Lessons of Resilience from U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Star Briana Scurry
“The most important thing you can do is live through your passion and to listen—to your heart and other people’s hearts,” Briana Scurry, two-time Olympic gold medalist and 1999 Women’s World Cup soccer champion, told Wellesley students on September 20.
Scurry, one of the first female African American and openly gay professional athletes, was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2017. She made 173 international appearances, helping champion equality and diversifying soccer. She is also recognized as the U.S. Women’s National Team’s All-Time Best XI, received the National Association of Black Journalists’ Sam Lacy Award, and is the representative for the Title IX exhibit in the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Scurry retired from soccer in 2010 due to a concussion, and has since dedicated her life to advocacy and educating people about traumatic brain injuries.
Scurry joined students, who were gathered in Alumnae Hall, via Zoom as part of the Wellesley College Athletics LeadBLUE Speaker Series. The LeadBLUE program cultivates the growth of leaders within athletics, in the classroom, and beyond, prepares student-athletes for effective, practical leadership, and instills the values of discipline, critical thinking, and responsibility.
“I think the main lesson that I want you all to glean from my journey is that not everything is as it appears,” Scurry said. “There is often a silver lining in the most seemingly horrific situations, if you’re just willing to look for it. It won’t necessarily present itself—you have to do some work…just keep believing that it is in there, and it’s okay to struggle with it.”
I had the opportunity to interview Scurry prior to the start of the event, to ask about her background in sports, her legacy, lessons learned throughout her career, and her new book, My Greatest Save.
Cheryl Minde: What did sports mean to you growing up? What were some of the hurdles you faced, and what skills do you think it teaches youth—and especially young women?
Briana Scurry: Sports meant the world to me from a very young age, and I knew that I wanted to be an Olympian when I was 8 years old. I started playing sports from age 10 and started soccer at 12. It was a true expression of myself. I was very athletic and energetic when I was younger, so I felt like sports were a great extension of myself. I liked to compete. I played four sports in high school and, lucky for me, my mom and dad were very supportive. I learned so many different things from playing all these sports, and especially team sports. You learn things like leadership, teamwork, overcoming obstacles, and resilience. All the different sports I played taught me these lessons, but obviously being able to play soccer for a profession really solidified all those things.
Minde: What was your college sports experience like? Did you always want to be a professional athlete, and why did you choose to play sports professionally?
Scurry: My college experiences with sports were wonderful! I had a lot of offers from 70 different colleges all over the country to play various sports but I chose to play soccer because I had the best opportunities there. My family didn’t have a lot of money so I needed a full scholarship in order to even go to college.
It was an amazing experience being around my teammates. It was really cool to have them as a second family to help me through the next chapter of my life in college, which is where you have so much growth and really discover who it is you’re going to become. After my team went to the NCAA Final Four my senior year I was invited to an international team camp, and at that moment I thought I could actually make a career for myself. It wasn’t something that I saw really early on in my life, but once I went to the national team and became the number one goalkeeper, that’s when I realized this is truly a career I can have.
Minde: In your upcoming book, you talk about your highest of highs winning the gold medals and World Cup, but also your lowest of lows, including your battle with depression following a concussion that ended your playing career. You’ve done a lot of work to raise awareness around the impact of concussions on young athletes. What is the biggest takeaway from your experience that you want people to know?
“Success is whatever success means to you. There’s often a great lesson to be learned when things are hard, and try not to ignore that, try to find that lesson and really live it.”Briana Scurry
Scurry: I wanted to share my journey with people as much as I can in my book. I wanted people to know my side of the story, my point of view, what it was like going through my life and participating in some incredible events. Millions of people saw the Olympic games and World Cups, but I wanted to write in my book about the perspective of a goalkeeper going through those things. Not just the wonderful moments, but also some of the things that don’t seem so wonderful but can turn into a path that’s much more rewarding.
My concussion is a great example: On the surface it was very jarring and difficult for years, but as it turns out I was able to meet my wife; I was able to come full circle with taking something that was so horrible and making it into something that was amazing. In my book, I talk about my journey, why it took me so long to get treatment, and also my advocacy. I really try to get young people to understand that when you have a head injury, that’s not something you fight through. I try to educate kids, parents, caregivers, and doctors about the perils of a concussion, and for athletes in particular, I tell them that I know that they’re warriors, they’re strong, they want to play no matter what, but sometimes it’s smarter not to play. You have to be honest with yourself.
Minde: What does it mean to you to be included in the National Museum of African American History and Culture?
Scurry: It is truly a humbling experience! I wasn’t aware that my body of work, my playing soccer, was having the impact on the African American community that it was. It wasn’t until the curator contacted me in 2016 to let me know that they wanted to include me and make me the representative of the Title IX exhibit and a part of the Game Changers exhibit as a whole. I was absolutely floored! To this day, it is truly so rewarding and humbling to be among such giants in our community and people who really changed the world.
Minde: In addition to your success in soccer, what legacy do you hope to leave?
Scurry: I think my legacy, in addition to being in the museum hopefully for the next 300 years, is to be an example. To be someone who’s honest, has integrity, and shows LGBTQIA+ kids, adults, BIPOC women and men that you can overcome very difficult things, that you can persevere, that you can do hard things, correct your choices, and have a life that’s very, very rewarding. Success is whatever success means to you. There’s often a great lesson to be learned when things are hard, and try not to ignore that, try to find that lesson and really live it.
LeadBLUE is planning a Community Service Challenge in November:
Support our student community by participating in a clothing and toiletry drive. Students across the College are encouraged to collect items to donate to the Wellesley Students’ Aid Society, Inc. (WSAS). Donations will be collected, by class year, at the KSC front desk from Nov. 1-24. Check the leaderboard weekly to see which class year has donated the most! The winning class will be announced at the Nov. 29 basketball game.