Healthy Living

Playing Professional Soccer Taught Me Women Must Prioritize Their Health

Despite fatigue and joint pain caused by my lupus, I played professional soccer for seven more years.
05/17/2017 04:05pm ET | Updated May 18, 2017
Otto Greule Jr via Getty Images

I didn’t know I had lupus until I had already been to the Olympics and played through two World Cups. When I was finally diagnosed with lupus in 2008, it was a relief. “Okay,” I thought. “This is what I’m fighting. Now I can move forward and figure out how to manage it.”

And I did. Despite fatigue and joint pain caused by my lupus, I played professional soccer for seven more years. I did my best to rest as much as I needed, but there’s no doubt all the intense training was hard on my body. I was so used to my workout regimen that I didn’t realize just how exhausting it was until I retired from soccer in 2015.

Soccer taught me what every woman living with or without a chronic disease should know—you must prioritize your health. That’s a lesson I’ve carried with me into this next phase of my life—raising two young kids, speaking at engagements, and running youth soccer camps. This National Women’s Health Week, I want to share the healthy living tips that keep me going despite my lupus.

Know When to Take It Easy

Even though my lupus is easier to manage now that I’ve retired from professional soccer, sometimes I still have flares. Those are the days when I feel like my disease kicks into high gear and I struggle with my symptoms. I’ve learned I can figure out when a flare is coming because that’s when I start having a lot of joint pain in my wrists. I prep myself by asking our friends to watch the kids for a few hours so I can rest, or I’ll even let the kids watch TV. That’s a rare treat for my 3-year-old. When I’m having a flare she gets a “movie day” and I get to rest on the couch.

Don’t Sacrifice Your Workout

With another child who is just 6 months old, I don’t get to exercise as much as I want. That’s been a difficult part of this transition for me—people will tell me “oh you look great!” but since I’m not in professional soccer shape right now I don’t feel like I’m fit. I try my best to be active, though, especially because I have less joint pain when I work out. If I’m lucky, I can go running or lift weights three times a week. I like using body weights and TRXs (suspension training bands) because they’re better for my joints.

Even Superwomen Need Sleep

Getting enough sleep is always a big challenge for me. Like any other mom, I just go, go, go and sometimes I realize I’m not getting the rest I need. But I know it’s extra important for managing my lupus, so I take naps whenever I can. There are times when my kids are taking their nap and it’s my opportunity to clean the house or get on email and do some work, but instead I’ll lie down for an hour because I know it will make me a better mother when they wake up.

Make Healthy Eating Easy

There are so many times when I think, “I’m going to go make myself the healthiest breakfast today,” but after putting food on my kids’ plates and getting them ready for their next activity, sometimes I’ll realize I’ve forgotten to eat. One trick that helps is feeding my kids the same meals I make for myself. For a while I would always make different meals for me and my daughter, since having lupus means I should eat extra healthy, but now I’m like, “Nope! You’re going to eat as healthy as I am.”

Everyone Needs Support

One really important lesson I’ve learned is that I need my support system. Luckily, my husband and I have this great group of friends in Portland, and when he’s traveling for work they’re always here for me. I know I can call them whenever I need time to take care of myself. They really help make it possible for me to stay on top of my disease, like when I have doctor appointments every couple of months to check on my lupus activity levels and make sure I’m still on the right medications.

I never would have been able to play on the national team for 12 years if I hadn’t had the support of the people around me and doctors who worked with me closely. The people in my life are every bit as important to me now as they were then.