By Meredith Pruden
Futbol. Footie. Soccer. The “beautiful game” is the most widely played sport in the world, and one of its biggest stars calls Cobb County home.
Idolized by young soccer players across the globe, Powder Springs resident Michelle Akers is the most decorated woman in soccer history. With 153 caps (appearances in international games), she played for the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) for 15 years before retiring in 2001. During that time, she won two World Cups and took Olympic Gold. Her aggressive and physical style of play at center mid and forward have garnered her numerous accolades, including four-time All American at University of Central Florida, ESPN Athlete of the Year, a FIFA Golden Boot and FIFA Player of the Century. Not surprisingly, her meteoric success on the pitch also netted her an induction into the National Soccer Hall of Fame.
Akers was innately gifted with a flair for soccer, but it was her passionate love of the game from an early age that inspired her to achieve so much in her professional career.
“I had talent,” Akers said. “But I worked my ass off and did things no one else did to be my best. I followed my heart and my passion…Although there were many people who didn’t get me or told me soccer would never give me anything back (parents included), I never let that alter my focus to play.”
Today, she parlays that competitive nature into training young athletes to be their best.
“I really don’t consider myself a coach,” she said. “I train people to train themselves. When I do that I’m helping them gain insight into their strengths and weaknesses and the tools to make them better mentally and physically. [My favorite thing about coaching others is] seeing them love the challenge and develop into the athlete/person they have inside them.”
Although training young athletes is a way to give back to the sport that gave her so much, her true passion these days lies on another kind of field.
Akers had been riding horses almost as long as she’d been playing soccer, so she knew how to take care of healthy ones but, in 2007, she took in a forgotten and neglected horse that needed her help. A new passion was born.
“My horses are my passion,” Akers said of her horse rescue, Michelle Akers Horse Rescue & Outreach, Inc. “Abused, starved, near death horses are something very different. At first, I was reluctant and not sure I could handle the emotional aspect of it. But, when a horse needs help, sometimes the only thing you can do is not think too much and just try to meet their needs as best you can.”
Ultimately, Akers approaches horse rescue the same way she did soccer— by following her heart. “If you love what you do, you’ll do what it takes to be your best,” she said.
But, much like playing soccer at the highest level, rescuing horses isn’t always easy.
“Often, the best things in life also hurt,” she said. “You have to be willing to experience both in order to be true to your passions and live your dreams. [Through my rescue], I have the honor to help them have a better life and…earn a bond of mutual trust and respect. That is an amazing gift. Some take longer than others, but they’re all willing to open up and trust again. While that is some of the best stuff for me, the good always comes with the bad when you love someone. I suffer through their setbacks and the damage they’ve endured. I also grieve their death if that’s the best and last way I can love and take care of them.”
To learn more about Michelle Akers Horse Rescue & Outreach and support her life-saving efforts, visit her web site at http://www.michelleakers.org, or connect with Michelle on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/michelleakershorserescue and Twitter at @MichelleAkers10.