Mia Hamm, World Class Soccer Champion A talented young woman athlete's rise
By: John Shepler
It is the 1999 Women's World Cup Soccer Championship. The
Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California is filled to overflowing with
nearly 100,000 fans, some with faces painted to look like American
flags, all wild with excitement. On the field, a dark-haired
27 year old athlete stares intently at her opponent. Mia Hamm
has that no-nonsense focus of an aggressor. On this field, at
this time, no one can break her concentration, dampen her will
to prevail or get by her unchallenged. The heart of this champion
is made of steel. Or is it?
Mia Hamm has been called notoriously shy, humble and strikingly
attractive. She's also been called America's secret weapon, "the
most dangerous forward on the field." Her charitable foundation,
"a reflection of my life experiences," is chartered
to support bone marrow disease research and to promote the growth
of opportunities for young women in sports. She has that paradoxicalcombination
of killer instinct and caring soul that is the heart of a real
world class champion
Mia's life experiences include growing up as the daughter
of a U. S. Air force colonel, a military fighter pilot. Her mother
was a ballet dancer. Bill and Stephanie Hamm had six children,
including Mia who was born in Selma, Alabama. As a military family
they moved quite a bit, including time in California, Texas,
Virginia and Italy. Her brothers and sisters became her soccer
team at about age 7, and may have given her the sense of persistence
that is needed to really achieve in any field. Mia was intensely
competitive and loved to play games. As much as she loved to
play and win, she hated losing with a passion. She hated it so
much that she'd just quit if the game wasn't going her way. She
claims that she always had it in mind that she could just walk
away at any point in the game. However, her siblings had enough
of that approach pretty quickly and refused to play with her
unless she stuck it out no matter what. She hasn't quit since.
Mia Hamm had talent and a burning desire to win, but another
factor may have played an important role in her rise as an athlete.
She was among the first generation to grow up with equal emphasis
placed on boys and girls sports. Before 1972, boy's sports were
predominant in high school and college. Football, basketball,
track and field, baseball and most others were geared toward
young men developing their talents, playing competitively with
other schools and gaining scholarships to college. Girl's sports
were barely supported. Girls were just 1 percent of all high
school athletes and received just 2 percent of college athletic
What changed was enactment of Title IX of the Education Amendments.
Senator Birch Bayh and Representative Edith Green sponsored that
legislation and got it passed in 1972. It mandated equal opportunity
for both boys and girls in schools receiving federal funding.
Now, 27 years later, the girls' basketball teams get as much
press as the boys, women's Olympic events draw at least as much
attention as men's, and a whole generation of American kids has
discovered a world sport, soccer, where both sexes are starting
out with equal opportunity to play and be recognized.
Mia Hamm was first scouted as an athlete when she was only
14 years old and playing in Texas. University of North Carolina
Tar Heels head coach Anson Dorrance knew right away she had a
special talent, and one that he could develop for UNC. He was
right. Mia helped her team to win four NCAA championships with
North Carolina and ended her collegiate career as the all-time
leading scorer in goals, assists and points. Her jersey, number
19, was retired in 1994.
was the youngest woman ever to play with the U.S. National Soccer
Team at the age of 15 and youngest member of the 1991 Women's
World Cup Team at 19. Named Women's World Cup MVP in '97 and
'95, when she even played several minutes as goalkeeper. She's
also been named U.S. Soccer's Female Athlete of the Year for
an unprecedented 5 years in a row, '94 - '98.
In the midst of her rise to fame, Mia's family was struck
by tragedy. Her older brother, Garrett, A Thai-American orphan
adopted by the Hamms, was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder,
aplastic anemia, when he was just 16. He needed a compatible
bone marrow donor for a transplant to save his life, but his
Thai-Anglo heritage and lack of known biological siblings made
that a difficult proposition. Desperate to help locate such a
donor, Mia Hamm used her considerable notoriety to advertise
for volunteers. They found a donor, but Garrett contracted a
virus and died following the transplant at age 28, leaving a
wife and son.
Not one to give up anymore, Mia formed a foundation to support
bone marrow disease research and formed the Garrett Game, an
all star event played by her U.S. Soccer teammates and top college
players. The second annual Garrett raised $150,000 in 1998. At
half-time they brought together marrow donors and recipients
for the first time, an event which Mia described as her "most
satisfying moment away from the field."
Mia's foundation also works to ensure that the next generation
of young women will have even greater opportunities to participate,
excel and be recognized for their talent in sports. It's her
way of recognizing that others paved the way for the opportunities
she's enjoyed, and now she chooses to pave the way for others
to come. It's the spirit of a truly World Class Champion.
Books of Interest:
Go for the Goal: A Champion's Guide to Winning in Soccer
and Life by Mia Hamm, Aaron Heifetz. A book of personal anecdotes
about Mia Hamm combined with instructional photos to help you
become a better soccer player. It's a must-read for aspiring
young players and an inspiration for those who choose to excel
at careers other than athletics.
On the Field With...Mia Hamm by Matt Christopher. You'll
devour every detail of this biography of the world's best women's
Mia Hamm by Mark Stewart.
Girls Who Rocked the World 2, Heroines from Harriet Tubman
to Mia Hamm by Michelle Roehm and Jerry McCann.
Nike Is a Goddess: The History of Women in Sports by
Mariah Burton-Nelson, Lissa Smith (Editor). Twelve original narratives,
each focusing on the top female athletes in different sports,
are brought together into one volume. Includes chapters on soccer,
basketball, baseball and softball, tennis, golf, figure skating,
gymnastics, and track-and-field as well as canoeing, kayaking,
rowing and sailing, equestrian sports, and ice hockey. Read about
Nadia Comaneci, Mary Lou Retton, and Kerri Strug. Also, Babe
Didrickson Zaharias, Billie Jean King, Jackie Joyner-Kersee,
and Sheryl Swoopes.
Also visit these related
Mia Hamm Foundation
- supporting bone marrow disease research and opportunities for
young women in sports.