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First Person

Still kicking

Boston Breakers captain Kristine Lilly turns 38 this week. But America's foremost soccer mom keeps on playing like a teenager.

By John Powers
July 19, 2009
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Does it seem like a million years ago that you were 16 years old and going to China with the US team? It does, but still playing makes me feel young. I don’t feel like I’m going to be 38. I don’t even know what that’s supposed to feel like. I can remember when my parents were in their 30s and thinking, “Wow, they’re old.” But it’s been such an amazing ride.

Your husband, David Heavey, who’s a Brookline firefighter, didn’t know much about your career when he met you. Has he gone back and checked out all the YouTube videos? He read a couple of books. He read Girls of Summer and Anson Dorrance’s book and saw Dare to Dream, and he’s met all of my friends. Through all of that, he’s pretty up on soccer history.

The other guys at the firehouse have all been following you also. It’s a great group. They all came to the wedding. A firehouse is like a locker room. We play for each other, but they die for each other.

Your daughter, Sidney, will be a year old on your birthday. Does she make the connection between Mom and No. 13? Not yet. Hopefully she knows who Mom is. But she loves balls. I hold her hand and she walks into the ball like she’s kicking. I have video and pictures to show her one day that Mommy was a good soccer player.

How big a decision was it to have a baby just before the 2008 Olympics, knowing you’d miss a chance at your third gold medal? We said, let’s give it a try. If it works, we have a kid; if it doesn’t, we go to the Olympics. And it worked. Either way, it was a win-win. If we waited, it’d be another year, maybe two, and I wasn’t a young chicken anymore. It was letting life take care of itself, and we were fortunate that it happened so quickly.

How have you dealt with the generational/cultural thing with your younger teammates? The music, for example? I let them teach me all the songs. With the national team, Natasha Kai was my dance instructor. She kept me up with all the different moves. It keeps you young, it keeps you laughing.

So what’s on your iPod as opposed to theirs? Styx is still on there. I’ve got Barry Manilow on there. I love Elton John, Queen, a variety. But then I’ll suddenly like one of the hit songs, and my teammates all laugh at me. I’ll ask, “Who sings that song? Something like Ne-Yo? That’s a name?”

When you made the 2007 national team, you said it definitely would be your last World Cup. Now you’re closing in on 2011. People don’t understand why it’s hard to retire. When you end a season, you’re thinking, “I’m so done,” because you’re tired and drained. Then you have two months off and you think, “You know what? I could do this again.” So when people come back from retirement, I understand why.

What drives you to keep going? For me, it’s always been about the next thing. We played in a World Cup, then we finally had the Olympics, then we finally had a league. I would love to win with this team. I haven’t done it yet, so there is something here that I really want.