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U.S. Women’s Soccer Star Abby Wambach Lives to the Extreme

Wambach stands and walks onto the field for a closer look, alongside the coaching staff. The 34-year-old forward has a minor knee injury, so she’s taking a few weeks off from playing. Even so, her presence on the sideline sparks a discussion among several of the media members watching.

“My prediction,” one observer says, “is that Abby won’t be in the starting lineup next summer. She just doesn’t seem fit.”

Heads whip around. Eyes grow wide. What?! That’s pure crazy talk, man!

“You don’t understand,” someone responds. “This is just how she works. She’ll be ready. She always is.”

It sounds like heresy, an epic form of trolling — the idea that Abby Wambach might find herself on the bench at the World Cup. After all, she has scored more goals than any other woman (or man) in the history of international soccer. Yet the same observation has been made in the past, ahead of other major tournaments.

The fiery, dominant Wambach we see every few years at the World Cup and the Olympics is the polished version, the finished product, the one ready to demand the ball and kick ass — and she’s supremely capable of doing just that. But it might just be this other side of Wambach, the laid-back enjoyer of life, oh-so chill, not quite ready for prime time, that offers the most insight into who she is as a player.

A few weeks earlier, Wambach sits inside Stumptown Coffee, on Southwest 3rd Avenue in downtown Portland, Oregon, chattering away, as she is prone to do. Julie Foudy once gave Wambach a shirt that said, “Help! I’m Talking And I Can’t Shut Up!” That was more than a decade ago, when Wambach was the youngster on the national team. Legends such as Foudy, Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain were accustomed to wide-eyed apprentices nodding dutifully in the presence of women whose images were once plastered on their bedroom walls. (As a kid growing up in Rochester, New York, Wambach herself had a signed poster of Hamm.) But the first time Foudy had a chance to talk with Wambach one-on-one, at the airport before a flight, the newcomer was a nonstop stream of words and excitement, a 5-foot-11 windup toy unleashed. Foudy, herself known to teammates as Loudy Foudy, remembers sitting there thinking, So much for the shy rookie! “The beauty of Abby,” she says, “has always been her incredible passion.”

That passion, when applied to soccer, runs on a specific route, like an electric current along a wire, feeding the source with little energy wasted. But away from the game, Wambach has a more untethered quality to her, bouncing from one interest to another, almost contradictory at times — perhaps in the hopes that someday she’ll find the thing that feeds her the way soccer does.

(Continue Reading at ESPN)