(RNS) Team USA soccer midfielder Tobin Heath, 28, has been kicked around by soccer as much as she’s kicked around in it.
A two-time gold medalist, winning in Beijing 2008 and London 2012, she tasted punishing defeat when the U.S. lost to Japan in a penalty shootout at the FIFA Women’s World Cup final in 2011.
Heath, a graduate of the University of North Carolina, has been a Christian since childhood. Her faith has helped her manage the lows and keep the highs in perspective.
“It’s more than just winning or losing,” she told Beliefnet in 2011. God, she said, “has a plan in it all. You have to trust that. Even though it’s not the ideal outcome — I mean, everybody wants to be winners — you have to trust that God has a greater plan for this even when you can’t see it.”
Heath says the growing popularity of women’s soccer — and Team USA’s impressive record — has given her a broad platform from which to share her faith.
“Becoming known or noticed in my sport isn’t what drives me to work hard and want to be the best I can be,” she said in 2011. “It’s Jesus. That’s why I play. I play to glorify Him. … I try to keep that as my motivation when I step out on the field every day whether it’s practice or a game. It’s to work as hard as I can in thankfulness for what He’s given me and hopefully some of that can come back to Him.”
In Rio so far, Heath has used that platform to win over international fans. After the U.S. defeat of France on the first day of play, Heath endeared herself to Brazilian viewers when, in the second half of the game, she busted out a samba-like move known as the “elastico,” borrowed from her idol and Brazilian soccer megastar Ronaldinho.
“Tobin Heath” immediately became one of the most searched-for terms on Google in Brazil, Sports Illustrated reported.
On her Twitter account, Heath often punctuates her updates with praying hands and soccer ball emojis and her Instagram account quotes Christian praise music and sometimes features pictures of her kneeling in prayer.
Her final tweet to before leaving for Rio was Romans 8:28:
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,” it reads, “who have been called according to his purpose.”