Q&A: Meet Olympic Gold Medalist Heather O'Reilly
Heather O'Reilly—who gave this interview to East Brunswick Patch—has won an Olympic gold medal, as well as the Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) Championship with Sky Blue FC.
Heather O'Reilly spent her early years playing soccer in East Brunswick, eventually going on to attend the University of North Carolina. She debuted with the U.S. National Team in 2002 and made the U.S. women’s team for the 2004 Athens Olympics when she was 19. The youngest player on the roster, O’Reilly took a pass from idol Mia Hamm and hit a shot past German goalkeeper Silke Rottenberg in overtime. She has since returned to the area, leading the Women's Professional Soccer team Sky Blue FC to a championship and returning to East Brunswick to hold clinics, sign autographs, and inspire a new generation of soccer players.
1. Every year Sky Blue FC holds the Heather O’Reilly Camp in East Brunswick. How did this get started and why do you enjoy doing it?
I have always loved working with kids. My degree at (the University of North Carolina) is in Middle School Education and I have known for a long time that after my playing days are done, I will be involved with the youth in either teaching or coaching. It made sense to do a few camps throughout the year to be involved in the community that cultivated me into the player I am today. Although my biggest focus right now is my training and being the best player I can be, I love getting out on the field and coaching and doing clinics. Being around kids reminds me of the purity of the game and how much fun it really is.
2. You grew up in East Brunswick. What is it like having so many fans in your hometown?
East Brunswick was a fantastic place to grow up. The schools are great and the soccer is great. East Brunswick Soccer Club provided the platform for me to grow as a player. It is neat to return to East Brunswick and hear that I have fans there. I especially love looking in the stands at Sky Blue FC games (played at Rutgers University's Yurcak Field) and seeing so much green and white. It means a lot that East Brunswick supports me and supports the women's game.
3. What role did East Brunswick, your friends, family and peers play in your development as a soccer player?
East Brunswick played a massive role in my development. The soccer culture is very strong and my earliest memories are at my brothers' games when they played for East Brunswick. I played for many years with the East Brunswick Dynamite coached by Phil Peterson. We had a great team and even won the State Cup two years. Most importantly, some of those teammates remain to be my best friends today. I think the best part of East Brunswick soccer, either at the club or the high school level, were my teammates and friends. I never burnt out from soccer because I enjoyed the people around me so much.
4. Did you have a favorite soccer player growing up? If so, did you ever meet them or get a chance to play with them? What was that like?
My favorite soccer player was Mia Hamm. I went to the Women's World Cup held at Giants Stadium in 1999, and after that looked up to those women as my role models. I was very fortunate to play with Mia Hamm for two years on the National Team- not too many people can say that they've played with their idols! Mia was very kind to me and took me under her wing. The greatest thing about playing with her was seeing her at practice. She brought an incredible passion and intensity. However, she also made some mistakes at practice and that was important for me as a young player to see. It taught me that everyone is human and no one is above the team.
5. What are you doing to prepare for the upcoming season? How will this affect your training for the upcoming Women’s World Cup?
2011 will be a very crazy year for me. I will be playing with Sky Blue FC in the WPS's third season. We will look to regain our crown that we received in season one. However, I will also be competing to make the World Cup team. If everything goes well and I make the roster, I will play with the US National Team in Germany in June in the biggest competition that soccer players can compete in. Winning a World Cup is a career dream of mine, so hopefully we will bring home gold. It won't be easy! Then, in October, I will be getting married! My fiancé’s name is Dave, and we met at UNC and will be getting married down there as well. Needless to say, 2011 will be busy time for me.
6. As a member of the women’s National Team, what is it like to play on such a big stage?
I was definitely nervous in my first couple games with the National Team, but you get used to it. You train yourself to block out distractions and nothing matters but what is going on between those white lines. I was fortunate enough to play at UNC, where every game mattered as teams were always out to get us, so that helped to learn how to bring my best effort game in and game out. I have learned that pressure is a privilege, and I wouldn't want it any other way.
7. How do you get pumped up before a game?
I am definitely a more lively, energetic player than most before games. I like to listen to music and dance and joke with my teammates. I think it gets a lot of nervous energy out. But before heading to the match, I take some time to journal about what I'm going to focus on and what I am good at. It's always good to remind yourself what separates you from everyone else. That is a message I pass on to younger players all the time.
8. What is your proudest non-soccer moment?
My proudest non-soccer moment was graduating from UNC and completing my student-teaching semester. Being in the classroom with 7th graders was a new challenge for me, and I was very proud when it was over and I had my diploma from such a great University!
9. Any advice for young players?
My advice is to be proud of what you are good at. A lot of younger kids are embarrassed when they have a talent. Separate yourself from the pack. And surround yourself with good people and friends that will be genuinely happy for you.