briana scurry - America SCORES

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briana scurry - America SCORES
briana scurry
She won two
Olympic gold medals
and a World Cup
title, and with
retirement nearing,
she was uncertain
what to do next.
Then the very
injury that ended
her career—and
made life almost
unbearable—gave
her a new sense of
purpose
by
Emma
Span
riana Scurry has been watching the World Cup every
chance she gets, fitting games into a busy schedule that includes
motivational speaking engagements, promoting concussion awareness and working with America SCORES, a soccer-focused nonprofit
youth foundation operating in 13 cities around the country, for
which she is the national spokesperson. Soccer gave her everything—and it also
very nearly took it all away. “This is probably the most exciting World Cup I’ve ever
watched,” she says. And Scurry knows about World Cup excitement.
Scurry—Bri to her friends—remembers the moment, 15 years ago, when she and
her U.S. teammates realized how intense the 1999 Women’s World Cup was going to
be. “Our first game going to Giants Stadium, there was a lot of traffic; we were like,
Oh, no, we’re going to be late for the game. And then we realized it was traffic for
our game. Holy cow. People had painted faces, signs, they were waving at the bus,
and we were waving back at them like little kids. That’s when it became a reality.
“Coming out of that tunnel, the camera flashes and the cheering, like a crescendo, it overtakes the space. Everyone was willing us to win, 79,000 people.
And your heart’s fluttering, and you want to do well, because they’re there to see
you. [Some of us] started crying, some of us were laughing—it was overwhelming. And then we had to get down to the business of actually winning the game.”
The U.S. beat Denmark 3–0—one of Scurry’s 71 career shutouts for the national
Photograph by
Sam Robles
For Sports Illustrated
B
Pe t er Re a d Mil l er /Sp o r t s Il lus t r at ed
72 / Sports IllustrateD / july 7, 2014
net benefit
Scurry always
wanted to work
with kids, which she
does as the national
spokesman for the
America SCORES
foundation.
Ernie
Banks
nate
Newton
HANK
AARON
1976
BUCS
Briana
Scurry
Dan &
Dave
kevin
everett
Angelo
Pizzo
Marcus
Dupree
Harold
Miner
van earl
wright
life after
sports
Briana Scurry
team—the beginning of a delirious run through the
tournament that ended in an eruption of joy at a soldout Rose Bowl. A crowd of 90,185, a record for a women's sporting event, turned out to see the Americans’
5–4 victory over China in a penalty-kick shootout.
The list of Scurry’s achievements is long—from 1989
All-America at Anoka High in Dayton, Minn., to 1993
national collegiate goalkeeper of the year for UMass to
World Cup champion in ’99 to Olympic gold medalist
in ’96 and 2004. During her U.S. career, from 1994 to
2008, she was 133-12-14. “No one has ever played better than that for the USA,” Tony DiCicco, the national
team coach from 1994 to ’99, told The Washington Post
last year. “She was the best in the world.”
Scurry, 42, grew up about 30 miles northwest of
Minneapolis, the youngest of nine kids. (“An oops
baby,” she says.) She took to just about every sport
she tried, but she didn’t play soccer until she was
12, when she went out for the boy’s team because
it was the only one around. The coach made her a
keeper, thinking she'd be safe there.
“I made this little sign when I was 12 or 13 that
said, atlanta 1996 i have a dream,” she says.
“I didn’t know what sport I would be playing, but I
knew I was going to be doing something.” It was at
UMass that coach Jim Rudy told her she was good
enough to play on the national team.
For a player with career highs like Scurry’s, re-
first half was almost over, so she stayed in the game
until she heard the whistle. “I started walking to the
bench, slowly, at an angle,” she says. “The trainer runs
out and says ‘Are you O.K.?’ I said, ‘No, I’m not O.K.’ ”
Doctors told her she just needed to rest, but as
weeks ticked by with no improvement, Scurry realized
her career was done. Intense, painful headaches made
concentration, socializing and activities as simple
as writing and walking a struggle. “I felt this really
intense disconnect from everything,” she says. “I was
trying to express it, to get people to understand what
173 caps for the U.S. national team
tirement would surely have been an adjustment
whenever it arrived. But no one could have known
just how big that adjustment would be.
74 / Sports IllustrateD / july 7, 2014
71 shutouts
/
22-2-5 in worl
I was feeling, but it was hard to put it into words.”
To her friends, Scurry’s problems were evident. “She
had been one of the most intense players in the sport,”
says Naomi Rodriguez, who met Scurry as a massage
therapist for the U.S. in 2004 and was her roommate for
several years. “The speed and athleticism Bri had were
unbelievable. . . . And she would do these unbelievable
workouts, hours longer than what was required.” But
after the injury, Rodriguez says, Scurry “might sleep
16, 18 hours a day, because she was in so much pain.”
Scurry's symptoms made working—as Washington’s GM (a position she'd taken upon retirement) and
as a studio analyst for ESPN during the 2011 Women’s
World Cup—nearly impossible. “After a while I started
to get depressed,” says Scurry. “My brain chemistry
had changed. . . . My mind was broken.”
