Ali Krieger Discusses Passion, Voice, Resilience In Celebrate State Lecture
Almost four months ago, Ali Krieger stood atop a stage with her United States Women’s National Team teammates in Lyon, gold confetti raining down as they lifted the World Cup together. They had just been crowned champions for the second consecutive tournament with a 2-0 victory over the Netherlands in the final.
Two weeks ago, she was honored during the team’s victory tour for achieving her 100th national team appearance against New Zealand in May, after achieving 98 caps and then experiencing a two-year absence from the team before last summer’s World Cup.
And Friday evening, as a whirlwind year for the iconic defender and Penn State alumna draws to a close, she spoke to a crowd of Penn Staters at Alumni Hall in the HUB about her illustrious career, overcoming adversity, and how she’s used her platform as an athlete to advance causes she cares about.
Fans packed Alumni Hall seemingly to capacity wearing USWNT jerseys and scarves for the lecture, which was a Celebrate State keynote presentation presented by the University Park Undergraduate Association, SPA, Panhellenic, Gender Equity Center, Center for Gender and Sexual Diversity, Lion Ambassadors and the Blue and White Society.
Krieger, who played for Penn State women’s soccer from 2003 to 2006, honored head coach Erica Dambach’s 250th career win at Jeffrey Field last night. She currently plays for the Orlando Pride in the NWSL.
She began Friday’s presentation by reflecting on her time at Penn State and the friends she made in Happy Valley while thanking the audience for its support of the USWNT and women’s soccer in general.
Krieger’s college options, she explained during a question-and-answer segment with UPUA President Laura McKinney, came down to a choice between Wake Forrest and Penn State. She said that as she and her father discussed the decision in a restaurant during her senior year of high school, she saw a Penn State flag hanging on the wall — the only collegiate flag in the restaurant — took it as a sign, and committed to play college soccer in Happy Valley soon after.
Almost instantly, she said, she knew she’d made the right choice.
“I knew that as soon as I walked into our locker room,” she said.
Krieger went on to mention the “Fun times and long nights” she and her friends shared at their house on College Avenue that did not always pair well with morning fitness sessions in Holuba Hall.
“Boy were those a good treat after a late night out with the gals,” she said.
Krieger lauded the “blue-collar mentality” and work ethic that the program instilled in her before describing the most difficult moment of her college career, which arrived during a scrimmage with the men’s club soccer team. During the match, she beat a player who then tackled her from behind, breaking her leg and ruling her out of her team’s upcoming College Cup matches.
“It was so deflating, I wanted nothing more than to be out there competing with my friends,” she said, noting that Tiffany Weimar, one of Penn State’s all-time greatest strikers, gave her the match ball after scoring.
Her struggles didn’t end with the injury, however — she found out soon after that she had developed near-fatal blood clots in her lungs and legs, a moment that she recently described in her piece for the Player’s Tribune.
“The experience really instilled within a new level of focus for me,” she said, and she began to cherish every moment on the field with newfound vigor and intensity.
“I wouldn’t trade a single one of my experiences, especially the challenges,” Krieger said.
She continued to discuss the difficult moments of her career. Krieger and her national team teammates faced more heartbreak in 2011 when they lost to Japan in penalty kicks in the World Cup Final. Though the result was “devastating,” the team worked tirelessly over the next four years to be ready for their next opportunity. In 2015, they became champions.
“We had just inspired an entire nation together,” she said. “We have realized as a group of strong and powerful bad-ass women, that we have positively transformed women’s football.”
Krieger also recognized the off-field importance of her team’s work at the World Cup last summer.
“It’s an inspiring time to be a women’s athlete right now, but more importantly, it’s an inspiring time to be a woman,” she said. “Women are coming together to change the world in a positive direction.”
She left the audience with some advice, urging it to choose to work to be good at something, take risks, and be adventurous. This section of her presentation, however, focused on five personal pillars she’s established for her own success: be present in the moment, focus on effective communication, work hard to achieve the best for yourself, surround yourself with impactful people, and remember that happiness comes from yourself.
Her discussion with McKinney focused primarily on the work Krieger does to address issues she cares about and the process of overcoming adversity, specifically her recovery from a severe knee injury that kept her out of the 2012 Olympics and a gold medal. She said that it was most important to focus on the mental and detail-oriented aspects of her recovery and that she hopes to return to the national team for the 2020 Olympics to finally win gold alongside her teammates.
The pair then moved to the off-the-field implications of being a champion.
“A lot of other things kind of have to come along with being that public figure, and I embrace it,” Krieger said of her platform as an athlete. “I try to use my platform for good, and for those who don’t have a voice,” she said.
“You don’t see change when you just stay in your lane,” she added with a smile.
Krieger spoke about her team’s support for the equal pay movement, bringing the issue to the forefront of national conversation “when the spotlight was on us the most.”
“We’re really making this a worldwide fight,” she said of the team’s effort. “We’re just trying to get what’s fair.”
Krieger also spoke about the importance of being a representative of the LGBTQA+ community in professional sports, and that her work with Athlete Ally, an advocacy group, was founded on her belief that “everyone should be able to play the sport that they love or work in the workplace they love without being discriminated against.”
“I have yet to be discriminated against in sports, which I’m thankful for, but I know some of my friends have,” she said.
When McKinney asked Krieger what her wish for the world would be, she answered: “no more racism.”
Their conversation also focused on Krieger’s work to end her two-year hiatus from the national team. She described a process of constant dedication and work to be ready for the call to return from coach Jill Ellis that eventually came last March.
“I crushed it every day waiting and hoping for that one call to come back, and it happened,” she said. This seemed to be the latest example in a long, difficult, and illustrious career of Krieger’s insatiable work ethic and ability to persevere — qualities she developed, at least in part, at Penn State.
“I really learned how to be resilient here,” she said.
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