Mitts looking to end on high note in Olympics

No matter how the 2012 Summer Olympics in London turns out for the U.S. Women’s soccer team, this will definitely be it for one of the team’s regulars. That’s because 33-year-old defender Heather Mitts, who has already played in the Olympics twice, in 2004 and 2008, will call it quits once these Summer Games are in the books.

All told, the Cincinnati native has amassed 121 caps for the U.S. during her impressive international career, a run that includes two stints in the Olympics and would have likely included three trips to the Women’s World Cup were it not for unfortunate injuries that kept her out of those competitions.

Now she’s working her way back from another injury and with one goal in mind-playing in the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London for what would be one heck of a swan song.

“I missed the last two World Cups due to injuries and always said I want to play in one World Cup when that came around. I didn’t get to play, which was really tough,” Mitts said. “I needed to end on a good note and am doing my best to at least end on a good note. Hopefully this Olympics will be it. I don’t want to be ancient and playing. I want to go out when I’m still feeling good, my body’s feeling good. I do have other stuff that I want to do-spend a little bit of time with my husband. I feel like I’ve had a great career.”

USWNT head coach Pia Sundhage likes what the veteran defender brings to her team but acknowledged it’s still up in the air as to whether or not she even makes the Olympic team.

“She had a couple of injuries but she’s coming back. She’s dedicated to training and then, she does her very best every day and the fact that she has a lot of experience. It’s good to have her in the back,” Sundhage said. “I think she is fit enough, that’s for sure. Now it’s a little bit about the game. She didn’t play in the World Cup and now she gets a second chance. She plays hard.”

But whether or not Mitts is able to bow out of the beautiful game at the Olympics or not, she definitely realizes how fortunate she has been to be able to play a game she loves for so long, whether it has been at the collegiate, professional or international level.

“Yeah, I’ve been very lucky. I’m very lucky to do something that I love and to be able to do it as long as I have,” she said. “I thought I’d just play in college. I was going to go back and get my Master’s and said let me play in this WUSA for a couple of years and the fact that 10-11 years later I’m still playing is pretty magnificent. I’m so lucky. It’s been a lot of fun. I cherish all these memories, friendships and we’ve been able to have a nice ride.”

And maybe just a little bit of that appreciation for how good she’s got it comes from the fact that she’s missed so much time during her international career due to a wealth of injuries, which not only took a physical toll, but also exacted an equally high emotional toll on her.

“They’ve been rough. I think that’s probably been the toughest thing, but I also think that I’ve learned a lot about myself and the motivation and what it takes to make it to the highest level,” Mitts said. “I think it just says a lot about my personality and perseverance. It’s not always going to be an easy road but I’ll do everything in my power to fight back and to get a place on these teams and hopefully write the end of my career the way I’d like for it to be written.”

However, she does realize that getting paid to play soccer still beats what she could be doing instead.     

“Heck yeah, this is a dream job,” she said.

And even though she has already played in two Olympics, it’s definitely an experience she’d like to repeat for a third and final time. “Just being in the Olympics period is one of the greatest experiences you can ever be a part of as far as an athlete is concerned,” Mitts said. We’ve been very successful going over. Both times, we were ranked highly but we were also kind of underdogs.”

“Brazil is a great team. We’ve been pretty lucky to come out on top on both of those games. Everybody’s gunning for us,” she said. “We always realize that and somehow when the going gets tough, we’re always coming out on top. I think it says a lot about the coaches, the training that we put forth. These girls, they’re amazing. We bring out the best in one another.”

With the end of her playing career now just a few short months away, she admits to already thinking and putting a plan in motion for what she would want to do after she hangs up her cleats, and those plans include doing some broadcasting, something she has done on several occasions over the last few years.

“Well, I’m actually in the process now of planning my post-career. Once Olympics is over, I’m done playing. I’m talking to people right now and that’s something I’d like to do,” Mitts said.

But one option that appears to be off the table is getting into coaching. “I enjoy doing my soccer camps every summer. I enjoy working with the kids, but not on a college or high school level,” she said.