Soccer field

Redirect dreams from the track to the football pitch

AUSTIN, Texas — The United States Women’s National Team is one of the most iconic teams in all of sport. This week the team travels through Texas, stopping in Houston and Austin for three matches.

While the team has certainly been in the headlines lately, with so many of its players very vocal in their push for social change, ultimately the team’s greatest impact is still on the pitch.

Representing your country in the sport you love is something most athletes can only dream of. Ryann Hierholzer is one of the few people who knows this feeling.

“There’s a lot of pride in wearing the United States,” Hierholzer said. “Hearing the national anthem played on the podium there, you don’t think about it anymore.”

For five years Hierholzer competed in the heptathlon for the US track and field team. So when a lingering hip injury just wouldn’t go away, it wasn’t an easy decision for Hierholzer to step away from athletics for good.

“I struggled for a while with, ‘What’s life like after athletics?'” Hierholzer said.

These days, it’s a lot like sitting on her kitchen floor with her two children, 3-year-old Shilo and almost-one-year-old Brooks.

Along with becoming a mom to these two, Hierholzer started her own business as a health and wellness coach.

“I’m not in this career because I’m an expert. I’m in this career because I also work in it every day,” she smiled.

But even with everything going on, Hierholzer could never shake his desire to compete.

“You’re like, ‘Okay, well, that’s it for me as far as sports go,'” she said.

Turns out it wasn’t over.

Hierholzer rediscovered her love for the sport she played growing up when she discovered FC Austin Elite, a semi-professional women’s soccer team.

“It was so fun to engage with teammates like that again in a competitive setting, and I just didn’t think I was going to get that opportunity again,” Hierholzer said.

Team general manager Danny Woodfill said he started the team seven years ago for that very reason.

“We taught our boys that they can grow up to be anything, and they can be baseball players and football players,” Woodfill said. “But when it comes to women, we literally teach them that they can go to college and play sports. So, at 21 or 22, they’ve maxed out what they think they can do, and honestly, they’re not even at the beginning of their peak as an athlete.”

Woodfill said semi-pro teams, like the Elite, are proof of progress.

“I think we’re starting to see respect for Hierholzer female athletes and especially Hierholzer female soccer players because of these changes,” he said. “And I think the USWNT is driving those changes.”

As a young girl, Hierholzer idolized the women’s national team.

“Once at a doctor’s office – it’s a funny story – they asked me, ‘Are those your parents with you? and I said, ‘No, Mia Hamm is my mother,'” Hierholzer laughed.

As an adult, Hierholzer said the team continues to inspire him, simply by taking the field.

“There are a lot of moms on this team,” Hierholzer said.

Meanwhile, this mom is just grateful to have the space to play.

“Every day I can come here and play, and every day I can go to a football game. It’s just a bonus for me,” Hierholzer said. “I know fun is such a bland word, but it is what it is.”

And she hopes the space will continue to expand, to allow more women to take back their dreams.