Culture

"Storied: Abby Head On": Soccer Star Abby Wambach

The documentary extols Wambach's hard work and talents, her strength and control, and her willingness and ability to play the women's game "like a man."

"You have to be willing to sacrifice everything," says Katie Wano, "Because once you're in the air, you have nothing to protect you." Wano played with Abby Wambach at the University of Florida in Gainesville, and as she speaks, Abby Head On, illustrates just how thrilling and challenging the move can be. Airing as part of ESPN's Storied series starting 15 May, the documentary celebrates Wambach's many achievements and narrates her life story, with the sorts of images you might expect: photos of her childhood, the youngest of seven children growing up in PIttsford, New York, apparently competitive from the moment she could be, admiring talking heads, and swelling music on the soundtrack, or, during moments of seeming reflection, an earnest piano plink. Following a basic chronology, from Wambach's high school stardom through college and then her triumphs as a professional player, the film notes the 2008 friendly game, the 32-year-old Wambach's 200th, termed by narrator Jack Youngblood a "testament to her durability." The film includes as well a particular test of that durability, when Wambach collided with another player in 2008 and broke her leg. While she takes it as a lesson that "You can't get too emotional," US women's national team head coach Pia Sundhage remembers thinking, "Gold medal, here we go, off." At the London games in 2012, the US women's team does win, with Wambach making a dramatic header.

The film makes clear how Wambach's career is remarkable by any measure (as of April of this year, she's scored 155 goals in 204 international matches). It extols Wambach's hard work and talents, her strength and control, and her willingness and ability to play the women's game "like a man." Head On takes up its title as a reference to her signature scoring play and also to her intensity as a player and teammate. It does not take up the question of headers, per se, or the risks of concussion they pose. Early in the film, Wambach instructs a group of young players, "If you do it right, there's absolutely nothing dangerous about heading the ball." When Wambach sustained her first documented concussion this past April (after the film was completed), the news was slow to emerge, raising questions about how such injuries are acknowledged and reported, understood and monitored.

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