I’m one of many formerly-ponytailed Millennials for whom the 1999 Women’s World Cup ignited a lifelong love of soccer and of the U.S. Women’s National Team. I remember being 9 years old and cheering through 100-degree heat in the Rose Bowl bleachers to watch the U.S. Women win in penalty kicks that day. I was just as excited, sixteen years later when, on a long drive home from a weekend trip to Vermont, I pulled off the highway and into a bar just in time to see the kickoff of the 2015 World Cup final — and thank goodness for that, since the team scored four goals in the first sixteen minutes on their way to winning it all.
As a long-time supporter of the USWNT, I was thrilled for the opportunity to meet Kelley O’Hara, midfielder/defender for the National Team, as well as New Jersey-based professional team Sky Blue FC. I sat down to talk to the impressive 26-year-old about everything from staying motivated to the team’s most grueling training exercises. Get inspired by this all-star as you start blocking off your calendar to watch them try their hand (or um, foot) in Rio this August:
ClassPass: I grew up playing soccer and watched a lot of girls burn out over the years. How have you stayed motivated and passionate, and continued putting in so much work over what is now more than 20 years of playing?
Kelley O’Hara: Honestly, I have felt burned out before. I think I felt it more when I was younger than I do now. It’s funny, I love going to practice more now than I used to. I genuinely love waking up and thinking ’I get to go play soccer today.’
It seems really silly but I don’t really see it as a job. Some days I think, ‘Ugh this is a drag to get out of bed and go play,’ but most of the time, I just feel really lucky to be able to get out and go do something. I love it, I love the game, I love the intricacies of it, just being able to compete and use my body every day to do something.
CP: When you’re training, what’s the workout or drill that you dread the most?
KO: We do a drill called box-to-box with the National Team (ed. note: ‘box’ refers to the penalty box on a typical soccer field). It’s basically an 85-yard sprint interval. You have 15 seconds to make it down from one penalty box to another — and our strength and conditioning coach Dawn Scott has been making it a bit longer for some people! So it’s 15 seconds to get down the field, then you rest for 15 seconds, then repeat that either 8, 10, 12, 14 or 16 times. Sometimes after that you rest for 15 minutes then repeat it all again. It’s basically the same amount of work as rest, and it’s really hard.
CP: It sounds like it. What workouts do you look forward to the most?
KO: I just look forward to playing. So playing small-sided games at practice is the most fun, for sure.
CP: Do you have a particular teammate, or coach, or other soccer player who you particularly admire or who inspires you most?
KO: Our strength and conditioning coach on the national team, Dawn Scott, is amazing and has really changed me as an athlete and soccer player. She’s done incredible things for us and the team. I really admire how hard she works and her dedication to us. She really goes above and beyond. She’s contributed a huge amount to the athlete part of me.
CP: What do you do to stay in shape during the off-season?
KO: It’s funny, I can’t remember the last time I had an off-season. When I’m getting back into shape I’ll go for longer runs, like hard runs. My go-to workout is half-mile repeats. So, I run a half mile as fast as I can, hopefully within three minutes, or if I’m out of shape more like three and a half minutes. Then I’ll rest for about two minutes. I’ll try to do four or five miles of those, so eight or 10 repeats. That’s my go-to.
CP: When you’re in the middle of a really hard workout, when you don’t think you’re going to make it through, how do you keep pushing?
KO: I lie to myself. When we do box-to-box or any type of fitness training, I say to myself ‘Okay, this is the number I have to do.’ Then I’ll try to do more once I get to the end. So it’s like ‘One more,’ and then I’m like, ‘Okay you have to do three more.’
CP: So you play a mind trick?
KO: Essentially. It’s really psychotic but it works sometimes.
Photo Credit: Kelley-Ohara.com