One week after the Supreme Court passed Marriage Equality, the US Women’s soccer team took home the World Cup, the first and final that Abby Wambach would win. Even if you don’t follow soccer, chances are you saw that kiss. You know the one. American flag flying, Abby’s wife Sarah leaning over for a celebratory smooch. Headlines blazed with various versions of “Love is Love” and “This is the Real American Love Story”. Abby and Sarah were ultimate relationship goals. Within six months of Abby’s retirement from soccer, however, we learn of both her DUI and her seemingly abrupt split from her wife. The revelations of addiction shocked the world as they found out their hero wasn’t always a perfect female specimen. In “Forward”, a memoir by Abby Wambach, she dives into her childhood, her romances, and her addictions, sharing with all of us that she’s even more of an American hero flawed than she is within the ideology of perfection.
Rather than perfection, it was approval that fueled the unstoppable engine that was Abby on the soccer field. As the youngest of seven, she had to strive to stand out in a sea of siblings, often equating praise with love, ingrained in her by her parents’ constant pressure to be the best. Between offering allowance for every goal scores, and inquiring why she didn’t score four goals instead of three rather than praising the success, Abby’s parents created a standard that was never meant to be reached, resulting in a simultaneous resentment toward the game of soccer that Abby carried with her even in the moments she loved it the most.
Like all of the people I personally know who have battled with addiction, Abby’s alcohol and pill abuse went largely unnoticed by those outside her most intimate inner circle because she was that good. When discussing her two Gemini personalities, Intense Abby and Chill Abby, it becomes apparent that she battled between wanting her self-abuse to break her and wanting to push herself to her highest potential simultaneously. That internal battle rages within her until culminating shortly after her retirement when little else existed to prevent her from surrendering to her vices.
Some fans may be disappointed to learn that Abby and Sarah were on the rocks long before that kiss seen round the world, but the reality of their relationship matters even more. Lesbian marriages aren’t some magical strand of rainbows and unicorns. They’re just as complicated and hard as straight relationships, injecting humanity into a hero that maybe seemed unreachable in her perfection, making her relatable rather than unattainable. In “Forward”, Abby discovers that neither soccer nor her marriage define her. When all of these things are stripped away, she still has herself, who she has to learn to love the most.
At 223 pages, “Forward” is a fast-paced, easy read. While fans of the US soccer team might be slightly disappointed that Abby breezes over her relationships with the rest of her team members (no juicy locker room stories aside from a breakdown of her own pregame routine quirks), but the memoir’s focus remains where it should: with Abby’s own journey. Abby’s pragmatic assessment of her successes and struggles gives us an insight into the life and career of a hero whom we have only ever seen in the brightest light, and when those lights are dimmed, readers will realize that G.O.A.T. is a title she’s even more deserving of than we ever imagined.