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This summer, Kelley O'Hara played in her -- wait for it -- seventh major tournament for the US Women's National Team, winning the second World Cup of her 10-year career: O'Hara started every game but one of the tournament (she had to leave the final at halftime with concussion symptoms) for the U.S. Though she injured her left ankle in a victory tour match the next month and is missing time for her club team, the Utah Royals, O'Hara found time to pose for the 2019 Body Issue (the day after she hurt her ankle -- O'Hara arrived in a boot!). She spoke with ESPN about her experience on the USWNT, her journey to body confidence and how many carbs she ate in France this summer.
You've had a busy summer, and now you're shooting Body. How does it feel?
It's really interesting coming off the World Cup because you basically just brutalize your body -- run it into the ground. And then post-World Cup, we partied and had a good time [laughs] -- I've played, like, two and a half games since the beginning of July. I've been having a good time. But, you know, we're here today, so it doesn't matter. It's just part of being an athlete and going through that rhythm of season and preseason, being super strong, then also being game fit. I'd say my body is game fit right now.
What part of your body are you proudest of?
My butt. That's the most important body part for our sport, where you get all your power in sprinting. I've had to work on getting stronger through dealing with injuries, and I put a lot of focus on building muscle mass. My butt has gotten a bit bigger in the past couple years [laughs], so I'll take it.
Have you always felt confident in your body?
I haven't always loved my body. I mean, I've always appreciated it, but as a teenager, going through puberty and all that stuff, you look at the magazines and you're like, "oh, I want that hourglass figure; why doesn't my body look like that?" And as I've grown up and grown into my body and my self confidence, I've come to realize, this is what God gave me and this is what we've got to work with. Now I'm really proud of my body. I love the way I look and I'm proud of what I've done to get my body to look this way. And I'm thankful for it because it allows me to do what I get to do every day, which is play soccer.
How did you start playing?
I started when I was 4, playing rec soccer in Georgia. I think my parents just wanted me to run around and get rid of my energy. I actually did a ton of different sports growing up; I didn't solely focus on soccer until I was 14. What really got me to focus was getting cut from the Olympic development program when I was a high school freshman. That's when I was like, "Oh, this hurts. I really want it."
Since you went pro in 2010, you've played in two leagues. How has women's professional soccer changed over that time?
The NWSL is the third league we've had in this country, and it's now in its seventh season. That's huge. A big reason we've continued to be successful on the international stage is that we have this league to play in week in and week out. That's necessary to stay at the top. Europe had seven teams left in the World Cup quarterfinals; there was just one of us. All those countries have leagues for their players to get in competition.
After playing forward for four years in college and in the pros, you switched to defense on the national team. How did that transition happen, physically and mentally?
Before the 2012 Olympics, Pia Sundhage, the national team coach at the time, said, "You're going to play outside back. That's the only way you're going to make this team, so learn it or you don't have a chance." So I was like, "All right, I'll do that." I approached it like boot camp. Every practice I had a new objective of something I wanted to learn. Outside of practice, I watched a ton of film and got critiques from the defensive coach. It was definitely a mental switch. When you play forward, you can have one moment of brilliance and be the hero, whereas as a defender, if you have one mistake, you're the one who cost the game. It was about learning how to be locked in for 90 minutes straight, and that took some getting used to.
You've played in three World Cups and two Olympics. How do they all compare?
People always ask, "What's your favorite win?" It's like asking somebody to name their favorite child. Winning the gold medal in 2012 and having to switch positions before the tournament was really hard but really rewarding because I didn't know I was capable of doing that. I was just so relieved afterward that I didn't screw it up for any of the older players. [Laughs]
What is it like to play in the World Cup?
Playing in a World Cup is everyone's dream, and from the outside it looks awesome. Nobody realizes how hard it really is. Like, it's not fun. The nerves and the weight of expectation are not enjoyable. But if something's easy, it's not worth doing. And that's how I feel about winning the World Cup. It's one of the hardest things I've ever had to do physically, emotionally and mentally. But when the whistle blows -- it's a wave of pure excitement and emotion. It's thankfulness. It's gratitude. It's relief. It's so many things that just flood you. And you're able to hug everybody and embrace each other and just know that we did it.
This year there was a lot of drama outside the team, people watching and commenting. Did all of that come back in the moment you won?
Every major tournament, there is a ton of outside noise. And I think one of the things about our team is that we've always been really good about creating this bubble and not letting things penetrate it and get inside the bubble. But for me, it was the talk of us being arrogant. When we won, we were able to say, "We're not arrogant -- we're actually quite humble, and we respect every opponent we come up against. But we're confident because we're prepared." A lot of people take our confidence and our excitement and our celebrating as arrogant, but it's not. It's just embracing the game and the joy of playing on that stage for your country.
I've heard you're a big baker. After the World Cup, did you eat all the croissants in France?
Well, we didn't get to stay in France. I only had two or three croissants, while I was there but lots of baguettes. We all were smashing baguettes during the World Cup. I eat a ton of carbs because I burn through it all. I need them or I end up cramping or won't have enough energy come game time. That's something I used to eat less of, but I've learned that it's necessary. But good carbs. I wouldn't say I'm going to shove a doughnut in my face before a game [laughs]. Although I maybe have once or twice.
The team has been really open for a long time about the equal pay movement. Can you speak to what it means for you?
Winning the World Cup was really important for us to continue to fight for what we believe we deserve. It wasn't really at the front of my mind during the tournament, but at the end of the day, we did file the lawsuit ahead of the World Cup, which a lot of people criticized and questioned, but we won. We're trying to push the sport forward, not just in this country but in the world. It's not a fun fight. It's not an easy fight. But the generations before us have done it, and we feel a responsibility to continue to push.