Retired American soccer star Abby Wambach has penned a very readable memoir that simultaneously manages to be both frank in revealing her personal struggles and triumphs while skimming somewhat lightly over the deep subjects that the author raises.
Fans looking for behind the scenes sports revelations or locker room gossip concerning their favorite U.S. WNT stars will have to look elsewhere, in “Forward” Wambach is more concerned with examining her own fears and motivations, looking inward as she takes the reader from her first days playing soccer up to and beyond her retirement as the all-time leading goal scorer in international soccer, male or female.
In 23 chapters spread over a brisk 228 pages, with headings such as “Fraud,” “Tomboy,” “Lesbian,” “Hero,” “Failure,” and finally “Human,” Wambach tells her story, warts and all.
Wambach describes growing up in Pittsford, New York, “a conservative, suburban community just outside of Rochester.” One of seven children in a household helmed by a Catholic mother, her father is not a major player here, Wambach describes battling for attention and love and of knowing she’d found the vehicle for all of that in soccer.
She takes us through her High School years, her first boyfriend, her first girlfriend, all of it movingly told in a way that conveys the awkwardness and excitement of that time in one’s life, with the additional fear young Abby felt of being found out.
High School for Wambach was also a time of heavy drinking, drinking that only increased when she moved on to the University of Florida on a full soccer scholarship.
Wambach tells us early on that she needs more that soccer to sustain her, explaining that she never played for the love of the game, rather for her mother’s praise, writing of her mother, “if you weren’t there to witness it I wouldn’t care about scoring at all.”
She describes a love/hate relationship with the game that gives her “praise, affection, and above all, attention.” Conversely, Wambach writes, “I loathe it for the same reason, terrified that soccer is the only worthwhile thing about me.” Wambach doesn’t love the game itself she tells us, only “the validation that comes from mastering it, from bending it to my will.”
Wambach tells her story chronologically, and we hurtle forward led by our irrepressible narrator. She has little time for details about teammates and coaches, for example, former U.S. coach Tom Sermanni doesn’t warrant a mention, and she spares us too shot by shot recaps of most of her big games and biggest moments.
Where Wambach does linger, is on her personal demons, describing a cycle of partying and purging, eventually adding prescription pills to her diet of beer and vodka drinks as age and injury inevitably erase the once invincible sheen of youth. We hear too about her marriage to Sarah Huffman, and how that marriage was jeopardized by those same vices.
The 2015 World Cup win is recounted, with Wambach watching much of the tournament from the bench, age having reduced her role to that of head cheerleader and only occasional participant.
It all came to a head for Wambach with a highly publicized DUI arrest this past April. The incident served as an embarrassment for Wambach, and we are told, as a catalyst for change. The book concludes with Wambach living clean and sober and trying to find her way post soccer.
Typical of the book as a whole, Wambach is both unsparing in relaying the embarrassing details of her arrest and brief incarceration while giving the nitty gritty of her recovery short shrift. We are told that as of the time of the book’s writing Wambach had kept the promise she made to Sarah to stay off of the pills. This is followed by an anecdote from a Paris bar where Wambach had traveled to work as a commentator at the Euros.
Wambach tells her colleagues that she is not drinking, followed by a self-deprecating joke about her DUI. One of those new workmates later tells her she needn’t justify her behavior, advice Wambach embraces.
Has Wambach been through a rehab program for either drugs or alcohol? Perhaps both? We don’t know and ultimately it is her business, her book, her life and her readers and her fans can only wish her the best as she moves forward.