The French are different
They’re more reserved
They all actually speak English
The first person I see in Rochester, New York, is a man riding a bicycle without any tires. He’s pedaling along on the alloy rims, which grind against the pavement. I’ve driven five and a half hours to one of America’s forgotten cities to talk with US Women’s National Team midfielder Megan Rapinoe.
Rapinoe has become one of the famous faces of the US women’s soccer team, after breaking out during the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup. She went from super-sub to starter to star in the course of a few games. Rapinoe is quick regardless of whether or not the ball is at her feet. But when it is, her confidence amplifies. She isn’t afraid to try to beat her defender with a deft move or a quick combination play with her teammates. She seemed almost unstoppable playing on the left wing during the tournament. When she scored against Colombia during the World Cup, she celebrated by running to one of the microphones used to collect field-level noise for television broadcasts and singing Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA.”
One year later, Rapinoe announced herself again when she helped the United States win the gold medal at the Summer Olympics in London, right after she revealed to the world that yes, she is gay. Rapinoe, twenty-nine, is one of the more experienced players on the US team that reclaimed the World Cup trophy for the first time since 1999 at this summer’s tournament in Canada.
Rapinoe again proved to be the difference-maker and creative fulcrum for the US team as they made their way to a rematch against Japan in the finals. This time, though, the United States made its most impressive showing on the world’s biggest stage before a record 25.4 million viewers nationwide, beating Japan 5 to 2. After the tournament, people came out in droves to welcome the team in New York City for the first-ever ticker-tape parade for a women’s sporting team in American history.
A year ago, I was scheduled to meet Rapinoe in the lobby of the Rochester Airport Marriott, where the team was staying. We’d never met before, but Rapinoe recognized me. We took a seat in the middle of the lobby, in front of a fireplace. She tugged on the neck of her hoodie, pulling it over her mouth as we did the weird introduction that comes with interviews—a mixture of flattery and awkward silence. Rapinoe was open and warm with her answers. The next day she would be anything but warm to the Mexican women’s team in a World Cup qualifying match.
I. THE BEGINNING
THE BELIEVER: What was your childhood like?
MEGAN RAPINOE: I’m from a big family. I grew up in a smaller town [Redding] in Northern California, one hour south of the Oregon border. Pretty standard, middle-class. I’m a twin and the youngest of six, so there are a lot of us. I got into soccer because my older brother Brian played, so my [twin] sister, Rachael, and I kinda followed in his footsteps, and then that just became our thing. We never went back.
BLVR: You guys drove a long way to play.
MR: Yeah, we did. There was no Class 1 or competitive league in Redding, so we had to travel. In our junior year we would try to go to practice once a week, so we would go down to training on Tuesdays—because our mom didn’t work on Tuesdays—so we would go down on Tuesdays and come back on the weekends. Then, in our senior year, it was more like on the weekends. It became too much and our coach let us just play games.
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