Accompanied by two Olympic gold medals and enough charisma to win over any audience, Briana Scurry shared her story with the audience packed into the Alexander G. Hill Ballroom in Kagin Commons this Tuesday as part of the Department of Multicultural Life’s SPEAK! Series. The event, entitled “Overcoming Obstacles to Achieve Success On and Off the Field,” was sponsored by the DML, SAAC and Title IX at Macalester. It also served as the kick-off event for Women’s History Month.
Briana Scurry is a name that will always be remembered in the history of US Women’s Soccer. She is a world renowned soccer goalkeeper who helped lead the US women’s national team to Olympic gold in 1996 and 2004 and to their first FIFA World Cup Championship in 1999. Before retiring from international play in 2008, Scurry made 173 international appearances, the second most of any female goalkeeper.
50 students attended. The majority were female student athletes, along with a few coaches, staff members, alumni and members of the community. The crowd sat attentively, many in awe of Scurry’s accomplishments and stunned by the sight of her two gold medals. Despite Scurry’s historical achievements as one of the only African American and openly lesbian members of the US women’s national team, she made her experiences and message accessible and applicable to the lives of everyone present. As her story unfolded, the room was filled with both laughter and tears.
Originally from Minneapolis, Scurry dabbled in a wide variety of sports, from tackle football to hockey, growing up. From the age of eight, after watching the Miracle on Ice of the US men’s hockey team in the 1980 Olympics, Scurry’s dream was to become an Olympian, specifically in the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta. Always reminded of this goal by a poster she hung on her wall, Scurry chose to focus on soccer and eventually got a scholarship to the University of Massachusetts-Amherst to battle for minutes with the number one ranked college goalkeeper.
Despite a loss in the NCAA DI quarterfinals to UNC, Scurry caught the eye of Anson Dorrance, the US women’s national team coach. Dorrance was drawn to the losing keeper because Scurry never lost heart and continued to persevere throughout the game; the outcome did not define her potential. Scurry’s first national camp was a tough one, over 1000 goals were scored by some greats of women’s soccer like Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly. Scurry was an optimist, though. She kept working hard, shortly thereafter earning her spot as goalkeeper for the team.
The team’s supportive nature and focus on their common goals couldn’t have been stressed more by Scurry. She gained confidence when her team captain, Carla Overbeck took her by the arm in the locker room before her first game and said “You deserve to be here.” This simple interaction made a huge difference in Scurry’s determination and mindset.
A few of Scurry’s most memorable and meaningful moments from her career on the national team include experiencing the overwhelming support of the 76,000 fans at the first match in the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the World Cup winning save she made in the shootout against China and winning the 2004 Olympics against all odds of aging players and after the recent passing of her father. “You ask athletes and oftentimes the moment that everybody sees as the biggest of your career isn’t, because it’s about your personal struggle… [and] whatever state you were in when you were able to do something [that] maybe only you knew you were struggling to do,” Scurry said.
Scurry experienced obstacles in many forms. Some, like the death of her father, were out of her control. Others, like her poor fitness that led to her time on the bench during the 2000 Olympic games, were self-inflicted. From these Scurry learned that one’s attitude and outlook make all the difference. In the quarterfinals of the World Cup against Germany, a defensive mistake led to an own goal scored on Scurry by her teammate Brandi Chastain. Instead of getting upset, both players kept playing as if it never happened, which led to their eventual 3-2 comeback victory.
Although Scurry’s experiences are on a scale grander than many we may face in our lifetimes, she made them relatable. “I like to keep it real in these talks,” Scurry said. That she did. Her knack for storytelling was both captivating and entertaining. Scurry was upfront and wasn’t reluctant to answer any questions about the conflict between her and current goalkeeper Hope Solo. She also talked her experience with depression after her career-ending concussion in 2010, which changed her life forever. She now does advocacy work about concussions and for female athletes.
Whether you are a sports fan or not, Scurry inspires us all to persevere through obstacles and pursue our dreams. Even after everything she has accomplished, Scurry aims to be even more impactful in her next 40 years as she was in her first 40. “Dream big and have fun. When something stops being fun, then maybe it’s time to do something else. It’s okay to change your mind,” Scurry said.