Women in Football

Abby Erceg, the motivator we all need in lockdown

Abby Erceg of North Carolina Courage waves to fans
© imago images
  • Abby Erceg was the first player, male or female, to reach 100 caps for New Zealand
  • Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, she has been posting helpful fitness videos
  • "I find that meditation can bring you back to zero"

In a sense, Abby Erceg was perfectly prepared and already training for the COVID-19 pandemic. Last winter she was 13,000 kilometres away from her family in New Zealand as she was forced to stay in North Carolina while she waited for her green card application to be completed.

She missed all of the family Christmas barbecues and celebrations and she spent her 30th birthday by herself. She would go on trail runs in the dead of winter, sometimes even when it was raining, in the North Carolinian mountains alone with her thoughts.

“It sucked,” Erceg told FIFA.com. “It was really hard. I fell back on exercise and keeping myself reading and things like that to keep my mind busy. Exercise really gets me through some of those tough times. If I’m sad or if I’m needing to think about something, I can just go out and run.

“There were honestly times I was so sad while I was running that I could’ve just burst out crying, but you put that energy in to running. I’ll find that sometimes I’ll have my best run when I’m emotional or sad or thinking through something, just because I’ve put all the energy in to my legs and just pushing through it that way, so exercise was another way I did that."

Running and exercise go beyond just physical health for Erceg. Running is meditation. When she runs, she feels her body and thoughts connected and in harmony.

“I find that meditation can bring you back to zero,” Erceg said. “You can relax and take some time for yourself, focus on being in the moment rather than trying to do something. Just take a step back, take a breath, be thankful for some of the things that you have or that you don’t have like coronavirus. It’s been really good to have that to fall back on again, keeping my mental and psychological well-being up there.”

Her time alone in North Carolina in the winter turned out to be a little bit of a foreshadowing of what was to come with the COVID-19 pandemic. Just as she did back in November and December, Erceg has been posting videos to her personal Instagram account, giving her fans and followers creative ways to exercise while in isolation, including backpacks filled with books for lunges and squats.

"I want it to be so that anyone can do it. I’m not doing it because I’m an athlete. I’m doing it because I’m a human being and I want to work out and I want to stay in shape. If I can relate that to everyday people who have those kinds of things around the house, it helps them out a little bit."

She got her personal training certification as soon as she finished secondary school in Mount Roskill, Auckland, knowing full well the volatile nature of being a professional footballer; a freak injury is always a possibility. “There’s always been talk about exercise being great and how it releases endorphins and keeps you happy and in good moods,” she said. “In a time like this, we’re really starting to see the benefits of that. Even something as small as going for a walk around the block now is considered vital to your day.”

For Erceg, she’s always known that life can throw curveballs. She credits her mental fortitude to her mother, who raised two children on her own and worked a full time job. “For someone to do that and to come out the other side of it better off is huge. As a kid, you see that kind of example and it’s instilled in to you.”

Erceg’s living example of mental strength and perseverance is her way of saying 'thank you' to her mom. She also recently completed a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

“When I first started I really was interested in child psychology. I think children are absolutely fascinating. As I got into it, I started getting into forensic psychology and I really, really fell in love with the law and forensic side of it. If I get into it after soccer finishes, I’ll probably get into some kind of forensic psychology.”

It’s hard to believe, but her last competitive match was on 27 October 2019, over half a year ago, when she helped her North Carolina Courage romp to a 4-0 win in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) championship against the Chicago Red Stars to claim their second consecutive title. Back in November and December she was posting about how much she was missing playing in matches with the Courage. One can only imagine her feelings now.

“We’re obviously hopeful our season will happen regardless if it’s a shortened season or if we have fans there. The fact we can be out there doing what we love when a lot of people can’t, we will be grateful for and hopefully people can see it on TV and get their fix that way.

For us, we’ll just be grateful to be out there at all.”

This article is part of our new series entitled 'Women in Football', where we take a look at inspirational women on, and off the pitch. Next week, we will be focusing on Chinese goalkeeper, Zhao Lina.

Abby Erceg of North Carolina walks out to the field with a mascot
© imago images

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