Every Dream Begins With a Dreamer

On Thursday October 6, Members of the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team and First Lady Michelle Obama took to the South Lawn for a Let's Move! soccer clinic with young players from Soccer Sisters United in Philadelphia and Prince William Courage Soccer Club in Woodbridge, Virginia.

Nicole Barnhart shares her experience and insight into achieving one's goals:

I started playing soccer when I was nearly seven years old.  Growing up with an older brother taught me to be tough and competitive, but in the beginning I saw soccer as nothing more than another fun opportunity to get out and play a sport I enjoyed.  

I had many aspirations growing up.  I wanted to be a marine biologist, but I will not likely ever achieve that goal.  At one point I wanted to be either a firefighter or a hockey player (mind you, I had never skated a day in my life).  And, of course, I wanted to be a professional soccer player and represent my country in the Olympics and the World Cup.  As children, we all dream up many things.  Yet how often are we fortunate enough to see our dreams actually come true?

Growing up, I can remember not having too many female athletes to look up to.  I grew up in a time and place that was dominated by male sports.  In fact, I played on boys teams through high school, because girls soccer teams were not offered.  There were very few professional female athletes to look up to until I got a bit older, and most of the ones I admired were women on the US Soccer Team.  I wanted to grow up to be just like them: dressed in a red, white and blue uniform to represent the USA.  I hoped and dreamed that one day I could play soccer for my country just as they had.  But it never occurred to me that I would later be that same role model for so many others that they had been for me.

I have been very fortunate in my soccer career and the experience and adventure it has brought me.  In 2007, I was a member of the World Cup Team that won bronze.  In 2008, I belonged to the Olympic Soccer Team that won gold.  And in 2011, I was thrilled to be playing for the US Women's Soccer Team that captured the heart of the country in our quest to win gold, even though our dream fell just short and we came home with silver.

I never thought that one team, particularly a women's team, could captivate a country so driven by men's sports.  It is nearly impossible to describe the feeling, knowing that the entire country was literally rallying behind us the entire way.  My teammates and I were floored by the tremendous support and enthusiasm we received when we returned to the U.S. this summer.  The impact that this past World Cup had on women's soccer in this country will hopefully have lasting results. For example, since we returned from Germany, it is unusual to walk around without be recognized by someone, which never really happened prior to the World Cup. 

Another very evident impact of the World Cup was seen in the steep rise in attendance at games for Women's Professional Soccer (WPS).   After the World Cup, people started coming to WPS games in hordes.  Once people saw women's soccer advertised broadly and covered beautifully by the sports networks, they were captivated by the excitement and talent of women's soccer. Many of these new fans were men who found themselves appreciating the women's game and respecting us as female athletes.

In addition to competition on the world stage, I have been honored with many amazing opportunities, including being invited to the White House by First Lady Michelle Obama to participate in her Let's Move! campaign.  I get paid to play soccer and live an active lifestyle, but many people are not as fortunate.  They have to find time in their busy schedules to be active and make healthy nutrition choices.  Children today need to form good eating and exercise habits early, which will give them the best start and set a pattern of nutrition and exercise that will serve them on and into the future.  I do my best to set a good example to those around me, and am very excited that First Lady Michelle Obama is working at the national level to educate and raise a healthy generation of kids. 

Fortunately, my biggest dream was fulfilled beyond anything I ever could have imagined.  I am sure many of you have dreams, too, whether in sports or some other area.  I want to encourage you to strive to achieve those dreams and don’t ever let anyone tell you that it cannot be done.  Don't be discouraged along the way if you hit a bump in the road or even a roadblock, because overcoming obstacles is how one builds character.  If you are fortunate enough to achieve your goals one day, you will realize that the bumps you encountered along the way played a very important part in who you became.  I am the person I am today because of the many bumps I encountered in my journey so far.  I truly believe that hard work takes you places, and that the most memorable things in life should never be easy.

Nicole Barnhart is a Goalkeeper for the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team.

Avra Siegel is the Deputy Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls.

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