Of Girls and Goals

As the world evolves and our population grows, more and more opportunities become available for Latinas, and not the least of them are in, yes, sports! Meet Stephanie Lopez and Amy Joy Rodriguez, rising soccer stars on the sensational U.S. Women’s National Team, currently the world’s foremost ranked female soccer team, which took home the gold medal in Athens at the 2004 Olympics, and most recently won the coveted 2005 Algarve Cup in Portugal. Not only do these motivated young women excel in their sport, travel internationally, and compete alongside and against some of the greatest athletes in the world; they also pursue academic and personal goals as well.

Lopez, a young Californian of Mexican-American and German descent, is a defender on the U.S. Women’s National Team and a sophomore at the University of Portland, where she is majoring in psychology. Raised in a large family with one older brother, four foster siblings and two adopted younger brothers, is strongly inspired by her mother’s compassionate giving as a dedicated foster parent. Lopez describes herself as “easy-going, down-to-earth and caring.” Her dream is to someday raise a family of her own and work as a part-time youth counselor—though she plans to go on playing soccer “for a long, long time. “

Stephanie Lopez/Photo by Steve Gibbons

Acknowledging that opportunities in professional sports are still limited for women, Lopez reiterates the importance of concentrating on academics because “it can open so many more doors for you.” Nonetheless, she envisions her athletic career flourishing in tandem with her personal goals. The greatest “soccer moment” in her life so far has been “putting on the National Team jersey for the first time.”

Lopez’s minor at the University of Portland is in Spanish, and she hopes to play professionally someday, perhaps for a team in a Spanish-speaking country. She plans to travel around Europe after she graduates from college and would like to learn to play a musical instrument. Her wildest fantasy is to try skydiving.

Grateful for her family’s undying support, as well as for the example that her parents have set for her as role models, Lopez has a good grasp on time management and the art of prioritizing her activities. Her greatest asset as a key defensive player on the soccer field is her ability to maintain her composure. “My dad was always encouraging me to be my best, but at the same time encouraging me to have fun reaching my potential. It is important to know when to push and when to hold back,” she says. “I should always be working in soccer, but I know I can’t do it all the time or I get burned out. The academics help with that balance.”

Rodriguez, a forward on the U.S. Women’s National Team, graduated from Rancho Santa Margarita Catholic High School in California last year and is a freshman at the University of Southern California (USC). Rodriguez was the youngest player on the U.S. Women’s National Team roster at the prestigious Algarve Cup tournament. She was also named the 2004 Gatorade National High School Girls Soccer Player of the Year. In order to earn this tremendous honor, which essentially categorizes her as the best female high-school soccer player in the country, Rodriguez was elected from a pool of over 300,000 female high-school soccer players nationwide.

Like teammate Lopez, Rodriguez feels that her career as an athlete has been nurtured by the support and encouragement she has received from her family. The oldest of three siblings, Rodriguez is half Cuban-American and speaks “a bit of Spanish.” She grew up in Southern California, where she has lived all her life, in a family of talented athletes. Rodriguez’s younger sister also plays soccer and her younger brother plays golf. “My parents have been super supportive and my number one fans,” says Rodriguez. “They’ve always encouraged me to live up to my potential,” When asked if there is anyone in her personal life that she considers a mentor, Rodriguez’s quick answer is “my grandma.”

But Rodriguez also admires a number of athletes who have influenced her game and attitude throughout life. Growing up, she strongly admired Mia Hamm and Michael Jordan, Recently, while training in Portugal with the National Team, Rodriguez had the opportunity to play alongside the legendary Abby Wambach, one of the National Team’s best known players, and a key figure in the Algarve Cup victory in which the U.S. women defeated Germany, the top-ranked team in the FIFA Women's World Rankings. “After playing with Abby and seeing her personality on the field, “ says Rodriguez, “it motivates me to try to bring my game to her level and one day be able to play next to her consistently. She’s so motivated that it motivates me to strive for better things.”

Amy Rodriguez/Photo by U.S. Soccer

 

In addition to playing for the National Team, Rodriguez has recently developed an interest in the fields of physical therapy and athletic training. She plans to major in business administration and marketing at USC. “I maybe see combining all these interests in the future. I’d like to work with athletes, so I can see myself staying in sports.”

What Rodriguez loves most about playing soccer is the sheer thrill of competition, and she definitely dreams of playing professionally. Known on the field as a dynamic, explosive offensive player, and off the field as “outgoing and fun-loving,” the petite Rodriguez, standing a mere 5-foot-3 and known by her teammates as “A-Rod,” was an All-League and All-State selection and has been named to the PARADE and NSCAA All-American teams in each of the past two seasons.

When she’s not on the field, Rodriguez maintains A’s in school and participated in the Model United Nations program at the Santa Margarita High School Theatre. She enjoys wakeboarding and camping in her spare time, and, in addition to her professional goals, would like to get married and raise a family someday.

By Dinorah de Jesús Rodriguez

[This article has been edited for www.latinastyle.com. For the full version, check out the September/October issue of LATINA Style.] 

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