Quote Sheet: Akers Retirement Conference Call
CHICAGO (Friday, August 25, 2000) -
MICHELLE AKERS, Retiring U.S. Women's National Team star
On whether or not her career turned out as she expected: "I guess yes and no. There is that dream inside me of what we could be and what I wanted us to be. To see it actually happening now is almost unimaginable. I watched these past three games, especially in Kansas City and I knew I had a decision looming. I was able to kind of step outside of myself and see the enthusiasm throughout the stadium for the team and for women's soccer and the WUSA. The advancement of the team and the whole sport, and how far we've come, I'm blown away by it. That day was real emotional for me because I was able to smell the roses before my last game was over. There are mixed emotions. I'm excited, but I'm also sad about having to say goodbye. It's been an incredible 15 years."
On her plans to play in WUSA: "I definitely have plans to play in the WUSA. I'm really excited about the league and I believe it will be a huge success, so I definitely have that on my radar screen. I have some stuff to do before that, and one is just resting, and two is fixing the broken body parts."
On her doctors: "I want to take the opportunity to thank Dr. Adams and Dr. Palumbo. These guys have really busted their rear ends to keep me on the field. We've had a great time getting to know each other through these experiences. I've relied heavily on them, not only to keep me on the field, but in helping me make some tough decisions."
On how the decision evolved: "Mark drove me home from practice and told me 'Look, you've got a lot of stuff going on here. Let's talk about life. Let's talk about what's best for Michelle Akers.' After talking with Mark and knowing that this (retirement) has been a day to day thought for the last seven months and the last three years since the last Olympics, his comment to me was to be sure you've given it all you've got because you don't want to kick yourself after its over. I walked out of his office crying and sad, but with the peace that I was absolutely making the right decision."
On her thoughts after leaving the doctor last Tuesday: "There are so many pictures and images and feelings from the last five years that wash through me. Its tough to say goodbye realizing how much of an incredible opportunity it has been to play for this team and to be part of the legacy we are leaving. It's hard to stop when you've been pressing for so long. I've been battling this illness and injury for years, and to all of a sudden say 'I'm done' is tough."
On what memories made it all worthwhile: "There are tons of those memories. The relationships and being able to go through this experience with a lot of different people who have loved and cared for me made it worthwhile. The whole process of going through the fire has forced me to dig deep and see who a I am and who I want to be. It has made me make a lot of personal decisions I never would've had the courage or opportunity to make."
On her role on team in Australia: "Well, I do not know yet. Initially my thought was to be sitting in front of television cheering them on from my farm in Georgia. Once I get things fixed I might want to go over there if the right opportunity comes up. I guess that remains to be seen."
On how strange it will be to watch her former teammates: "Its going to be weird. I think I'm going to hate it. It's weird realizing that someone else will be wearing #10. That's kind of hard to let go of. Those are my buds out there and we battled together for a long time. To see them fighting and playing together, and knowing what an incredible experience it will be, whether we win or lose, it's going to be hard watching them going through it without me."
On telling her teammates: "I think I told them Thursday morning by conference call. I would have preferred to tell them in person in San Diego, but I felt it needed to be done as quickly as possible. I felt April needed to know so she could make some decisions about who would replace me on the roster. I felt the team needed to kind of let this settle in to allow them to readjust the focus on what they needed to do. Once I make a decision I need to go forward with it, so there was no reason for delay."
On her teammates trying to talk her out of it: "They didn't. They know me and know what a sacrifice it was on all levels to play on this team. The past couple of weeks have been really tough. They see me in the training room, immersed in ice, trying to gut it out through training so they understand my decision and totally supported it. I've spoken with them on the phone and they keep making me cry. They're my team, and my buds, and I love them, and it's nice to be able to go out knowing I gave them all I had."
On special memories from her career: "This week hasn't been a time to reflect on the 15 years I've been with the team. Its been more or less making a decision and telling people in time in the proper way. There's not one thing, and not even 25 things, its really a feeling of satisfaction and warmth and incredible gratitude to be able play alongside so many incredible people. Its mostly been about the people. There's a lot of little thing that people might not know happened, but they mean a lot to me."
