Lilly focuses on keeping younger set healthy

by Chris Elsberry
Connecticut Post

Sunday, May 6, 2012

NORWALK — The routine was just about the same every day. Kristine Lilly was up with the sun, a bowl of cereal for breakfast, a kiss on mom’s cheek, and it was off on her bike to seek out the day’s adventures.

One day, it might be baseball. Another day, soccer would be the game of choice. She would play kick the can in the neighborhood for hours on end or football in the backyard or tennis in the basement with her brother, Scott. Whatever season was going on, that’s what she played.

Just being outside, that was the rush.

Sun. Fun. Exercise.

“We’d play for hours and hours,” Lilly said. “We played everything. I don’t think there’s a sport that I haven’t tried.”

She played hockey on the ponds. Played basketball and baseball. Eventually she gravitated for good toward soccer, leading Wilton High to three state titles and North Carolina to four straight NCAA crowns. She spent 24 seasons with the U.S. national team, winning two Olympic gold medals and two World Cup golds.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

For 24 years, from 1987 to 2011, Lilly was one of the cornerstones of the U.S. national team. Her 352 international appearances (she started 330 of those games) are the most by any soccer player, man or woman — a record that likely will never be broken. Her career totals of 130 goals and 105 assists are second only to Mia Hamm, and at the head of a stuffed trophy case are those two Olympic and two FIFA Women’s World Cup gold medals.

She played against 39 different countries, played in 23 different countries and scored against 16 different countries. Three times, Lilly was named the U.S. Soccer Female Athlete of the Year. The first time came in 1993. The next two, incredibly, came much later, in 2005 and 2006.

Lilly missed the 2008 Olympics after giving birth to her daughter, Sidney Marie, in July. Last September, she welcomed a second daughter, Jordan, into the world. In January of 2011, she announced her retirement from professional soccer.

“Soccer is so much easier than being a mom,” she told a breakfast event on Thursday to raise money for the Fairfield County Sports Commission, specifically the Chelsea Cohen Fitness Academy.

“I made the (national) team when I was 16, a junior at Wilton. I had no clue what the national team was, they weren’t playing on television. They had only been in existence for two years. It was all so new to me. I joined with Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and Joy Fawcett, and from ’87 on, we played for over 17 years. In that span, we changed the mindset of people. We helped soccer grow but we also changed how people envisioned women’s sports.”

Today, Lilly is working with the sports commission to change the mindset of young people. The focus of the commission is the creation of programs for fitness awareness and education, with the focus on fighting childhood obesity, a problem that the commission says affects over 110,000 kids throughout Fairfield County.

One of the places that the sports commission is working with is the Cardinal Shehan Center in Bridgeport, and this year, the commission is donating $5,000 for Shehan’s fitness programs.

“The importance of the commission is supporting young people because this is what we’re here for,” Lilly said. “The technology world has kind of taken over. Kids aren’t getting outside. I get emails from moms saying that their daughter is just playing soccer. Why? Let them play everything.”

Along with being a full-time mom, Lilly is also a part-time coach, working as an assistant with the Boston Breakers, who now compete in the Women’s Premier Soccer League after the Women’s Professional Soccer league folded. She is also relishing her recent finish in the Boston Marathon (4 hours, 27 minutes) and her fund-raising for Children’s Hospital Boston. Lilly wanted to raise $13,000 (her jersey number is 13) but almost doubled that, raising over $21,400.

“I told myself that when I retired that I wanted to run one,” Lilly said of her marathon. “And after I became pregnant, I was like, `Great, that will help get me back in shape.’ My best friend Jodi (Sorrells), who lives in Norwalk, ran with me. I trained for five months. I got a program to do but I had to take five weeks off (before the race) because my heel hurt. So I didn’t get to where I was supposed to get (training-wise). But I ran it and finished it. It was the most painful thing I’ve ever done.”

Other than that, retirement is a blast.

“Retirement is great,” she said. “It’s really good. Being a mom … I’m still running camps, clinics, private lessons. I do appearances, speaking, camps, clinics. It’s all good.”

celsberry@ctpost.com; http://Twitter@elsctpost

 

 

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