Julie Foudy eats M&M’s. Sometimes, as it turns out, while talking about how to stay fit. But sweet tooth aside, the former soccer superstar remains a ferocious advocate for health and fitness, even as motherhood, media and other missions have replaced competition as the driving forces in her life.
“My life has changed quite a bit from having two massage therapists traveling with us all the time,” says Foudy, who led the U.S. women’s soccer team to two Olympic golds and a couple of FIFA World Championships during a 17-year career that last year landed her in the National Soccer Hall of Fame. “But while I no longer have half a day to spend on my body, fitness is still incredibly important to me.”
She’s been spreading that message since her 2004 retirement through a series of sports camps for girls, her work as an ESPN reporter and with a new documentary she plans to premier in August during the Beijing Olympics.
Foudy, 37, was part of the beloved “Fab Five” — with Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Kristine Lilly and Joy Fawcett — who were widely credited with sparking the American soccer boom in the 1990s.
“Now we call ourselves the Old Bags,” she jokes. “But I got to play soccer for 17 years with my best friends.”
Foudy is justifiably proud of what she and her teammates accomplished: “Someone once asked me whether I thought we were pioneers or an anomaly, and I said, ‘I hope we were pioneers!’ As a team, as an athlete, you come into a sport and hope you leave it in a different place. And I think we did. I see kids playing soccer all over the place now — young girls, in particular.”
Over the years, Foudy has become an even more passionate believer in the formative potential of sports and fitness. “I was taught early to have confidence, that it’s OK to disagree and speak your mind in a respectful way. And I learned all those things on the field,” she says.
At 29, Foudy became the youngest president of the Women’s Sports Foundation, where she worked to promote physical activity for women. In 2002, she lobbied to prevent changes to Title IX that would have weakened regulations mandating equal opportunities for girls in sports.
In 2006, she launched the Julie Foudy Sports Leadership Academy, a series of weeklong camps across the country. Open to girls from 12 to 18, the camps focus on developing leadership skills. “Sports are the medium, but it’s not about how talented a kid is. It’s about working within a team, communicating effectively and becoming service-minded in your community,” she says. “Kids are hungry for these messages.” Foudy’s advocacy work has even drawn comparisons to her friend and mentor, tennis legend Billie Jean King. (For more information, see www.juliefoudyleadership.com.)
Foudy also regularly reports on ESPN’s Outside the Lines, examining such topics as NCAA and university policies regarding pregnancy and scholarship athletes. (Not surprisingly, her reporting helped lead to the refining of bylaws preventing scholarships from being revoked because of pregnancy.)
And in August she’ll be covering the Beijing Olympics for NBC, exploring the lighter side of the Games — such as where to get the tastiest stir-fry in the Olympic Village. “I get to pick whatever I want to do, grab a couple athletes and go film it. I can’t wait!” she says.
In China, she’ll also debut Let It Out: The Movie, a 40-minute documentary sponsored by Kleenex that spotlights favorite Olympic moments of sports legends, Olympic hopefuls and fans alike. The film is produced and directed by sisters Lisa Lax and Nancy Stern, who created the critically acclaimed documentary Emmanuel’s Gift, the success story of a young Ghanaian man facing disability and discrimination.
When she heard about the sisters’ latest project, Foudy felt an immediate connection: “I show Emmanuel’s Gift at all my camps. Lisa and Nancy are great at telling stories, and the stories are what I love about the Olympics.” (To find out more, see www.letitout.com.)
Even amidst her busy schedule, Foudy finds time to keep her own fitness edge. Since giving birth to daughter Isabel in early 2007, she’s been running regularly near her San Clemente, Calif., home, which she shares with her husband, soccer coach Ian Sawyers. “I don’t have time for much extra stuff anymore,” she says. “I take Izzy out in the jogger for 25 minutes at a time, four or five days a week — a fast 25 minutes, because she’d rather be running herself. Or, I use the treadmill. Plus, I do body-weight exercises like pushups, pull-ups and sit-ups.”
In September, Foudy will be moving with her family to New Jersey, where her husband will be coaching the new Women’s Professional Soccer league team in the area. “I absolutely love my life now,” she says. “I feel very lucky.”
That’s the sweetest part of all.
Video Extra! Catch our behind the scenes interview with Julie Foudy at experiencelife.com/videos.