To The Olympics And Beyond – A Mother Shares How Supporting Her Daughters’ Athletic Passions Has Shaped Their Lives

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Denise Rapinoe saw it right away. Her twin daughters, Megan and Rachael, were athletes to the bone. At the age of 4, when many kids can scarcely pay attention for more than five minutes, the girls watched from the sidelines with undiverted intensity as their older brother Brian played soccer. The moment Brian’s team hit halftime, Megan and Rachael dashed out onto the emptied field and began kicking the ball back and forth between them. “They were obviously observing and imitating the moves they saw the older kids make on the field, even then,” Denise recalls.

art-0901-rapinoe2When the twins turned 10, they were asked to join a Class 1 boys travelling team – the highest level for their age group. After one season with this team, the family formed a girls travelling team, gathering girls from neighboring towns to play in Sacramento where they could play competitively.

The family’s travelling began at this point. James and Denise drove their daughters to every game and tournament from their home in Redding. “People thought we were crazy because of the travelling schedule we had to follow,” Denise says. “Sometimes we had to get up and get driving by 4 a.m. to make it to a tournament on time.”

The countless games and tournaments meant foregoing vacations and missing out on other opportunities. Denise would “never fault anyone for choosing not to commit the time, energy and money that travelling teams require.” But rather than viewing the many hours and miles spent on the travel team as wasted time, the Rapinoes made the road trips into family bonding time. The long hours turned into the long conversations that build strong relationships.

“The most important thing,” Denise says, “is to spend time with kids and listen to them. Soccer was the girls’ passion. In order to keep them challenged, we had to put them in that competitive travel league. We just did it as a family.”

As they moved into high school, the girls continued to outperform their peers in everything from track to basketball – and, of course, soccer. They joined an Elk Grove travelling league, which placed them on the varsity team when they were only freshmen.

During the girls’ junior year, this team won State and Regionals, and took second in Nationals. Day in and day out, Megan and Rachael practiced with and against one another, forcing each other to constantly perform to their highest potential. Though they never spoke harshly to other teammates, the twins held incredibly high expectations of each other and each sister never hesitated to call out the other’s shortcomings.

“They have such different personalities, such different approaches to life,” Denise explains. “As their parents, we didn’t intervene much so there wouldn’t be resentment, but we reminded them to be kind, to talk it out, to remember they love one another. At the end of the day, their love and respect of each other always won out.” 

By the time the girls were ready to look at university options, college recruiters had already been eyeing their athletic prowess for over a year. Though recruited by multiple universities, Megan and Rachael both decided to play soccer at University of Portland in Oregon. In an unfortunate display of ultimate twin-hood, however, both girls suffered two ACL injuries each, preventing them from playing more than two seasons during college.

After healing from her injuries, Megan continued to play soccer at each and every opportunity. She now plays for the Seattle Reign, and marks her professional soccer career with an impressive collection of medals: silver at the 2011 World Cup, gold at the 2012 London Olympics, and gold at the 2015 World Cup. Megan also qualified for and joined the women’s 2016 USA Olympic team in Rio de Janeiro.

Rachael, meanwhile, decided to pursue her interests in health and nutrition, and went on to earn a master’s degree in exercise science. She now works as the CEO of Rapinoe Soccer Camps (Rapinoe SC), an organization that teaches soccer through camps and clinics, all while encouraging kids and adults alike to “Be Your Best You.”

As Denise reflects on her daughters’ life-long love of sports and the many accomplishments that have resulted from their passion and dedication, she’s thankful for the choices she and James made in raising their children. Denise believes that letting her daughters participate in multiple sports not only cross-trained them to become better athletes, but helped protect them from burn-out. She also “forced” the girls to take music lessons. “They resented it at the time, but now they thank me,” she says. “Megan takes her guitar everywhere and relaxes by playing music. I wanted them to be well-rounded.”

Her advice to parents: “Encourage your kids to be as much as they can be. Let them try a variety of things. Let them find out what they love.”

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Jenna Christophersen
About Jenna Christophersen

Jenna Christophersen is a Chico native who loves her community and can never get quite enough of the arts. She supports fostering creativity in any venue, especially as a part of young people’s daily lives.

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