Mariel Margaret Hamm is the most important player in the history of women’s soccer.
Born in Selma, Alabama, on St. Patrick’s Day 1972, she is the fourth of six children in the family of Will and Stephanie Hamm. Mariel entered the world with a club foot and wore corrective shoes as a toddler. Stephanie Hamm was a dancer and nicknamed her daughter after prima ballerina Mia Slavenska.
When she put Mia in ballet lessons at six, her daughter objected, quitting after just two sessions so she could play sports. Will Hamm was an Air Force pilot and the family lived all over the world. Mia saw her first soccer match in Florence, Italy, as a toddler, later observing, “I believe it was in Italy that I really fell in love with the game.” She started playing at five and her father was often her coach. With no girls teams available in any sports, Hamm played Little League baseball, golf, tennis, basketball and soccer on boys teams. At Notre Dame Middle School in Wichita Falls, Texas, she played wide receiver and kicker on the tackle football team. “I was just one of the guys.” At 15, she became the youngest member in the history of the U.S. national soccer team. In 1989, she led Lake Braddock Secondary School to the Virginia state soccer high school title.
Hamm enrolled at the University of North Carolina, where she had one of the most storied careers in the annals of collegiate athletics. She led the Tar Heels to four NCAA titles and was a three-time All-American. She was voted ACC Player of the Year three times and was the conference’s Female Athlete of the Year twice. Miss Hamm won the Hermann Award—soccer’s Heisman Trophy—in 1992 and 1993 and left Chapel Hill as the all-time NCAA leader in goals , assists  and points . In 1991, she took a sabbatical from UNC to play for the U.S. National Team. At 19, Hamm became the youngest woman in history to win the World Cup. Two years after graduating college, Hamm led the U.S. women to gold medal in soccer at the 1996 Olympics. In 1999, she scored her 108th international goal to surpass Italy’s Elisabetta Vignotto for most of all time. Hamm was instrumental in leading the U.S to another World Cup win in 1999 [Daily Dose, October 8] and earned her second Olympic gold medal at the 2004 Summer Games in Athens. The 5’5”, 125 pound forward was an excellent passer—she holds the national team career assists record with 144—and was a superb dribbler and deadly shooter that could score with either foot. “Mia has this amazing ability to go right through defenders, as by molecular displacement,” according to Abner Torrance, her UNC and National Team coach.
Mia Hamm put women’s soccer on the map. After arriving on the international scene as a 19-year-old in 1991, she led the U.S. National Team to victory in the inaugural Women’s World Cup. Five years later, she directed Team USA to a gold medal in the first-ever women’s Olympic soccer tournament, at the 1996 Atlanta Games. Following the Atlanta Olympics, Hamm became a celebrity, the face of women’s soccer and was one of People magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People in the World.” She was not only a soccer hero, but an icon for women’s athletics and a role model. Hamm scored more international goals than any player—man or woman—in soccer history until Abby Wambach surpassed her in 2013. She played 17 years for the U.S. Women’s National team and is the best and most popular female soccer player in history. Hamm appeared in 275 international matches, third most in history. A highly sought-after public speaker, Mia Hamm is the most marketable female athlete of her generation. She was voted Soccer USA’s Female Athlete of the Year five years in a row and FIFA World Player of the Year in 2001 and 2002. In 2003, she married former MLB player Nomar Garciaparra before retiring the following year to start a family. Mrs. Garciaparra is a member of the Alabama and Texas Sports Halls of Fame, was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in her first year of eligibility and was the first woman inducted into the World Football Hall of Fame. In 2004, Mia Hamm joined Michelle Akers as the only woman [and only Americans] on FIFA’s list of “125 Greatest Living Soccer Players.”