South Bay local Olympians

Shannon Boxx leads the U.S. Olympic Soccer team on its quest for an unprecedented three-peat

Originally published on July 12, 2012 in Beach Magazine

As part of the July 2012 “Local Olympians” themed Beach Magazine, I also interviewed waterpolo goal keeper Merrill Moses, women’s soccer star Abby Wambach, and swimmer Rebecca Soni.

If it wasn’t for the park across from Shannon Boxx’s house in Redondo Beach when she was growing up, the Olympics-bound soccer star believes she wouldn’t be playing professionally today.

“I lived across from Riviera Park and was there everyday in the summer time – I was there until it hit dark,” said Boxx. “I grew up in a single family household where my mom had to work and it was a safe place for me to go and run around with friends and be very active.”

Boxx, nicknamed Boxxie by her teammates, said living in the South Bay encouraged her to live an active lifestyle.

“This area allowed that,” said Boxx. “I think if I grew up in a different area I would be a completely different person.”

This won’t be the 35-year-old midfielder’s first Olympics. As a member of the U.S Women’s National Soccer team, this will be her third attempt at the gold.

When she first made it onto the team in 2004 she was young, excited and chasing a life-long dream her sister Gillian Boxx, a softball player who won the gold at the 1996 Olympics, had already accomplished.

“It was a dream come true,” said Boxx. “I always dreamt of playing in an Olympics. When my sister played softball in 1996 I thought, ‘That’s something that I could do.’ The feeling of putting your jersey on for your country and singing the national anthem was pretty amazing.”

Now, Boxx has two gold medals she keeps in a cleat bag under her bed, and she’s aiming for one more.

“The time went by so fast,” said Boxx about her professional soccer career of over ten years. “It’s just an honor. I feel very privileged my body has let me play at this level for so long. I’m very proud of how dedicated I’ve been to staying fit.”

If this is Boxx’s final year playing soccer, she said she hopes to start coach camps and training programs for kids in the South Bay and Orange County.

For Boxx and other long-time vets like Christie Rampore, Heather Mitts, Abby Wambach and Heather O’Reillly, this could be their final push for the gold.

“As a veteran I feel like I’m very smart at how I play and how I train,” said Boxx. “I had to change the way that I work out and look at the game. I don’t think I was ever fast, but now I’m not fast and I have to be smarter and understand the game more.”

After a heart-wrenching second place finish to Japan in the FIFA World Cup in Frankfurt a year ago, 17 of the 18 women are ready for redemption and a chance to win an unprecedented women’s soccer triple gold. Interestingly, no team has ever won the World Cup and the Olympics in the same year.

“The hardest thing is the pressure,” said Boxx. “As we are supposed to win. I think we like that pressure.”

Even so, she feels the pressure is the hardest part of the experience.

“Everybody’s going to feel pressure — this is my 3rd [Olympics] and even I’m going to,” said Boxx. “You have to embrace it and say that’s why we play at this level. [I] want the pressure; [I] want the challenge of playing well and doing well. You have to embrace that pressure and go out there and have fun.”

Boxx is always initially overwhelmed walking into the stadium and warming up before high-pressure games in the World Cup or the Olympics.

But after the whistle blows the crowds fade away.

“It’s just you and your teammates and your coaches and that’s pretty much all you focus on at that point,” said Boxx. “You are in the zone, and that’s the best feeling, that’s when you know your instinct has taken over and you’re not so worried and not thinking about making mistakes. When I’m in the zone I feel free.”

This year will be the first year her family won’t be a screaming group in the stands. Instead, her boyfriend and friends from high school and her professional career will be there to cheer. She is worried her boyfriend will be nervous the whole time, and hopes they will be able to take the lead early on so he can settle down and have a little fun.

“I enjoyed this journey this whole year,” said Boxx. “I don’t know if this will be my last, but I want to enjoy every minute and treat each day like it will be my last, and winning would help with that. I would hate to walk away and say, ‘I could have done more, I could have done better.’ I’m just so excited right now.”

The U.S Soccer team plays France in Glasgow on July 25, two days before the official opening ceremony. The women’s final gold medal match will be on Aug. 9.