“The reason I hid it for so long, was just that I didn’t want anybody to use it as an excuse. I didn’t even want myself to use it as an excuse,” said USA midfielder Shannon Boxx on having been diagnosed with an auto-immune disorder a decade ago.
The United States veteran, who is set to appear in her third Olympic Games at London 2012 this summer, recently revealed her fight with Lupus - a chronic auto-immune disorder in which the immune system inadvertently attacks the body’s healthy tissue. Joint pain, swelling, and extreme fatigue are just some of the symptoms associated with the illness, which, with this now in light, certainly begs the question: How has Boxx continued to perform at the highest level internationally under such circumstances?
Relaying that there are different degrees of the disease and that she lies on the “mild to medium” spectrum, Boxx told FIFA.com that having Lupus has impacted her daily life. “I do still have issues that I have to be aware of every single day,” she said. “Lupus has flares. When you’re not having a flare, you feel pretty normal.
“For me, I have some signs that I know have happened in the past when a flare might be coming. I’ll have wrist pain and my joints will start to act up a little bit more. If I’m aware of that, then maybe the next couple of days I’ll try to take it a little bit easier. Obviously when I’m in [national team] camp, you can’t take it easier, but I can sleep when I’m not at practice and I can do things where I’m off my feet.”
When asked whether she had any concerns over sharing her diagnosis ahead of a major tournament, Boxx said she felt it was the right time and was no longer worried about it being used to deny her opportunities. “As I’m getting nearer to the end of my career, I’ve really seen how important it is to speak up about it. I feel like I have a voice to do that, being in the position that I am as a professional athlete.”
“I think now with the Olympics, I did it early enough that it won’t be the main focus,” Boxx added. “Now, do I want people to be aware of it? Yeah. I want people to realise ‘wow, she’s pushing through this and that’s an inspiration’.
I’ve really seen how important it is to speak up about it. I feel like I have a voice to do that, being in the position that I am as a professional athlete.
At 34-years-old, Boxx has enjoyed an incredible career at international and even club level, and with this added insight into her personal travails, success at London 2012 would certainly prove even sweeter. While a third consecutive triumph at the Olympics may seem an insurmountable task for USA, Boxx has assured the team is not dwelling on the past and as a new group of players, hope to establish their own legacy.
“There’s always pressure that the US faces when they go into these big tournaments because everybody expects us to do well. I think what makes this team so special now is that we have such a close bond and you started to see it last year with the [FIFA Women’s] World Cup. I think on and off the field we’re so tight it just makes us a hard team to beat.
“This year, with the Olympics defence, we know that we all have to step up to win, it can’t just be one person dominating. It’s going to take every single person.”
The Stars and Stripes have a tough Olympic opener awaiting as they are set to face France, who they defeated at the semi-final stage of the FIFA Women’s World Cup last year in Germany. After struggling to create opportunities against the French, a late second-half surge saw the United States clinch a 3-1 win to secure a place in the Women's World Cup final against Japan.
Boxx is hopeful the Americans can get their London campaign off to a good start, though, and thinks a victory over the French could put them in good position ahead of their other group matches against Colombia and Korea DPR.
And with yet another major tournament on the horizon, Boxx seems undaunted by the undertaking and might have more left to give after the Games. “I’m really just enjoying the whole moment. I think that my body still feels really good.
“There was a time where I thought ‘OK, I’m going to be done after this Olympics’, but as this year has progressed I’m just having so much fun playing at this level. Being in the game this long, I’ve had so many memorable and amazing experiences.”