Sept. 12, 2013
by Renee Peggs
There is no such thing as balance. You cannot have it all. It's just a matter of managing the best that you can.
Such is the claim of Kate Markgraf - elite soccer standout turned color-commentator - whose presence and poise immediately match her genuine humility. Markgraf (neé Sobrero), 37, boasts national and international accomplishments that defy her years.
A three-time NSCAA (National Soccer Coaches Association of America) All-American at Notre Dame, she starred for the Irish from 1995-98. During her collegiate playing career, she earned BIG EAST defensive player-of-the-year honors in 1997, and as a professional was the WUSA (Women's United Soccer Association) defensive player of the year in 2001. A three-time Olympian, Markgraf won two golds and a silver as a member the USA squad at the Olympic games in Sydney (2000), Athens (2004) and Beijing (2008) and played on the FIFA World Cup championship team in 1999 and earned her 200th cap for international appearances during her professional career.
Markgraf is currently finishing her master's degree in kinesiology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and working toward a Ph.D., raising three children, and still finding time to volunteer.
"When you have 50 things on your plate, which I always seem to do because I operate better that way, sometimes it does get a bit overwhelming," says Markgraf, with perfect calm. Her Twitter profile reads "professional juggler." No argument there.
She counters: "[I have] the struggles everyone has, the [lack of] self-belief that you can do what you want. Sometimes what makes me succeed can also hold me back."
Historically, Markgraf held nothing back when it came to pushing herself to the top of her game. Being "small in stature, a late bloomer as opposed to my friends who had reached their full adult size at 15, [I had to] work harder and try to figure out different nuances to my game in order to compete."
She struggled for years to find confidence in herself and her talent: "Every time I got a call-in with the national team, I was like, `Do they have the wrong number?!' But then once I was on the team and playing consistently and I realized what I could do, it kind of just all came together [and] I knew I was where I should be."
That clear understanding was what landed 1999 Notre Dame graduate, even though it wasn't her first choice and she was not a big-time recruit. "My parents kept driving me down here, and the day I needed to make a decision, something told me I needed to [sign with ND]," Markgraf remembers. "Divine intervention? I don't know, but it was the best decision I've ever made."
For Markgraf, maintaining a relationship with her alma mater is significant: it keeps her connected to what formed her and made her who she is. The University upholds "consistent confirmation of the moral values that it takes to ...reach your potential." She expands on this by insisting that she has "never met that quality of goodness in people, in one space, in one time; I don't think I'll ever see that kind of concentration of quality again."
Occasions to be surrounded by such quality have abounded for Markgraf, not least of which the opportunity she had to play with the `99ers (the women's national team that won the World Cup in 1999). This was her dream come true: "those were the heroes who were on my wall. They were all so talented they were on the national team really young, so when I was in high school they might have been 21 but they had been on the team for five or six years. It was the rare time ever that your role models actually live up to your expectations."
While NHL legend Wayne Gretzky functions as her lifelong hero, Markgraf herself embodies the class and integrity that she values in the Great One. "Anyone that's in a position that someone else would find enviable [is going to be] role models to somebody and you have to accept it even if you don't want to be. You're not going to be perfect and you're going to make mistakes and have lots of character flaws but in the end it's a continual strive to be your best and do your best and help other people: that's what a role model should be doing every step of the way."
Of course, her most significant position is mother to three small children. For athletes without other responsibilities, she says the fallout of a bad game "takes over the space in your brain and you constantly think about it. But when you have kids and you played poorly and then you go home and see their smiling faces, they don't care that you gave up a goal or you just got beat or you lost a gold medal. All they care is that their mommy is home, so that gives you the perspective where it needs to be."
Perspective: proving Kate Markgraf has, in fact, found the key to world-champion balance.