Third time’s a charm
Opening ceremonies for the Summer Olympic games in London kick off on July 27 and a familiar face, representing the U.S.A. Women’s Soccer team, will be two-time gold medal winner Heather Mitts.
Mitts, who has played the last seven years professionally for the Women’s Professional Soccer league, finds herself without a team as the organization has halted play for 2012, citing internal struggles for their demise. All the more reason Mitts is excited to return to the Olympics for the third time as part of the National Team. But is it still thrilling the third time around? “Absolutely,” says the 34-year-old Cincinnati native. “Every time is unique and special. I figured if I made it this time around it would be my last time,” says Mitts, who is hinting at retirement. “To be able to say I had three, and on top of that to be ending my career at the Olympics, is the ideal way to go out of the game.”
How it Started
Mitts drew initial interest in soccer playing as a kid along with her older brother. Later, she attended St.UrsulaAcademy and played on the high school team. But she learned to develop her talent from her mentor Charlie Cooke, a former Scottish footballer who gave private lessons to Mitts in Cincinnati. “Probably the first person that ever taught me most of my skills and really encouraged me to want to be the best was Charlie Cooke,” she says.
Mitts went on to receive an athletic scholarship from the University of Florida and was part of the Gators first ever Championship Team in 1998. By the end of her college career she had the most starts and minutes played in the team’s history. In 2000, she started her professional career with the Tampa Bay Extreme, as a defender/right back, then went on to play in Philadelphia, Central Florida, Boston and Atlanta. In between she made appearances in the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games as part of the National Team. In addition, Mitts was named the “Hottest Female Athlete” by ESPN in 2004 and made the 2005 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.
Her career hasn’t been all glory and roses though. She had several setbacks over the years, including an ACL injury in 2007 and partially torn hamstrings in 2011. But they were enough to keep her at bay in these Olympic Games and working with some of the younger players.
Back to the Olympics
Mitt’s advice to new members of the Olympic Team? “Nerves are natural. It just means that you care and eventually those will go away. Embrace the moment because it is such a grand stage. Make the most of the moment and try to enjoy it,” she says. Mitts is also excited that the games are in London this year. “I truly love it. Soccer is huge over there and I think they will be a great host; there is so much to do and so much to see. I was able to go over there with the Olympic Committee and see the best of London. It is so beautiful and has so much to offer and will be a great place to hold the Olympics.”
Preparation for these games can be an exhausting challenge at any age. Mitts works with a strength conditioning coach, runs six days a week and fits in a weight lifting regimen as well. “It’s pretty crazy and very demanding,” she says, and age is a factor. “The one thing that I’ve learned because I am older is that I have to monitor my body better. Sometimes less is more. I try not to overdo it because I don’t recover as well as I use to, so I’m just trying to be a little more efficient in my training fashion. I do use a heart rate monitor and it makes a big difference for me,” Mitts says.
For athletes who are getting older, Mitts gives this advice: “It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Take it slow and try to enjoy whatever you are doing. It’s never fun to work out if you’re dreading it. So try to pick something that interests you and you want to work hard at.”
Although 34 may not be retirement age for most, for pro soccer players, it’s within the average range. Retired American soccer player Kristy Lilly set the bar high when she hung up her cleats at age 40, but Mitts has other things on her mind—such as raising a family someday. “Girls now days are having kids and continuing to play. I personally couldn’t do both. That is my full purpose for stepping away from the game. I had a great career and it’s time for what’s next,” says Mitts, who has been married to NFL quarterback A.J. Feeley since 2010. And because the football and soccer seasons clash, this gives Mitts even less time to spend with her St. Louis Rams QB hubby. “We rarely see each other. We both have been able to do something we love and support each other 100%, but it has also been pretty trying on our relationship,” she says.
Nutrition and Motivation
Two other key factors for athletes at any age is keeping motivated and eating right. Mitts says she is her own worst critic. “I just want to be the best I can possibly be. I just try to go out there everyday and get better. My days are limited, so I try to enjoy my teammates and enjoy the traveling,” she says. As far as eating healthy, “I consider myself pretty health conscious. I definitely eat different at home as opposed to the road. I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables when I am competing. Nights before a game I load up on carbs,” Mitts says.
So what is in store for Heather Mitts after retirement? Maybe coaching? “I hold a summer camp every year and I love working with the kids. I love being able to come back and give back. It’s something that’s a lot of fun for me. It’s something that I really enjoy.” As for her own kids to coach someday, Mitts says, “It’s on the agenda!”