Introduce yourself! Who are you?
I am a professional soccer player in the United States. I play for a Washington Spirit in the National Women’s Soccer League. I have played professionally for fourteen seasons and my career has taken me all over the country and world. Along with being an athlete, I am a coach, mentor, world traveler and dream chaser. I also work as a sports envoy with the Department of State which enables me to use soccer as a vehicle for social change. Gender equality, female empowerment, LGBTQ+ advocacy and human rights are the main focuses of my work.
I love to sing and dance. And I am well known for chasing sunsets all over the globe.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Recently, I went to an event with Billie Jean King. At the event, Billie was being honored for her work within the LGBTQ+ community. In her acceptance speech she said something that hit me deep. She said, “We stand on the shoulders of the generations that come before us. 1 by 1 by 1 for centuries. It is because of this, we make social progress.”
What a visual. Standing on shoulders, the person under bearing the weight of the one above in order to push them higher. You can picture it in your head. As soon as I heard this, I thought THAT is the power of visibility. Simply put, it’s a pair of shoulders to stand on. No longer are we isolated and alone. Together we reach higher than we ever could on our own. 1 by 1 by 1 – with the power of visibility we make social progress.
What would you say to 16 year old you?
Love the game. Whatever game you play. Love it in it’s purest form and you will never lose it. There will be days where you feel discouraged and unsupported in your dreams but the process of striving will lead you to greatness. Never let go of that hope.
What message do you think every woman should hear?
It is cool to be vulnerable – to open yourself up to be totally present in the moment and to feel. Use those feelings to grow and build awareness of who you are and who you want to be. And do not be afraid to express those feelings through your passions.
Regardless of your personal journey there will be pain and moments of struggle. Do not numb those moments because you will get through them faster if you embrace the challenge. And always remember, you are beautiful and valuable. Love yourself unconditionally and know that no matter how hard it gets, you are not alone.
What do you love most about yourself?
My resilience, courage, and authenticity. Those qualities have enabled me overcome a lot of challenges in my career with a fearless determination, to stand for what I believe in – something greater than myself.
Do you remember a specific time you overcame adversity?
Yes, I suffered an ACL injury that could have ended my career in the first game of the 2017 season. I learned that ANY journey will be hard. Very hard. So it is important to take it one day at a time and ALWAYS have hope that it will get better – because it does – with time and dedicated work. I took the time in the beginning of the injury to really process the sadness and let go of who I thought I “should” be that season/year. It’s almost like you have to mourn the death of the pre-injury self (for the time being obviously). Once you do that, you can truly embrace your REAL self EXACTLY for who you are in that moment – that takes a lot of weight off of one’s shoulders. I promised myself that I would love my life for exactly how it was and not what it might be or what I wanted it to be. For instance, I tried to never say…”I can’t wait to run”, “I can’t wait to be cleared”, etc because that dismissed the beauty of the present and the beauty of the struggle.
When I look back on my ACL injury, I say it is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I say that because it was hard as hell but I made it through and I made it through with an attitude of love, gratitude, and appreciation for even the smallest victories. With this attitude, you can celebrate the tangible and intangible moments of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual growth. There truly are SO MANY. Also, I made sure to always remember I was NOT ALONE. There were so many people going through a similar struggle and so many friends, family, fans who were there to support me in my darkest and brightest moments. Do not be afraid to lean on them. Everyone is better for that.
What is the biggest thing you’ve learned along the way?
Ironically enough, I think what has kept me at the top is learning we are ALL at the bottom. Together. And that I am only one part of a community that has empowered me with acceptance. Being at the bottom means we have to constantly learn, grow, and get better. And that the greatest way to make a difference is to make people feel SOMETHING – empowered, inspired, cared for, loved, accepted, included. And this is done by being genuine and honest.
Why do you love to travel?
I work as a sports envoy with the Department of State and The programs that I have run internationally have really opened my eyes and mind to the way we can use soccer to break down barriers. These barriers include culture, class, race, religion, gender, etc. By establishing a team sport in an area where there are few opportunities for young women, you take an isolated individual and put her in a group of her peers. It is incredibly powerful to see the community that is built around the sport and the way it empowers the youth. Sport teaches invaluable lessons that one can use in every aspect of his or her life – determination, focus, leadership, teamwork, resilience, passion, time management, to just name a few. Also, and most importantly, it brings a sense of joy because you are able to simply PLAY.
The feedback has been overwhelming from each program. The young players are inspired and motivated to strive for something greater. To throw every ounce of their effort into what they are passionate about and reach for excellence. Because of this, being a sports envoy is so fulfilling and it makes me very proud to be a part of diplomacy programs that make a positive difference.
What motivates you most?
The platform to impact another human being as a professional athlete is unparalleled. I want to use this platform to inspire and advocate for equality. I want to make every fan that attends a game feel like they belong to something special – the women’s soccer community – and that their contribution is valuable. Sport has the power to change the world and I want to be a part of this positive change. I will use the stage to consistently strive for betterment. I also realize that my occupation is a gift. I get to do what 99.9999% of women around the world have zero opportunity to do. I am privileged and I view this privilege as a responsibility to stand for others who are unsafe to do so. I want to be a voice for so many who are forced into silence.
What do you do on a daily basis to grow and move forward?
Self reflect and ask myself “why” I am doing things.
Have you ever had an extraordinary experience? Describe it!
When I was about 7 years old, I played my older brother in tennis. I lost to him that day (and many days after). I was so upset because I hated losing. My mother watched from a hill next to the court. As we walked home together I held my mother’s hand in silence still fuming from the loss. My incredible mother knew no words would cheer me up. So, instead, she squeezed my hand that was interlocked with hers. In that subtle yet powerful gesture I knew she was telling me that she loved me and because of that love, everything would be okay. We walked a few more yards and I said out loud to her, “I love you too.” I then ran off ahead with a smile on my face. This love my parents instilled in me consistently reinforced that regardless of any result, I was a success because I was worthy of love.
Where do you find inspiration?
My role as an aunt. When I think of nieces and nephews (5 of them), I want them to be proud to call me their Aunt. AND, I want to know that their life will be filled with opportunity because I helped to blaze trails – this especially goes for my nieces. I want to be the shoulders they stand on to reach higher.
What are your biggest passions?
I love to sing and dance. I have my own bluetooth karaoke microphone and bongo drums. I also have my own high energy dance squad that films videos and spreads joy through music. Our band name is 51st State. On any given weekend, you will find me dancing on stage at a club and singing my heart out all over the city of DC.
Joanna Lohman was a professional athlete for fourteen years. She is a human rights activist, a professional speaker for leading organizations. She has helped individuals and groups find their cool by living an unabashedly authentic life based around deep-rooted acceptance and discovering a comfort in their own skin.