Sometimes I want to strangle Heather O’Reilly. Mostly because she knows me well enough to know how to REALLY get under my skin. But also because I’ve had to witness her, throughout her illustrious 15-year USWNT career, likely be the only player in the history of the program to preface talking about every single training camp with, “If I’m invited.”
I grew up not that far from Heather in New Jersey, played at a few ODP events with her, and we overlapped two years at UNC. But I really only truly got to know her in my first year as a pro for Sky Blue FC. It’s ironic because Heather’s literally lived all my childhood goals (and her own I’m sure). And because of that, she taught me one of the most important lessons I could have possibly learned in my career and in life. She taught me that’s there’s remarkable value in the journey.
You see, Heather and I are very similar. We’re absurdly competitive. We have a strange affinity for putting our bodies through what others may consider torture. And we’re incredibly sensitive about what we do. As a young pro, this all made sense for someone like me who was still striving to achieve what Heather already had. Something seemed illogical, though, about her mindset given her accomplishments. But that’s what makes her so special. Heather showed me—and continues to show me—that who we are is who we are. No accolades, medals, or roster spots could, or should, ever change that.
There are some people we come across in life who epitomize success and make us feel inadequate or small in comparison. And then there are those who make us realize that results are not all that matter. Heather O’Reilly represents all that’s good and pure about the game. She’s never satisfied. She feels deeply responsible for her contribution to her team. She’s not afraid to work until she literally blacks out. And she certainly is not afraid to take the hard road.
There are so many reasons someone of Heather’s status would be able to do things differently and not think twice. Like when she got engaged. Instead of taking the day off to plan her celebrations, phone relatives, and relax with her fiancé (as I pushed her to repeatedly), she was alongside me as we did 20 and 40 yard sprints, showing me the ring during breaks.
Just this week, on the day she announced her retirement from the USWNT, she spent her evening out on the field with our FC Kansas City team completing her E License coaching course. Heather doesn’t need her E License. As a long-time member of the National Team, she’s eligible for her B License. No one would have judged her for opting out of our team-organized course. But there she was, jogging to set up her cones and enthusiastically instructing her group of players on service from wide areas.
Heather will be the first to tell you, but more importantly show you, that everyone should take pride in the qualities that make them special and unique, and that there’s no way to live besides giving it your all.
No one represents our country better than Heather, and my hope is that the next generation will continue to be inspired by this player and person who epitomizes what it means to play for the U.S. Women’s National Team.