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The Ultimate Soccer Mom / Joy Fawcett has been there for the U.S. team from Day One - with three kids along the way

Joy Fawcett made a penalty kick against China in the 1999

World Cup overtime shootout, too. It's just that Fawcett didn't celebrate by

taking off her shirt. Among other things, that wouldn't be seemly for the woman

known to her U.S. soccer teammates as "Momma."

The honorific reflects both Fawcett's place in the sport's gender

revolution, as one who helped nurture women's international competition through

its infant days, and her more recently acknowledged status as "America's No. 1

Soccer Mom."

She was a charter member in that club of pioneers who played the sport on

its highest level and also promoted the sport with endless clinics and

community activities, creating a following of suburban parents and young girls

slyly referred to as the "pony-tailed hooligans."

Sunday, when the United States commences play in the 2003 World Cup against

Sweden in Washington, D.C., Fawcett will line up at her familiar spot on

defense for the 217th time. Only Kristine Lilly (255), Mia Hamm (239) and Julie

Foudy (231) have appeared more often.

"She's got a 9 year old, a 6 year old and a 2 year old," teammate and close

friend Shannon MacMillan said of Fawcett, "and with each kid she's gotten

better, stronger, fitter. She's the first to line up for a sprint, the first to

take you on in a drill. And she'll beat you. The fact that she came back from

three kids shows that you can be an athlete, one of the best, and still be a

good mother."

Within days of the birth of her third daughter, in June of 2001, Fawcett

began posting a weekly "diary of a sports mom" on the Internet, which included

recommended workout regimens she had devised, mostly on her own, through her

three pregnancies. She returned to her team, the now-defunct WUSA's San Diego

Spirit, six weeks after giving birth, and the first time she touched the ball,

hit the crossbar. The Spirit, which had been struggling without her,

immediately won six consecutive games.

And mothers began to seek Fawcett out after games, at the supermarket, at

her daughters' school, to declare their admiration. "They just tell me they

have this many kids, that I've inspired them, things like that," she said.

"It's nice.

"You know, with my first daughter, there wasn't that much information.

Doctors had no clue about women working out when they're pregnant. I was doing

sprints when I was about three months pregnant with my first and the doctor

says, 'Oh, God; don't do that!' So I quit. It freaked me out.

"The second one, I pushed more. And I had a different doctor. I did some

stadiums [steps], lifted weights. The third, I would do ... whatever. The big

thing is heart rate and temperature; as long as you pay attention to those.

"I was running and lifting weights in my ninth month. And I tried to make

my same times. My husband would run with me sometimes. His only rule was, 'Just

don't beat me when you're nine months pregnant.'"

In certain circles, of course, Hamm and Brandi Chastain have acquired the

greater reputations. Or Foudy, Lilly, Tiffeny Milbrett. Still, if the

long-running success of women's soccer in this country - the WUSA

notwithstanding - is the athletic version of "Cats," then Fawcett, at 35 the

oldest of the group, most certainly is among the esteemed Grizzabellas who have

refused to get off the stage.

"Playing next to Joy," Chastain said, "I'm going to compare to a young

player playing next to Michael Jordan. She's a champion, grace under pressure,

knows what it takes to win. There's a confidence she exudes by her actions."

Milbrett describes Fawcett as "somebody of such silent strength."

Just this spring, Fawcett underwent surgery to repair bone spurs in her

ankle and was back to Spirit practice in 12 days, back in a game in 16 days.

Plus, there are those three pregnancies that barely interrupted her 16 years on

the national team.

Hers is a tale of divergent yet inseparable developments. Because Fawcett

and her generation of players were both talented and tireless in promoting

their sport, they gained a sudden, suprising popularity, boosted mightily by

the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and the '99 World Cup. And that led to the economic

wherewithal for the Fawcetts - Joy and husband Walter - to provide for

daughters Katey, Carli and Maddy while Joy structured her schedule for soccer

training and competition.

"The family always was a priority for us, always No. 1," said Walter,

primarily a stay-at-home computer consultant in Southern California. "What has

allowed us to do this so far was the way the popularity of the women's game has

taken off. That meant there was more going for Joy from a career perspective.

It allowed me not to work and to take care of the kids."

That includes exotic travel. "Katey, being the oldest, has been to Sweden,

Norway, Germany, France, China two or three times, Australia," Walter said.

"Carli went to Australia twice. We were checking into a flight once when

somebody told me that I didn't belong in the Executive Premier line and I said,

'You're right. I don't, but she does,' and I pointed to Carli, who's 6."

U.S. coach April Heinrichs marvels at how Fawcett "makes motherhood look

easy, and it's not easy. She deals with stress very, very well. She's a loving

human being, and she's a quiet, confident, composed woman."

One of nine children herself, Fawcett is accustomed to family activity -

Walter describes get-togethers with in-laws and cousins as "chaos" - with a

heavy dose of athletic competition. "We broke some windows and killed a lot of

grass playing in the backyard," she said of her childhood.

In the midst of setting scoring records as a three-time All-American at

Cal-Berkeley (where she and Walter met), Fawcett was summoned to the fledgling

U.S. national team before her sophomore season. When she made her international

debut - Aug. 3, 1987 in Tianjin, China - the team was in only its third year

of existence and had played just 15 games, going 7-7-1. Since then, the

Americans are 217-40-29.

Hamm and Lilly also made their national-team debuts that day, a year before

Chastain and Foudy would arrive on the scene and four years before Milbrett.

Fawcett, in fact, would score her first goal for the United States (in December

of '87) a year before Hamm - international soccer's career scoring leader -

got her first goal.

When the first Women's World Cup materialized in 1991, Fawcett had just

gotten her physical education degree from Cal. National team members weren't

paid yet and, of course, the WUSA still was 10 years away, so Fawcett took a

coaching job at Long Beach City College. "I don't even think I looked forward

to the next World Cup," she said. "I thought, once college was over, that was

it for soccer. I went to grad school at Long Beach State to get my teaching

credential.

"Then it was, 'Let's get this sport into the Olympics.'"

In 1993 she was named the first women's head coach at UCLA and earned

Pac-10 Coach of the Year honors before resigning in 1997 to balance family and

competitive life.

In the meantime, the second World Cup was played in '95 (Fawcett played

every minute) and the first women's Olympic tournament in '96 (Fawcett played

every minute) "and by then you were putting your life on hold" for occasional

training camps and games with the national team.

Next came modest salaries from the U.S. Soccer federation and the

life-altering success of the '99 World Cup (Fawcett played every minute), with

its 98,000 fans at the Rose Bowl final and national TV coverage. Followed by

the 2000 Olympics (Fawcett played every minute.)

"But we always knew," Fawcett said, "that we had to fight for it. We

understood that you had to put in as much work off the field as on the field.

But I think that's what's been so great about it. These women bring so much to

society. There are plenty of athletes out there. But these are smart, educated

women. They contribute to their communities, they interact with kids, they go

to hospitals. That's why [the demise of the WUSA last week] hurts.

"When you think about it, you have to fight not to cry. We'd built this

from nothing. And I have daughters. I want it for them."

Her own WUSA career "was done, anyway," Fawcett said. "My goal even before

[the league folded] was to make it through the [2004 Athens] Olympics. And then

I'll probably just enjoy being a mother. And I want to teach elementary

school. Second grade.

"But if the WUSA should come back, and they need me ... "

By the way, America's No. 1 Soccer Mom does not own a station

wagon.

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