"Are you playing well, outside of your scoring?"
"Then you've got to just enjoy the game. You've got to stop worrying."
She tries that for a change. And not long afterward, on a give-and-go with Foudy against Japan, she scores and races to mid-field, screaming to Julie, "Can you get a f—-ing 500-pound gorilla off my back?" When Julie pretends to grab the beast and fling it away, she cries, "Thank you!" and swoons to the ground.
Just don't spoil it. Don't ask what Nomar's last name is. That's part of his allure, that he's one of a select few athletes whose first name suffices, a star big and bright enough to eclipse her—a cover for the cover girl. God, it's a relief when slack-jawed strangers approach and walk right past her, to him. Lord, it's a lesson to see how much easier he is with fame, comfortable enough to set boundaries and live by them without anguish, to give freely without feeling threatened when it's time to, and to say no thank you when it's not. A man she can study, a man she can draft behind when they go to a restaurant or mall, a man who can introduce her to sides of herself she has never met...and to her oldest self, the nine-year-old whose best buddies were ballplayin' guys.
He's a freak on fitness and perfecting technique, just as she is. They spend seven-hour days together for six weeks during the winters of 2002 and '03 at Athletes' Performance, a fitness and biomechanics center in Tempe, Ariz., where they hone every muscle and movement that they use in their games, Mia even perfecting how her feet touch the ground when she runs. She doesn't need that when she's with Nomar, of course. Her feet don't touch it.
Happy-go-lucky, playful, carefree, a real goofball... her friends use words like those to describe Mia these days. Why, she even wears skirts and flowing dresses at the drop of a ball cap. She's begun to paint abstract shapes, sharing a canvas and colors with Nomar on one of them. She glows when she's with him, teammates marvel. It's so wonderful that neither one wants to talk about it. And on the soccer field she's sounder of body and mind than she ever was, a better all-around player.
He flies her to the Caribbean last Thanksgiving, gets down on one knee and asks her to marry him. For once in her life, Mia answers a question without having to think.
I want to enjoy this World Cup and Olympics. That's what I want to do with my last year. I'm learning to realize this is awesome, that the positives so outweigh the negatives or the pressures. It's a waste of energy and emotion to focus on what you can't control, to brood over each play. It's not the message I want to give to the younger players.