I grew up playing team sports, and I don’t know where I’d be or who I’d be today without them.
A crowd gathers at the airport outpost of a local brewery at Boston Logan. Leaning against rollerboards, strangers marvel together. It’s 4-0, 16 minutes in. A sign spotted behind the net reads “Let’s Party Like It’s 1999.” And despite the fact that I haven’t touched a soccer ball in 10 years, that I don’t even have a ponytail to swish anymore, that my last encounter with team sports was an inept softball team last summer that played “like the Goonies,” it is 1999 again.
I am 11 and perched on the edge of a futon draped with an ugly brown afghan in the basement of my dad’s apartment. I am sandwiched between my friend Chelsey and my 7-year-old brother and a giant bowl of popcorn. The TV is the size and shape of a mini-fridge and on its pixelated screen Brandi Chastain is ripping her shirt off and I have never seen anything like that before. We had never seen anything like that before. What joy. What nerve. What I-don’t-care-what-you-think-it’s-not-about-you-it’s-about-us-and-we-did-it bravado. What muscles.
But it’s not 1999. It’s 2015 and last night on the plane I’m watching post-game footage and Abby Wambach is kissing her wife. Hell yeah 2015.
There’s something about the sea of ponytails against a field of green that activates a nostalgia node somewhere deep in my chest. It triggers a swell of sensory memories: mud on knee caps and cleat-marks on shins, the rank stench of shin-guards left too long in a duffle, carpool sing-alongs to TLC, the tang of Gatorade and orange slices and dirt.
I’m 6 and I’m on the Teal Team picking grass instead of playing defense. I’m 9 and I’m moving faster than I think I’ve ever moved; I picture myself a navy blue blur up the sideline. I’m 13 and I block a shot I’ve never blocked before and my coach pumps air. I’m high-fiving the opposing team all sportsmanlike, but I can’t keep my winner’s grin off my face. I’m huddling with friends around an injured teammate. How quickly it comes rushing back.
Despite paying little attention over the last few weeks to the tournament, yesterday I found I couldn’t pull myself from the screen, like I was under the influence of some sort of nostalgia-magnet. When the pilot gave the green light at 10,000 feet, I opened my laptop to catch the final minutes and post-game interviews, one after another lauding the 23-woman roster and teamwork. It may have been the altitude, but I suspect I wasn’t the only 20-something woman having a bit of a memory meltdown last night.
I don’t play team sports anymore. My fitness is found now in sweaty yoga classes and morning runs and my own reflection in the ubiquitous mirrors in my gym’s kickboxing studios. But that original sensation of connecting my body to an outcome—laces to the ball, an outstretched palm blocking a shot, air literally inflating my lungs—is still the original baseline that thrums at the foundation of my bodily awareness. That original sensation of moving as a team up the field, coalescing in a knot around a downed player, the repetitive smack of a high-five line, is still at the core of my understanding of community. And work. And pride. And pain. And joy.
Without all of that, I don’t know where I’d be. I don’t know who I’d be. So, from this former player and fairweather fan, congratulations to the 23 women of Team USA and thanks for the wild ride down memory lane.
Role Reboot regular contributor Emily Heist Moss is a New Englander in love with Chicago, where she works in a tech start-up. She blogs every day about gender, media, politics and sex at Rosie Says, and has written for Jezebel, The Frisky, The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.