News Apr 14, 2014
w/ Former WNT forward Carin Gabarra
May 24, 2006
More than 10 years after Carin Gabarra played her last game for the U.S. Women’s National Team, she has found that contrary to popular belief, you can have it all.
The dynamic striker who won the Golden Ball as the Most Outstanding Player in the 1991 Women’s World Cup was one of the most exciting dribblers in U.S. women’s history. While she may not be moving that fast now, she is still in constant motion. It is certainly difficult to balance a full and satisfying career, a good marriage and a family, but Gabarra has mastered it. She is a fantastic role model to her athletes at the United States Naval Academy where she is in her 13th year as head coach of the Women’s Varsity Soccer Program.
“One of the biggest things I can give my players here at the Academy is…I want them to know it’s okay to have a family and put your family first,” Gabarra said. “It’s okay to have a career and have a good marriage and be able to work and do something that you love and have the whole picture.”
Gabarra, née Carin Jennings, definitely had a successful career. As one of the edges of the famous “Triple-Edged Sword” – along with April Heinrichs and Michelle Akers – Gabarra helped lead the USA to the first-ever FIFA Women’s World Cup title in 1991. During the course of her 10-year career for the WNT, Gabarra scored 53 goals in 117 appearances. She retired in 1997 after winning the first gold medal for women’s soccer at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Her career has involved many firsts, such as winning the first World Cup and Olympic tournaments for women, but perhaps her impact has been felt even more in being the first head coach of the Women’s Varsity Program at Navy. She began coaching while she was still an active player and dedicated herself full-time after retiring from international play.
“The NAAA (Naval Academy Athletic Association) was always very supportive of my playing career as well as my coaching career, so they were supportive of when I went (to the National Team),” said Gabarra, who counted on Navy assistant coach Rob Blank to run the team in her absence. “I don’t think it hindered us at all. But my time commitment was different when I came back because I was able to put 100 percent of my time and effort into it.
“Coaching helped me learn to be a better player, but also, as a coach, you’re definitely going to be better if you’ve played the game and you know the intricacies of the game as well.”
Another first for Gabarra occurred in 1997, with the birth of her first child, son Tyler. Later came daughters Abigail, in ’97, and Talia, in 2001. All three play soccer, including Talia who started at age 3 and already has two years under her belt. While the three Gabarra children have some big footsteps to follow, with both parents being former members of the U.S. National Team, Talia may have the most pressure.
“Mia (Hamm) cut the chord on the baby and she’s named Talia Lilly after Kristine (Lilly),” Gabarra said, laughing. “Yeah, poor kid.”
So, during the course of the year, Gabarra has five soccer schedules to keep track of. Her schedule at Navy, her three children’s and her husband Jim’s, who is head coach of the Washington Freedom Soccer Club, which stemmed from the Washington Freedom of the Women’s United Soccer Association.
“I try to balance everything,” Gabarra said. “It’s difficult during the season because I don’t see a lot of my kids’ games, but my husband and I have worked it so that he’s always there when I can’t be so that one of us is always there.
“Raising them athletically is very important to us because it was and still remains a huge part of our lives. We want to make sure our kids have the same opportunities we had.”
Those opportunities led both parents to the U.S. National Teams, Olympic Teams and FIFA World Championships, as Jim Gabarra was a member of the 1988 Seoul Olympics team and the 1989 and 1992 FIFA Futsal World Championship teams. He also earned 14 caps for the full U.S. MNT.
But Gabarra knows that her children, particularly her girls, actually have more opportunities to play soccer than she had growing up. Gabarra didn’t have any female soccer players to look up to nor did she grow up in an era where girls playing sports was viewed as a normal thing. Now, her children go with her to practices at Navy and attend the Washington Freedom games. It also helps that Tyler considers Hamm his adopted Godmother and Gabarra still keeps in touch with her former WNT teammates.
“I just think it’s great that it’s accepted that women can play sports at the highest level,” said Gabarra. “They can do whatever they want to do. They can aspire to be a professional in many different athletic endeavors now and they can coach professionally, in college or wherever.
“When I was growing up, I didn’t walk outside and see girls playing sports in the street. It didn’t happen. And now I go out and see it all the time. I don’t think the other mothers appreciate the impact that has and how important that is to me just to see them realize they can go in the street and kick a soccer ball or throw a lacrosse ball around.”
Many would say that the U.S. WNT had a direct role in creating those opportunities for women, as the 1996 Olympics and 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup captured the attention of not only the entire United States, but the rest of the world. It also helps that the U.S. WNT has placed in the top three of every single major tournament held to date, from the 1991 FIFA Women’s World Cup to the 2004 Athens Olympics.
While Gabarra no longer laces up her boots for the USA, she did watch her good friends win the gold medal in 2004 and continues to follow the U.S. Women.
“I’m a lifelong fan and I know that the younger kids coming up and some of the seasoned veterans now realize there’s a tradition of winning,” Gabarra said. “Accept nothing less than winning and being one of the best teams in the world, always. They train that way, they act that way and I’m sure they’re going to deliver and continue to play that way.”
As Gabarra balances a full-time job, a marriage and three children, she can look back at her playing and coaching careers and see a bigger picture. To be able to see the world through the eyes of a player, parent and coach gives a person a unique and valuable perspective, one they can share with others. For Gabarra, it’s that sharing that puts a smile on her face every day. But you wouldn’t expect anything less from a woman who personifies what it means to “have it all.”