For Olympic Soccer Forward, Attitude is Everything

Jul 24, 2012
Originally published on July 25, 2012 9:47 am

As the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic Women's Soccer team, Sydney Leroux has been called one of the most dangerous forwards at her level. This year, she has played in nine games and scored seven goals. Five of those goals were in one game. Host Michel Martin speaks with Leroux about her passion for soccer and her hopes for the Olympics.

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As we approach the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, we've been speaking with some of the athletes you'll be watching. Today we meet the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic Women's Soccer Team, Sydney Leroux. She's been called one of the most dangerous forwards at the U20 level. This year, she's played in nine games and scored seven goals. Five of those goals were in one game to tie a U.S. record during Olympic qualifying matches. And Sydney Leroux joins us today from Seattle, Washington.

Sydney, thanks so much for joining us.

SYDNEY LEROUX: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So how did you get excited about soccer? How did it start?

LEROUX: When I was really young, I was super active and really rambunctious and just a lot of energy, so my mom put me in pretty much every sport she could just to kind of calm me down. And with soccer I could just run forever, and that's how I kind of fell in love with it from when I was four years old.

MARTIN: Was it instant love? I wanted to ask. Was it love at first kick?

LEROUX: Yes, it was. I've loved soccer since the first time I touched a soccer ball.

MARTIN: What do you think you love about it?

LEROUX: I mean I think when I was younger it was more about scoring goals and, you know, just having fun. And now, I mean, of course I still love scoring goals and soccer still is fun to me, but now I enjoy the competitiveness that soccer has.

MARTIN: You've been called, as I said, one of the most dangerous forwards in the world at the U20 level. You scored 30 goals in 36 international games. What does it take to be excellent at your level?

LEROUX: I think a lot of it is your attitude. I mean for me, if I'm not doing well, I think that I can always, you know, work on defense and I think that has helped me a lot.

MARTIN: Now, speaking of attitude, you've actually sacrificed a lot, you know, for your sport or to be excellent at your sport. You're born in Canada, in Vancouver, but at a young age, you came to the U.S. by yourself and lived with host families so that you could kind of play and develop, you know, at the level that you wanted to. Forgive me. That had to have been hard.

LEROUX: Oh, yeah. It was probably the most difficult time in my life, leaving, you know, my family and all my friends and just picking up and starting somewhere new and, you know, starting in a new school. It was 11th grade and people had already established their friends since, you know, freshman year, and I was kind of the new kid and, you know, it took me a long time to kind of feel OK about that and feel comfortable.

MARTIN: Can I ask you a question? I don't know if it's a sensitive question or not. You're also biracial. Do I have it - your mom is white and your dad is African-American, so you're also bi-nationality, I guess. Maybe you're dual nationality...

LEROUX: Right.

MARTIN: well as biracial? Yeah. And I just wondered, has that ever been a factor in the sport? I mean, you don't hear about it as much in women's soccer, but I did want to just ask if your identity has ever played a part in how you're treated in your sport.

LEROUX: Nothing's really happened with me, but it's kind of cool. I mean, there's not a lot of mixed race on the U.S. Women's National Team, so you know, me and Boxxy, you know, kind of have fun with it.

MARTIN: Boxxy is?

LEROUX: Shannon Boxx is a mid-fielder on our team. She is also biracial. I mean, we just - you know, we make fun of our hair and no one really understands. Like, we don't want to get our hair wet when we go into the pool and, I mean, it's just funny stuff that me and Boxxy kind of understand because we're both half black, so it's funny.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm talking with U.S. women's soccer player Sydney Leroux. She is the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic Women's Soccer Team. We're talking about her life and journey to the Olympics, including the fact that she's biracial.

And maybe if being biracial hasn't been a challenge, being bi-national has, because because your mom is Canadian and your dad is American, you're eligible to play for either team. Having chosen to play for the American team, some of our Canadian fans have kind of abandoned their reputation for cordiality when it comes to you.

LEROUX: Yeah. I'm not very well liked. I can definitely tell you that much. I think that is more of an issue than ever being, you know, biracial, is the fact that I have dual citizenship and I chose to play for U.S. You know, I mean people ask if it bugs me, and to be honest, I don't care. Like, you can say whatever you want and sometimes you're just like, how do you people even have, like, you know, the audacity to say some of those things? But then I think about it and I'm like I'm so happy. I've given up a lot more than anyone has in their entire life in four years, and what I'm doing with my life, that was my decision.

And I love Canada and I love Vancouver and, you know, it's still considered home to me because that's where I grew up and that's where my family is still and, you know, some of my best friends. So I mean, I still respect Canada, but I know that I made the right decision.

MARTIN: You know, it's funny, though. I wonder why people are giving you such a hard time. Isn't Justin Bieber from Canada? I mean, aren't there a lot of famous Canadians who come to the U.S. to do stuff? I think Michael J. Fox is Canadian. So, like, why are they giving you all the rush? What's up with that?

LEROUX: I think probably because they believe that I could potentially help Canada in the Olympics and the World Cup and I decided to play on the U.S., and some people are like, well, she doesn't even start when she could, you know, come and start for Canada and help and make a difference. Like, why would she do that? So I think that's the big situation, is the fact that I could be helping them right now.

MARTIN: So why did you decide to play for the U.S.? It was obviously something that meant a lot to you, that you were willing to, you know, pick up stakes and, like I say, live with host families and stuff like that and be so homesick. So why was it so important for you to play for Team U.S.A.?

LEROUX: I knew when I was six years old that I wanted to play for the U.S. and there was nothing that was going to stop me. I knew that that was the best place in the world for, you know, a woman to play soccer, and I still believe that. I think that we have the best fans in the world and the best team in the world, and I am so happy with my decision.

MARTIN: So what are you looking forward to most at the Olympics?

LEROUX: Competing. Just being on the world stage with the best athletes in the world. I mean, not just soccer-wise, but like every Olympic sport. I think that is so cool and I think that's, you know, what I'm most excited about, is, you know, obviously us competing, but also watching other, you know, Americans compete and win gold medals. I think that's going to be really exciting.

MARTIN: And I'm sure you're on a very strict regimen right now because you're training, but when it's over, what are you going to do to celebrate? Do you have a special splurge in mind?

LEROUX: Well, I think I'm actually going to go back to L.A. and finish school and then...

MARTIN: I was thinking more like banana split, but that's good too. Finishing your degree is good too. I think that's pretty great.

LEROUX: Oh, yeah. I don't know what I'm going to do to celebrate. I'll tell you when the time comes.

MARTIN: Well, speaking of which, I've been asking all of our athletes if they'll give us a special wave in the opening ceremonies. Are you going to go?

LEROUX: We are not going to be at the opening ceremony.

MARTIN: Oh, no. OK. Well, at the closing ceremony - are you going to go?

LEROUX: Yes. We will be.

MARTIN: OK. So will you give us a special wave?

LEROUX: Yes, I will.

MARTIN: How will we know it's for us?

LEROUX: I'll make it really obnoxious so you'll know.

MARTIN: OK. That sounds like that'll work. Sydney Leroux is a member of the U.S. Olympic women's soccer team and she was kind enough to join us from Seattle, where she is training.

Sydney Leroux, thank you so much for speaking with us. Congratulations. Make us proud.

LEROUX: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.