Finally, in February 2013, she found Kevin Crutchfield, a neurologist at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore. He
describes himself as a specialist who treats diseases
that alter the brain’s chemical and electrical processes.
A concussion, he explains, is really “a collection of
symptoms” that often, as he discovered in Scurry’s
R o b er t B ec k f o r Sp o r t s Il lus t r at ed (in g oa l); B o b R o s at o/Sp o r t s Il lus t r at ed (wi t h f l ag)
T
he concussion that ended Scurry’s
career—that plunged her into a more than threeyear fight for her mental and physical health and
that eventually gave her a new sense of purpose—was
not her first. In a national-team practice in 2006, a hard
shot bounced off the post and hit her in the forehead;
she sat out a day. The next concussion came a year or so
later, she thinks, during a U.S. practice, when she collided with forward Abby Wambach. Just a minor thing.
In April 2010, Scurry’s club team in the nowdefunct Women’s Professional Soccer League, the
Washington Freedom, was visiting Philadelphia. “I
was coming out for a routine low ball to my left,” says
Scurry. “I bent down to pick it up. I never saw the
forward coming from my right. She’s trying to stick
her toe in front of the ball to tip it past me, and she
ends up crashing her knee into the side of my head.”
Scurry thinks she blacked out for only a moment. The
/
case, includes neck injuries. Crutchfield, who works
with the Ravens, the Orioles and D.C. United, concluded
that Scurry had suffered damage to the occipital nerve,
which runs from the spine up the neck to the back of the
head. “[If] it can take an Olympic gold medalist nearly
three years to find the right doctor,” says Scurry, “I can
only imagine how long it might take someone else.”
Crutchfield advised Scurry to try steroids to reduce
the swelling around her pinched and irritated nerve,
and then to have an operation to free her occipital
nerve from the muscle with which it had become
ld cup and Olympic play
entangled. Scurry, who is single, moved from New
Jersey to Washington to be close to her doctors.
Crutchfield's diagnosis was the first step toward
Scurry's reclaiming a normal life. And she took the
second when she was waiting to have surgery. While
reading up on concussions in sports, Scurry saw a
study that found that 50% of girls who play soccer
will suffer at least one. She’d had no idea that head
injuries were such an issue in her sport. For reasons
that are not yet fully understood, females are more
susceptible than males, and girls’ soccer trails only
football and boy’s hockey as the leading cause of
concussions in high school athletes.
Scurry had always planned to work with kids
after she retired. Now she saw a way to help young
athletes, and to give herself a new goal. “How can
I make this into a positive?” she recalls thinking.
“Let me see if I can be a face for [this issue]. It’s
not just football, it’s not just hockey, it’s my sport.”
Most serious concussions don’t occur when players
head the ball, but instead when they take a blow to the
head, often from an elbow, a head, a knee or a goalpost.
Golden goalie
The U.S. was in
good hands at
the Games with
Scurry (1), who won
championships in
Atlanta in 1996
(above left) and in
Athens in 2004.
“Injuries are going to happen,” says
Scurry, “but you can always have
awareness and recovery—if everyone
knows what to look for you get the
right treatment, the sooner the better.”
Scurry testified about concussions in
front of Congress in March 2014, and
has made a point of talking publicly
about her experiences.
Last October, Ivica Ducic, a plastic and nerve surgeon who was then
at Georgetown, performed Scurry's
occipital nerve release surgery. It
was a success: After 31⁄2 long years
the pain in her head subsided.
Though she is dramatically better
than she was a year ago, Scurry’s
concentration, focus and balance are still not what
they were. “We’re working to trying to get me back,
not to a normal range, but to my range,” says Scurry.
She looks as if she could still play, but only recently
has Scurry gotten the O.K. to return to a real exercise
routine—up to 30 minutes on a stationary bike and then,
if she doesn’t feel dizzy or foggy, some weight­lifting.
Every week she goes to vestibular process therapy,
where she works to improve her balance. She keeps her
activity level manageable: one challenging thing a day.
A
t an event for the Illinois Youth Soccer
Association last month, Scurry was asked to
name her favorite career highlight. It wasn’t
1999 that came back to her.
Going into the 2004 Athens Olympics, the USWNT’s
core was getting older—Mia Hamm was 32, Julie Foudy
was 33, Brandy Chastain was 35. On Father’s Day that
year Scurry’s dad, Ernest, passed away at 75. He had
been suffering from kidney failure, prostate cancer
and heart problems, and Scurry returned home to
Minnesota to visit whenever her hectic travel schedule
allowed. She was able to be there when he died. “Two
months later,” she says, “I played the best soccer I’ve
ever played in my life. I was making these saves against
Brazil [in the final] that were like The Matrix—I didn’t
know how I got there, but I got there. And I was on the
podium just bawling because I knew my dad was with
me. The peak of ecstasy and sadness at the same time.”
She gets asked often: After all this, if she could go
back and do it all again, would she change anything?
“Emphatically, no,” says Scurry. “I achieved a dream
that I wanted since I was a kid, winning a gold medal.
Twice. Soccer has been very good to me. I made my
livelihood from it. I played my passion every day. I
had the gift of not only being successful when I played
but inspiring millions of people—my teams have done
that. I wouldn’t trade that for the world.” ±
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