It has been a full year since Abby Wambach had an opportunity to see her parents in Rochester (NY). The impact COVID-19 has had on many within the United States and around the globe has been well documented, and the impact it has had on the former University of Florida soccer legend and Olympic Gold Medalist is no different.
Now, given an opportunity to visit thanks to a planned appearance at the grand opening of a brand new DICK's House of Sport concept store in Victor (NY) she was able to finally see them, something she told AllGators via a phone interview Friday of last week, she couldn't be "more grateful" to DICK's for.
"This is a true gift," said Wambach. "More than a job. This is a gift of family. And the irony. And the gift that they've given me is what I've found what I've stepped into the store in terms of the community that they're trying to build here."
The DICK's House of Sport is a concept store that encapsulates all of what every sports fanatic would dream of. It features a batting cage, golf hitting bays with TrackMan, a health and wellness destination for customers and more to go along with the apparel and items most people are already familiar with.
Wambach's love for Rochester holds no bounds and the tight-knit and prideful community that she is so used to there is why this was such an important
"It's a beautiful experience. And I think that that's so important to create these moments and these experiences for not just the customer, but for a family that then will go out and create a community."
Part of the experience is having the ability to try new things. If it weren't for Wambach going to the concept store, she wouldn't have ever known how much she would enjoy the golf simulator, the TrackMan that she will now purchase and put in her own home in Naples (Fla).
While the store was the main attraction, Wambach was there for another purpose and was given the opportunity to present a $10,000 Sports Matter grant to the local River Flow Soccer Club via the DICK's foundation along with speaking with the kids in a Q&A session.
"To look out into the crowd and see the River Flow kids, the very kids who are going to be affected in a positive way from this grant. I know it just goes to show you what has gone into the planning of this specific event."
In a way, Wambach was giving back to the community, simply being able to present the grant and help her hometown was enough. To have the experience at the store, and know what it means for the city of Rochester, was the icing on the cake.
Now, before Wambach became a two-time Olympic Gold medalist, the 2012 FIFA World Player of the Year, a World Cup Winner, along with many other extraordinary accolades, she would spend her early days at the University of Florida, what was then an upstart program that simply needed a spark, one she was able to provide.
During recruitment, Wambach was highly coveted and her choice to go to a program that just begun would raise an eyebrow or two for good measure.
While she did have an opportunity to join one of the best soccer programs in the country at the time, North Carolina, she opted to join Florida instead, a team she thought would be able to defeat the Tar Heels.
Although it was presumed Wambach only joined UF to get an opportunity to be a part of a rising program, there was another key issue: North Carolina offered her only books as its scholarship opportunity.
"So when I looked at the rest of the colleges, I thought who could beat North Carolina? And [the] University of Florida, I thought had the best chance of doing that," said Wambach.
"So my freshman year, I show up on campus, and we're able to get to the finals. To play guess lo and behold, University of North Carolina. And what do you think happened? We kick their ass."
The Gators did end up defeating the Tar Heels in the 1998 National Championship, she got her revenge.
"I think that it was like revenge is very sweet. And also, you know, when you make that choice, I was 18 years old. I was a kid. I mean, I had no world experience. But I felt like oh, this is something that I can put my focus and energy towards. I'm going to just throw all of my cards on the table, and I'm going to go for it."
This experience, winning the National Championship, would build the foundation for what Wambach would be thought of later in her career, one of the greatest women soccer players to ever travel the globe.
It gave her the drive and ability to take risks on and off the field. She explained that if perhaps Florida didn't win the game she might have been more cautious moving forward.
"But for me, obviously, it feels feel so gratifying especially because that the year before I lost in the state championship game, so I had a lot to prove that that freshman year."
The first and only coach at UF for women's soccer, Becky Burleigh, has officially retired. She coached Wambach for the four years that she was at the university and has left a lasting impression on the Olympic Gold Medalist.
"I think that she had the biggest impact probably of any women's sport at the University of Florida."
Early on in her career, Wambach was a "stubborn, know-it-all kid" she says.
"Looking back I feel like 'wow, I'm so grateful that she was my coach' because I was tough to the handle. I had a personality on me. And the fact that she was able to coach for so long and be successful for so long. I'm lucky that I got a chance with her."
In history, Florida has won 14 SEC team titles, 12 SEC tournament titles and the 1998 National Championship. Under Burleigh, Florida qualified for the NCAA Tournament in 22 out of the 25 seasons in the program's history. Burleigh's leadership and success will forever go down as one of the most successful in Florida history.
Wambach was a part of four of those years from 1998-01, setting school career records for goals (96), assists (50), points (242), game-winning goals (24) and hat tricks (10). She was the SEC Freshman of the Year and received first-team All-SEC selections for all four seasons. She would officially become a "Gator Great" in 2012.
"I still bleed orange and blue. And I'm so grateful because she stuck with me throughout my whole career as a national team player. She was there for my retirement."
While she was unable to be there for Burleigh's final match in Miami (Florida won 2-0), she will celebrate at some point in a different way.
"So proud. And so happy for Becky, my God. She coached for the Gators for over 20 years and as an actual Division 1 soccer coach for 30 plus years. She's dedicated her life to coaching women's soccer and the amount of human beings that she's physically had an impact on both, directly and indirectly, is immeasurable.
"Coaches are, for me, some of the most important mentors out in the world. And I'm so glad that Becky was one of mine."