U.S. Women's National Team forward and two-time Olympic gold medalist Abby Wambach is no stranger to fierce competition. But in Rise As One, a new documentary airing at 8 p.m. tonight on Fox Sports, Wambach shows her heartfelt support for none other than one of her team’s biggest rivals—the Japanese Women’s National Team. The film, the first in the six-part series, focuses on Japan’s win over the U.S. in the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup, only months after a record-breaking earthquake devastated the island country. We caught up with Wambach to find out why she got involved in the film, what she’s learned about being a leader, and how she stays in shape when she's not training.
Shape: Tell us about your work with the Rise As One campaign.
Abby Wambach (AW): During events like the World Cup and the Olympics, I tend to get really wrapped up in my own experience to stay focused, but it's like a bubble. I don't see much outside my own perspective. So this project really interested me because it’s told from the perspective of the Japanese players, based on the fact that in March 2011, four months before the [2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup] tournament, the tsunami hit Japan. It’s an awesome episode and I’m really honored to be a part of it.
Shape: What was it specifically about the Japanese Women’s national team’s story that made you want to get involved?
AW: I’m friends with [team captain] Homare Sawa, who was a teammate of mine in 2009 on the Washington Freedom. She single-handedly won the tournament for her team when she scored the equalizing goal in double-overtime against the United States, so knowing her and knowing how hard the team worked made me want to get involved.
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Shape: After Japan defeated your team to win the 2011 Women’s World Cup, you and the U.S. team defeated them in the 2012 Olympic Games. Did you experience any mixed emotions during the aftermath of that game?
AW: No, because they beat us the year before. I had no mixed feelings—they had their time in the sun!
Shape: Could you relate to their overcoming the tsunami to anything you’ve had to go through in your life?
AW: I could relate to it after going through the 2001 World Trade Center attacks. That was such a hard time—it really shook up the fabric of our country, and I can only assume that’s how the Japanese felt after the tsunami. To have a little bit of a reprieve from the grieving, and for two weeks watch this team overcome so many obstacles and outperform their expectations, is really just a fantastic story.
Shape: Another tough moment for you: In the 2012 London Olympics, you were punched in the face in the game against Colombia. What did that experience teach you about keeping your head in the game and bouncing back after literally getting knocked down?
AW: There are a lot of things it taught me. Number one: That’s the best compliment another team can give you because if they’re trying to take you out of the game in an unsportsmanlike way, that means they’re scared of you. And the other thing I learned is self-control. When you get punched, you want to defend yourself, but I knew that if I retaliated, I could get a red card and we could be out of the running, so I just had to be mature. You can’t let a moment like that get the best of you.
Shape: You’ve been a member of the U.S. Women’s National Team for 13 years now. It’s safe to say you’ve become a leader. What are some essential skills to being a good team leader?
AW: You have to have good communication skills and that’s a two-way street: talking and listening. And you have to know the people you’re trying to lead and figure out what motivates them properly—some people need a good swift kick in the rear end, while others may need a pat on the back and a hug. You also have to make sure if there are questions, they have already been answered before you step onto the field, because once you cross the white lines, as a coach, you just want to sit and watch and see how well you prepared.
Shape: What are some of your favorite cross-training workouts?
AW: One thing I love to do when I’m working out is take my watch off, take my heart strap off, and just run—not for time, not for exertion, but just to get the blood flowing. I also ride my bike, and I really like to play golf—you walk five or six miles on an 18-hole golf course, and you’re using coordination skills.
Shape: What is one crazy fitness stat people may be surprised to hear about you?
AW: One is that we're running five to seven miles in a typical game. And I’ve power-cleaned 170 pounds or so. But that was back in college—gone are the days when you lift for heavy weight. Now it’s more reps, lower weights, and higher sets. We have 11 months in our season, so you have to condition and decondition so you don’t injure yourself, meaning you have to get a little less fit during certain parts of the season. And that’s something I’m really good at—I’m really good at doing nothing for a few weeks.
Shape: Does your diet change during deconditioning?
AW: Yeah, it does, because you’re not expending as much energy—you’re just taking in the calories. So for those weeks I’m not doing anything, I’m very picky with what I eat, though I should probably be more picky with what I’m drinking.
Rise As One premieres on Fox Sports 1 on March 2, at 8 p.m. EST. Check your local listings for details.