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How A Hockey Player And A World Cup Winner Started A Soccer League For Kenyan Women

Journalists are in a constant state of high curiosity, always on the lookout for a good story to tell. But sometimes the stories find us. That's exactly what happened to my espnW colleague Julie Foudy when Wisconsin hockey player Brittany Ammerman sought her out for help in starting a soccer league for women in a remote part of Kenya.

Foudy has some cred in the soccer world, to say the least. A former captain of the U.S. women's national team, she has three Olympic gold medals and two World Cups to her name. And when she was in a position to lend her know-how to further Ammerman's goal, it was a shot she was more than willing to take.

She helped Ammerman with fundraising, getting jerseys and soccer balls for the women, lending her support and encouragement all the while.

It was such a good partnership, Foudy wanted to team up with Ammerman to do a story together for ESPN, to shine a light on how Ammerman's idea and determination changed the lives of dozens of women.

We talked more about the story and why it hit home for Foudy professionally and personally.

espnW: Tell me about how you came to know Brittany.

Foudy: The woman who runs my foundation [The Julie Foudy Leadership Foundation], Kerri McClennan, told me, "I got this email. It seems really cool what she's doing. Check it out." The email included a link to a video, and it was amazing what these women in Africa were doing. I immediately emailed Brittany and said, "I saw your video, was blown away by it and would love to help in any way." And that's how it began.

espnW: Why were you so compelled to help Brittany?

Foudy: Here was a kid who essentially cold-called me, had the guts to do that. I'm always preaching to my leadership academy kids that you've got to ask for help [because] people are willing to help. You've got to get your team around you, gather the courage to reach out to people and find your mentors. So that is exactly what this woman did, in the middle of her senior season on a really good hockey team while trying to get a premed degree.

espnW: What struck you most about Brittany?

Foudy: She's tenacious. To hear how badly she wanted to get this done is what I loved and how passionate she was to get it done.

These women had never played soccer before, and they were the first ones who gravitated toward the ball. They were the ones who wanted to play, not the men. It's an outlet for them.

espnW: Were you amazed that the request from the women in Kenya was for a soccer league?

Foudy: I think that's what I loved about it. Here are these women who have never been given a chance to play. They're on this dirt patch with huge weeds growing on it, playing barefoot, laughing and dancing and the whole community is standing around watching. It's amazing.

espnW: What was it like seeing the Kenyan women play the game you love and the joy on their faces?

Foudy: You're reminded of this gift of sport. [You can play] in front of 90,000 people for a World Cup or in front a remote village in Africa. They didn't want to put the ball away. It's awesome.

espnW: Why did this story resonate with you?

Foudy: It really is the story of one woman who cares deeply about something and decides to do something about it, and look at what you can do. Look at the ripple effect. That's something I preach a lot at the leadership academy, that if you just care deeply enough about something and raise your hand and say, "I'm going to do more. I'm going to do something about it," you can move mountains.