Outstanding, on and off the field

What does it mean to be a self-made woman or a self-remade one? For Megan Rapinoe, it has meant scoring goals on the soccer field; winning gold with the national team at the 2012 London Summer Olympics, the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup and the 2019 Women’s World Cup; fighting for the rights of the LGBTQ community, of which she is a part; and taking a knee in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick and against racial injustice; — and not in a shy way. Rapinoe’s in-your-face style may not be everyone’s cup of chamomile. (See Phil Hall’s review of her recent biography “One Life.”) But you can’t say the Greenwich resident — she of the sometimes purple, sometimes platinum hair — is afraid to stand out on and off the soccer field.

Born on the Fifth of July

Growing up in Redding, California, Rapinoe and fraternal twin sister Rachael were almost Yankee Doodle girls, born on July 5, 1985 into a blended family of five siblings. Dad Jim worked construction. Mom Denise was a waitress. Older brother Brian proved to be an inspiration for what to do — and what not to do. Rapinoe took up soccer after watching him play. Later, soccer would prove a viable alternative to the drug culture in rural California that would send Brian to prison.

Rapanoe played on youth teams and for local clubs before winning a full scholarship to the University of Portland. There she had a solid career, being named an all-American, despite two seasons ending with ACL injuries. 

“I know this sounds weird, but getting hurt was one of the best things that ever happened to me,” she said in an interview with the United States Soccer Federation.” It really gave me a different perspective. Before, everything was going how it was supposed to be and I wasn’t really appreciative of what I was doing and what it took to be there. The injury grounded me in a lot of different ways.”

Instead of closing out her college career, she opted for the women’s professional soccer draft, leading her to play for teams in Chicago; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; Sydney, Australia; and Lyon, France. (The midfielder/winger captains OL Reign, the Tacoma, Washington-based team in the National Women’s Soccer League.)

It is in international play that Rapinoe has shown brightest. Her cross to Abby Wambach in the quarterfinals of the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup set up an eventual win for the Americans. Her three goals — including one from the corner, making her the only player in Olympic history to accomplish this — and four assists in the London Olympics were a big part of the American women’s gold medal result.

Their 2015 FIFA triumph led to a ticker-tape parade in New York City — unprecedented for a women’s team — and a fete at the Obama White House. (A second Big Apple parade would follow the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup.) Contracts, including one with luxe fashion brand Loewe, would mingle with singular honors. Last year, Time named Rapinoe one of its 100 Most Influential People.

An activist first

Rapinoe has not shrunk from using that influence. She has been vocal in her support for Kaepernick and #BlackLivesMatter; for closing the wage gap between female and male soccer players, filing a federal suit along with 27 teammates against the United States Soccer Federation for gender discrimination; and for such LGBT groups as the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and Athlete Ally. (In 2019, Rapanoe co-founded the gender-neutral lifestyle brand re-inc.) One percent of her wages goes to Common Goal in support of soccer-related charities.

That activism has not been without controversy. Rapinoe said she would probably never sing the National Anthem again after a 2016 pro game in which host Washington Spirit played the anthem before the teams took the field so no one could kneel. After the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup win, Rapinoe said she would refuse an invite to the Trump White House, drawing a rebuke from the former Twitterer in Chief. 

In Greenwich, where she lives with her fiancée, WNBA star Sue Bird — swimming, biking and weightlifting during the pandemic — she had previously given a soccer clinic at Sacred Heart Greenwich. But for Rapinoe, it’s not enough to be an athlete. 

“…There’s so much more happening here than the sports,” she told The New York Times regarding her autobiography, “and I think we can use that as a vehicle to really talk about what I see as the most important work in my life, which is all the stuff we’re doing off the field.”

For more, visit rapinoe.us.

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