In February 2002, just as I was gearing up for my second season playing in the Women's United Soccer Association, I seriously injured my knee. Suddenly, I faced surgery, several months of painful rehab, and my first major professional hurdle: Would I be the same player I'd been before the injury? Would I be able to turn as hard, to run as fast? Soccer was my life. Soccer put me through school and put food on my table. I was now presented with the possibility that I might not fully recover, and I wasn't sure that I had anything else to contribute to the world.
My first game back was in June 2002. I was incredibly nervous, but I went out onto the field, and despite the anxiety and physical pain, I scored the winning goal.
Sitting in the locker room afterward, I realized for the first time that even if I never played again, I'd be okay. Maybe it was all those months in rehab, being forced to understand that there was a chance I'd never again play at my highest level. Or maybe it was the changing circumstances of my life: One of my sisters had just had a baby, another just returned from the Peace Corps, I had a new brother-in-law, and I'd started dating an amazing man (we got married the following year).
Now I've decided that the Athens Olympics will be the last time I play for a world audience. I'm excited about the prospect of having a normal routine. For some people, that probably sounds like a strange thing to be thrilled about, but for me it's a novelty. I also look forward to becoming more involved with my foundation, which raises funds for bone marrow transplant patients and supports young women in sports. And I can't wait to hang out with my family. As for what's next, I don't have any concrete plans, but I love that uncertainty. I'm lucky; I have the luxury of being able to sit back, reflect, and figure it out.
Mia Hamm is soccer's all-time leading scorer and founder of the Mia Hamm Foundation (miafoundation.org).
From the August 2004 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
We Hear You!