On any regrets or second thoughts: "Absolutely not. Every moment, sacrifice, and heartache and disappointment, and the hard stuff that has come with being on the national team was worth every second. I've been getting ready for this moment for a long time. I'm ready to move on. I'm grateful and excited about the future."
On her family's thoughts about decision: "I got a business card that says 'Michelle Akers - Cowgirl.' For real. It's sitting right here on my desk. I think my Dad is still shocked and rocked by the decision. We've been talking about this all year. It's not like he was really surprised, because my track record has been to battle through it, so he was just waiting. They are sad, but relieved. They are glad they won't have to watch me play through the cracks in their fingers They're happy I've made this decision and its over."
DR. S. ROBERT CONTIGUGLIA, U.S. Soccer Federatoion President
"I am here to say thank you to Michelle for what she's done for our sport. I spent the morning looking through press reports about your accomplishments, and they only say part of what you've done for the sport. You are one of the most remarkable human beings that I've ever gotten to work with.
"Many of you know that Michelle's nickname on this team is Mufasa, from the movie 'The Lion King.' Michelle epitomizes the word lion and hero in every sense of the word. She's dominant both on the field and off. She's displayed both incredible courage and leadership.
"Michelle, you are a wonderful, wonderful person. Thank you for everything you've done for our sport. We'd like to keep you active in the sport, not only as an ambassador, but as an athlete representative."
"Thank you, Mufasa, you are my hero."
DR. MARK ADAMS, U.S. Women's National Team Doctor
"The thing that has always impressed me with Michelle was the dedication of this person and the team. Michelle set the standard for this team as to what it takes to produce a world class organization and what it takes to succeed at the international level.
"Michelle has battled disease that you are all aware of (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). When it was first diagnosed there was little known about it. It's still a disease that's an enigma to us today. She approached that illness in the same way, as a warrior, as she played on the soccer field. She's every bit as much a warrior in the training room. She is a very dedicated athlete, and if she hasn't been she would not have been able to play with this chronic illness.
"The thing that impresses me the most, is that her entire lifestyle has revolved around living with this disease and learning how to play with it. She's unbelievable from an exercise standpoint. We've tried many, many medications in an attempt to understand this illness, but really it's a combination of her dedication and her lifestyle that's let her to play for so long. At this time we've assessed Michelle, and really with the combination of the disease she's lived with and the injuries, we decided it was time to walk away. In reality Michelle has always played with heart and has continued to try to fight the disease with heart."
DR. ROB PALUMBO, U.S. Women's National Team Surgeon
"The fact that she had the ability to come back from injury in the time frame with the damage she had was just amazing. Anybody that has worked with you will tell you that she continues to amaze. Her injury was the culmination of several. The first happened during the World Cup, and then she had another fall in a game in Central Florida, and that was the one that took her out and required her to have surgery."
"During surgery we knew she has some pretty extensive damage, and we took care of what we could take care of. knowing that her goal was to get back to the Olympics we put her on a fairly accelerated rehab, and she responded unbelievably, as everyone expects her to. When she left for Germany, begging to play, it was amazing that she was ready. Michelle made the decision that it was time, and we all supported her."
APRIL HEINRICHS, U.S. Women's National Team head coach
On naming Akers' replacement for the Olympics: "I would start by saying it seems inappropriate to talk about Michelle's replacement before letting the dust settle regarding her departure. It was a surprise to the team. I think a lot of us were operating under the mind set 'Did this really happen?' We want to celebrate Michelle's decision to retire and not go to Olympics. In so many ways she's demonstrated what great courage she has physically. And now she demonstrates what great courage she has in life."
On her initial thoughts about the retirement: I think the best way to describe it would be surprised, but not surprised. This woman has stayed with this team and played with this team four or five years beyond what anyone thought she could. She's played thorough injuries that other players would not be able to. For her to utter those words this close to the Olympics, it must be serious. I respect and admire what she's done on the field for years."
On perspective on length of Akers' career: "Probably no other player will have a career that will span 15 years on national team. It's remarkable what she's achieved in those 15 years, both on an individual level and the teams she's played on. I think we're looking at a player that will never be duplicated again. Always In sports there is an anthem that puts you in a time and place, much like a song would. In most American's minds she's the first female soccer player to rise to the level of elite status."