As some of you might know, I retired from the Washington Spirit in 2019 and became the first player in team history to have her jersey retired. Also that year, I was accepted as part of the WABN (Women Athletes Business Network) Mentoring Program, which seeks to select a diverse group of former and current elite female athletes who have retired from sport or are transitioning from sport to a professional career in business, government or other spheres of leadership. The program is designed to prepare and propel high-potential emerging women leaders to greater heights of responsibility and leadership. The timing couldn’t have been any more perfect.
The highlight of the program was a trip to Toronto to take part in the International Women’s Forum World Leadership Conference where I was surrounded by women who are literally changing the world. I got to hang with Canada’s first and only female Prime Minister, two Nobel Peace prize winners in science. The first woman to walk in space. Olympians and paralympians in all different sports. And the founder of Capital Sisters was on hand to give microloans to women in poverty to help lift them toward a better future. So much badassness.
On top of all of that, something happened in Toronto that really defined my purpose on this planet. It was a Tuesday morning and I was getting into the elevator to head down to the conference. I was dressed professionally and had my makeup on. For me, that’s like hitting my feminine peak! It was the first day of the conference, so I was feeling powerful and confident. When I walked into the elevator a male employee was cleaning the mirrors. With full Canadian gusto he said, “Good morning . . . Sir!!!” For an instant the wind was taken out of my sails. I responded in my feminine voice, “Good morning.” He looked back at me in pure confusion and angst for mis-gendering me. I could feel his awkward gaze as I said aloud, “I am a woman.” He quickly apologized and we rode 22 floors down in uncomfortable silence before we reached the lobby.
To put this into context, this is not a unique occurrence for me — but it typically happens when I am in my sports clothes with no makeup. Luckily for me, I had 22 those floors to process my feelings and, when I stepped off the elevator, I honestly had the biggest smile on my face because it was such a human moment, a powerful reminder of how closely we cling to gender norms, stereotypes and assumptions. We all have biases, and this situation proved that they exist without us even knowing it at times. And these biases hold us all back. They stunt progress and limit growth.
That morning, I felt no shame, only pride and affirmation of why I was put on this planet: to expand the boundaries of what a woman can look like. Of what a woman can do. And to use my life to completely blow up the restrictive gender boxes society tries to force around us. I have taken this attitude and my trademarked Jo-hawk, to more than 42 different countries, playing professional football in Spain, Sweden, Cyprus and Japan. I’ve run sports diplomacy programs in India, Malaysia, Argentina, Thailand, Indonesia, Botswana, Côte d’Ivoire, Niger and Nigeria. I have used sport to battle sex trafficking, promote conflict resolution, empower women, and keep kids off the streets. And now, with our upcoming book, “Raising Tomorrow’s Champions,” I expand that definition EVEN MORE. I can’t wait for you all to read it….so much badassness.