Abby Wambach gets surprise at finish line after NYC Marathon

Retired USWNT player Abby Wambach celebrates after finishing the 2021 New York City Marathon
Seth Rubinroit
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By Seth Rubinroit

NEW YORK – An unexpected yet familiar face approached Abby Wambach when the retired soccer star crossed the finish line of the 2021 TCS New York City Marathon on Sunday.

Shalane Flanagan, the 2017 NYC Marathon champion and 2008 Olympic 10,000m silver medalist, waited around at the Central Park finish line after finishing her own race – her sixth marathon in 43 days – to personally put Wambach’s finisher medal around her neck.

“That was one of the most pleasant surprises of my life,” Wambach said. “What a way to cross a finish line, to get a medal from one of your idols. It was incredible.”

Wambach completed the 26.2 miles in 3:44:25, easily beating her four-hour goal in her marathon debut.

“Doing a marathon is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done,” Wambach said. “I have so much respect for every person who attempts to do this, even if they don’t finish.”

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Wambach started running, sans soccer ball, shortly after retiring from the sport in 2015. She initially planned on making her marathon debut in 2020, but both of the races she signed up for—including the 2020 NYC Marathon—were canceled due to the pandemic. She used a training program from the coach of one of her three children’s middle school cross-country teams.

She entered Sunday’s race with left-ankle discomfort, and sure enough, she rolled the ankle again by stepping on a drainage grate about four or five miles into the race.

“It’s going to be swollen,” Wambach said, reaching down to untie her shoe. “I’ve rolled my ankle a dozen times. You don’t think about and just keep moving forward.”

The 2015 World Cup champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist said that running for nearly 225 straight minutes is much more grueling than playing in a soccer match with two 45-minute halves.

“When you’re playing in a soccer game, you’re not thinking ‘I can’t wait until this is over’ because there is so much going on over a shorter period of time,” Wambach said in an interview on behalf of Gatorade’s Gx Sweat Patch. “[During marathon running] you have so much to consider and so many opportunities to stop, so when you finally cross the finish line and you haven’t stopped and you actually get there, it feels like, ‘Oh my gosh. I can do anything.’”

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Two other retired U.S. women’s national soccer team players, Lauren Holiday (3:40:30) and Leslie Osborne (3:41:33), also ran the New York City Marathon on Sunday.

“We’ve been through literally everything together,” Holiday said, “so to go through this with them is really, really cool.”

The trio ran on behalf of the Jrue and Lauren Holiday (JLH) Social Impact Fund. They surpassed their fundraising goal of $26,200 to help combat systematic racism and socioeconomic inequality.

“I thought about that like 100 times while I was running,” Holiday said. “I’m not doing this for me, I’m doing this for something bigger. Everyone who donated to the JLH Fund, you helped me get over the line.”

Holiday’s husband, Milwaukee Bucks guard Jrue Holiday, is not ready to follow in his wife’s footsteps and become a marathoner.

“I would never do this in my life, ever,” Jrue Holiday, who rode his bike alongside his wife during her long runs, said recently to Milwaukee media. “There’s no point to me. But more power to her because I don’t know how people do it. Running is not for me.”

Lauren Holiday said she would not try to convince her husband to run a marathon, adding “I might be one-and-done myself.”

Wambach did not close the door on running another marathon, saying “I want to take a rest and then I’ll decide what’s next, whether it’s another marathon or another goal.”

Wambach’s immediate post-race plans involved taking a nap. The night before the race, she went with her wife, best-selling author Glennon Doyle, to see singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile perform Joni Mitchell’s 1971 album Blue at Carnegie Hall.

Doyle, who tweeted that she made a sign that read “BABE YOU CAN STOP WHENEVER YOU WANT TO,” darted around New York City to support her wife.

“I might become a professional cheerleader for marathons because I had such an amazing time,” Doyle said. “I feel like if everyone went to a marathon and witnessed this act of will and beauty, we would have world peace. It made me love everyone in the world.”