choose to be on this team and with that comes injuries and hard times. With those hard times itís when your character really shines through.Ē

Now comes the real hard part -- rehab. Depending on Wambach's body and her regimen, it could take anywhere from six to 10 months, she said.

Her first rehab session was at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. Monday.

She would love to start the first Women's Professional Soccer season in her team's first game -- whatever team that would be -- but there are other priorities as well.

"I want to take it slow but first and foremost, I want to walk around with this leg for the rest of my life so I want to make sure I do it right the first time,Ē she said.

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