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Bye, Bye, Mia

As the final moments of the 2004 Summer Olympics came to a close, Mia Hamm knew it was finally over. Hamm retired from soccer after the Olympics. She had finished a career that saw her become one of the greatest women's athletes of all time.

Mia Mania

Mia Hamm is famous, just as popular as basketball celebrity Shaquille O'Neal or baseball player Alex Rodriguez.

“Mia mania” began in 1987 shortly after Hamm, then 15 years old, became the youngest person ever to play for the U.S. National Team. Her aggressive style, boundless energy, and glowing personality gave women's soccer in the United States a much-needed kick. She led the U.S. Women's National Team to Olympic gold medals in 1996 and 2004 and a silver medal in 2000. Hamm's heroics also helped the U.S. women capture World Cup titles in 1991 and 1999.

She was named Women's World Player of the Year in 2001 and 2002. She is the world's all-time leading scorer, male or female. But all those statistics, honors, and titles are just part of her story.

A Young Competitor

As a young girl, Hamm found comfort in playing team sports, especially soccer. Hamm grew up in a military family, the fourth of six children. Her father was an air force fighter pilot. Her mother was a former ballerina. The family moved from one base to another.

At age 2, Hamm kicked her first soccer ball. At age 5, she joined her first soccer team, with her dad as coach. She competed with her brothers and sisters in the backyard. As a competitor, she would knock over board games rather than admit defeat.

In seventh grade, Hamm was the first girl to play for her school's football team. As a teenager, Hamm said she was painfully shy but found comfort in playing team sports, especially soccer.

When she saw other girls competing as aggressively as she was, Hamm said, “I found out I wasn't this freak.” Before long, Hamm was playing for the U.S. Women's National Team and for coach Anson Dorrance. She later played soccer for him at the University of North Carolina and was twice named College Player of the Year.

“I've been coaching for a long time, and I've had few players that ever had such a hunger to score and to win,” Dorrance said. “[Hamm] really has something burning inside her.”

Leaving a Legacy

Although Hamm has been a winner her entire life, she suffered a personal loss in 1996. Her older brother, Garrett, died from a bone marrow disease at age 28. To honor her brother, Hamm started the Mia Hamm Foundation. This organization helps raise funds for the treatment of bone-marrow diseases and makes people aware of these types of illnesses.

Hamm's foundation also increases the opportunities for young women in sports. Hamm plans to continue her cause for many years to come.