Carli Lloyd started playing soccer when she was five years old. She tried other sports, too, but there was something about the round soccer ball that kept her coming back.
Back to the field by her house, until the boys finally let her play.
“I destroyed them,” Lloyd said.
Back to her team when she lost her starting spot as midfielder on the U.S. Women’s soccer team in 2012, training six to seven hours a day so she’d be ready to take her spot back when the opportunity arose.
Back to her team, her sport and herself when she got that spot back but lost it again in 2016, setting her on a three-year hiatus that cost her the 2019 World Cup.
“I’ve come back hungrier,” Lloyd said.
Lloyd shared these stories of dedication, heartbreak and perseverance Thursday night at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Nebraska Union in a moderated Q&A conversation, hosted by the University Program Council. Students, athletes, young soccer players and their parents could all be seen in the crowd of 500, and they were hungry, too.
“Oohs” and “ahhs” rippled through the crowd when a UPC emcee announced that Lloyd’s arrival on stage would be preceded by a highlight video. The room was silent as all eyes, young and old, fixated themselves on this star who scored goal, after goal, after goal, after goal …
It would seem that those goals are what make Lloyd great, but Lloyd took her audience behind the curtain, back to that 2012 heartbreak, “the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.” Back to the 6 a.m. training days. Running stairwells at hotels because there weren’t any fields nearby. Back to her couch the night before her talk at UNL, enjoying a few hours of rest before her 8 p.m. workout. Then to Nebraska the next day.
“Without the journey and the choices that I’ve had to make, there would be none of those moments in that video,” Lloyd said.
Lloyd’s book, “When Nobody Was Watching,” was available for sale after the event. Young attendees with Lloyd’s name on their soccer jerseys swarmed the hall outside the Union ballroom among parents, college students and other members of the public to buy the book and get it signed by Lloyd.
They were the lucky 500 who actually got a spot in the ballroom. Doors opened to the public at 7 p.m. for Lloyd’s 7:30 address, and the throng wove outside the door, down the stairs, all the way to the Union Starbucks.
Lucy Wacker and her dad barely made it in one of the rows at the back of the ballroom after waiting in that line for at least 30 minutes. Wacker started playing soccer when she was 8 years old and plays for a YMCA team now. The 11-year-old said her takeaway from Lloyds’ story was her determination to push through the day and “just let go of whatever bad happened.”
Wacker would love to play soccer in college, but she also wants to become a veterinarian. She said she can still use Lloyd’s inspiration if she follows that career, to “persevere through hard times” that might happen with difficult surgeries and patients.
Fellow 11-year-old and soccer player Marie Fobben said it was interesting to hear Lloyd’s commitment to helping her team succeed, not just herself. She wants to pursue a career in computer science.
“(Lloyd) always talked about how she was always focused on her goals, and I think that could help a lot of people,” Fobben said. “If you’re focused on your goals and you really want to actually achieve them, then you can.”
Lloyd, 37, battles countless critics who say she is too old. In her conversation Thursday night, she said there was a time when it didn’t matter what she did or how hard she worked; it was clear that she would never play or be good enough for certain people.
“If somebody’s gonna tell me that they’re benching me, I’m gonna make them look stupid,” Lloyd said. The crowd laughed, but she was serious.
“I’ve forced every single coach to play me,” she said.
For Lloyd, it’s not about leaving a legacy. She just wants to do her best, no matter what, to show herself what she’s capable of doing. That means giving up time with her family, friends and even her spouse. It means watching what she eats, waking up early and showing up when the world expects her to quit. It means coming back every day, hungrier than ever.
“My moments come when nobody’s watching.”