Venable partner and chair of the firm's LGBTQ affinity group Colin Vandell hosted former U.S. goalkeeper and Olympic medalist Briana Scurry. As one of the first African American professional female soccer players and one of the few openly LGBTQ players in the league, Briana understands what it takes to face down challenges and persevere through difficult times. In her compelling presentation, she shared some of the pivotal moments that changed the trajectory of her life and career and the lessons she learned from both her successes and setbacks.
Briana related how her Olympic journey began in 1980 when she was just eight years old. She had watched the U.S. ice hockey team defy the odds to beat their much-favored USSR counterpart at that year's competition. Realizing, even at such a young age, that she was witnessing greatness, and feeling a connection to the athleticism on display, Briana decided there and then that she was going to be an Olympian and announced the same to her parents. She remains grateful, she said, that her mom and dad offered her their full support from the outset. "Honey, you can be whatever it is you set your mind to," they told her. "We believe in you."
Armed with this encouragement, Briana set about putting her goal into action, training daily in both track and field events, and ultimately becoming a four-sport athlete in high school. She played basketball in the winter, soccer in the fall, and she ran track or played softball in the spring. As a young teenager, Briana took another action to realize her dream – she took a blank piece of 8″ x 11″ paper and wrote on it, with precise lettering and shading, "Olympics 1996." She hung this drawing on her bedroom wall, so that she would see it first thing every morning when she woke, and last thing at night before she went to sleep. "I didn't fully understand then that by writing down my goal, I was essentially commanding the goal to appear to me," she said. "I was staking my claim for that one thing."
But first, she had to get to college, and because her parents had very little money, that meant getting a scholarship. Fortunately for Briana, this did not prove difficult—she was contacted by no fewer than 70 different colleges and ultimately accepted a place at the University of Massachusetts, where there was a robust women's soccer program. It didn't take long before she became the team's first goalkeeper and soon had an opportunity to showcase her skills during a game watched by Anson Dorrance, the then coach of the women's national team. All she had to do was save a penalty kick by the renowned player Mia Hamm.
Describing the moment, Briana said: "So, Mia steps up to the penalty spot. She puts the ball down. I'm in the goal and I'm waiting. I'm like holy hell, this is my chance!" But the ball flew right by her into the back of the net. By halftime, the opposing team was three goals up, and eventually won the game by 4 to 1. But despite having given up four goals, Briana's talent, focus, and drive did not go unnoticed by either Dorrance or Hamm. Shortly after this game, to her great surprise, she was invited to play on the national team.
Two years later – in 1996 – women's soccer became an Olympic sport for the first time. And so, Briana got to fulfill the childhood dream she had manifested in writing – that she would be a competitor at the 1996 Olympics. Better still, Briana came away from that competition with a gold medal; went on to win another Olympic gold medal four years later; and won a World Cup championship. Her athletic career flourished for nearly another decade until 2010, when she suffered a career-ending concussion that left her struggling with suicidal thoughts. Overcoming this obstacle was the biggest challenge of her life, she said. But, ultimately, it paved the way for a new career path as an advocate for others suffering head injuries.
To learn more about Briana's journey, her book, My Greatest Save: The Brave, Barrier-Breaking Journey of a Hall-of-Fame Goalkeeper, is now available for pre-order.
This program is part of Venable's 2022 DEI Speaker Series. To learn more about Venable's diversity initiatives, please click here. For more information about LGBTQ @ Venable programming and events, please visit our resource page here.