Let’s talk female empowerment: An interview with Olympic medalist Lauren Sesselmann

April 9, 2019 Providence Health Team

This April we want to talk about empowering women wherever they are, whether that’s in the workforce or, in this case, on the soccer field. We had the chance to ask Olympic medalist Lauren Sesselmann about her incredible journey to the top of women’s soccer.

Lauren has played soccer at the highest levels of performance and competitiveness both on the Canadian’s National Team and in Women’s Professional Soccer Leagues in the USA. She’s won a gold medal from the Pan American Games, a bronze medal at the Olympics, and played in the World Cup. Now that she’s retired, Lauren spends her time at her fitness company, Fit as a Pro, and mentoring the next generation of soccer stars. Read on below as we ask Lauren about her accomplishments, the adversity she’s faced, and the work she’s doing to lift women up.

What is your passion in work and life?  

My passion ever since I was little has always been sports and to become a pro soccer player and someday leave a legacy that my family would be proud of and that had purpose. Now that I have retired, my passion to help our next generation has expanded. It took me awhile to figure out where I fit in and I’m still learning everyday. Soccer has always been my life and now Im trying to figure out how to transition into a career after. My purpose and vision has become clearer and clearer everyday. I am coaching around the world, mentoring future pros and helping present pros make the most out of their career, both on and off the field. I have my fitness company where I am helping others enjoy life and love exercise and being healthy mind, body and soul. My passion is helping people fulfill their dreams and to just be happy and love life!!! 

Why is progress in your field limited for women?

Sports have always been a place where female athletes don't get treated the same as their male counterparts. The women's game is still evolving around the world for all sports and some sports are even starting to surpass the men in popularity, but still are not treated the same. Some countries are now just letting women compete as well, so we have a lot of room for growth there. That is why my generation is fighting to help our future superstars. Both in US and Canada and some other countries, the women's teams are better than the men's but the pay is not even half of what the men are making. I don't know why this is happening, especially since the women are selling out more games and winning more medals/awards. I think that once the people in power have more powerful women fighting at the top more things will start to happen because we still live in a male driven mindset world. I am trying to be a part of the change so I am excited to see what happens.

How have your accomplishments forged a path and place for women in the field and beyond?

Being a part of the national team over the past few years and winning back to back bronze medals has really put not only Canada on the map but women. We are one of the favorite teams in the country and that is a pretty incredible feeling. I think my generation has paved the way in not only creating an open and demanding environment to succeed, but also an inspiring one. As female athletes, we are now stepping into our "role model" roles and allowing ourselves to be more accessible to the future generation, which in turn leads to more success for women. For me on a personal level, coming from a small city and finding my way with all the highs and lows has given me a firsthand experience of what it takes to get to the top, and that in turn allows me to help our next generation and for me to be a mentor and to continue to help them grow both on and off the field. I feel like my purpose was always this path and I am extremely grateful for it. People are starting to fall more in love with soccer and the women's game is a huge part of that. Beyond our winning accomplishments, we are showing how tough we are. We are embracing challenges, different playing environments. We are starting to stand up for ourselves more, being more accessible to the fans, being confident and showing people that women are strong and successful and not to be messed with.

What advice would you give to women trying to elevate their careers to the next level?

I think first and foremost start with a purpose and then create goals, and then how are you going to achieve those goals? And most importantly have FUN and enjoy the process, and trust the process. Remember that you will hit a ton of roadblocks but that's ok, that's part of it. It’s how you react to it and grow for those situations and find a solution. Owning a business or being an athlete or just having a career in general is not easy as woman so it's important to be strong and confident and to know what you want and everyday make strides big or small towards that. Just remember you can have it all if you believe in yourself and remember balance. I think it's really important to not let your career control you and to enjoy life to it's fullest!

What have you sacrificed—personally and/or professionally—at each stage of your career and what lessons did this provide?

During my playing days I sacrificed a lot. In high school I never had many friends because I was driving 4 hours every day to training and back, I knew what I wanted and I was focused. In college I never really partied much (I did have balance) but I was smart about it because I wanted to be a pro. Family is everything to me and I have missed sooo many family functions and I would be so sad but in return I was doing something that others dreamed of and that I dreamed about my whole life. I wanted to leave a legacy both on and off the field and I knew the good would always outweigh the sacrifices. Get yourself a good support system, family, friends etc that will help you in a positive light along the way and not hinder your success. You will lose friends etc but the real ones will always be there for you. Relationships are hard as well when you want to make it to the top, but the right person will stay. Yes, I wish I could have been a part of more things, BUT what I have accomplished is the greatest achievement in my eyes. And now that I am in the "retirement" phase of sport and moving onto other things, I still struggle here and there trying to figure out the transition, but I now have more freedom to enjoy the things I couldn't before. 

Can you share an experience in your life when women supported other women and what you learned from it?

Being on a team is so empowering and the support and love we have for each other is amazing. Definitely all the pieces came together during the 2012 Olympics and together we achieved greatness and people will always remember that moment. We picked each other up when we fell in the semi final and came out to win the next game and to get the first medal ever for the country. We shared tears, fears and happy moments. It was crazy beautiful and it was a moment I will never forget.

Tell us about a time that you faced adversity as you chased your dreams?

There were a few times throughout my career where I just struggled. I came from being the top player in college to the pro's where everyone was extremely talented. Many coaches didn't know who I was or what kind of talent I had. I was drafted but they really never gave me a chance. My first year in the pro's I played one minute! From someone who has never sat the bench in her life it was so hard, granted I worked my butt off day in and day out because I was taught that nothing is given, you always work hard for it. I remember the time I almost called it quits. I had finally made the top roster and was excited for the season and few months in another team in the league folded so we were getting a lot of their top players so the coach brought me into the office and said, “Well, you're not really good at anything. You are too slow, not very technical, not very tactical, you haven't really scored any goals so we are going to release you etc.” I was shocked because I knew I was good, otherwise I would have never been in the pro's in the first place. I knew I had a lot to prove but that really made me doubt what I was doing and my skills. I asked if I could stay to train until I found a new team (granted I didn't have an agent so I had no idea where to begin) and the next day I said I have nothing to lose and went out and scored a bunch of goals and the coach pulls me aside and says, "Where did that come from?” And I said, "I've always been able to do that you just never believed in me.” And he re-signed me and that next season I got called up to the national team. To think I almost gave up because someone told me I couldn't do it! Honestly, if you believe in yourself and you know what you can accomplish good things happen and people take note. Because one coach doesn't see something in you doesn't mean another coach won't.

What woman inspires you and why?

Honestly, I can't pinpoint just one woman because there are so many inspiring females out there doing their thing. I can say Mia Hamm because that's who I looked up too growing up, but now that I'm older and venturing into new things and we have social media I am in awe everyday of the strong independent, intelligent women out there. Everywhere you look women are raising families while owning businesses, and being good wives and mothers. I love it. I strive to have that one day and I hope that I inspire lots of girls and women throughout my whole career. There is nothing better than someone messaging you saying you are their inspiration. That’s when I know I am doing something right and it feels incredible.

How can women be more powerful?

First and foremost start speaking up for themselves and each other. We will never continue to make change or break barriers staying silent. I also think more women empowering each other instead of putting them down and competing. The more we praise each other and help each other the more we will all grow and be more powerful in numbers. I also think women believing in themselves more and having the confidence to do the things they want to do is so powerful!!

Do you have any “life hacks” that you can share with us? Something that helps you maximize your time and balance personal and professional life?

Some things I love to do to save time are meal prepping. I love just keeping fresh cut up veggies and fruit/snacks so I can just grab and go. Most of the time I eat in the car due to traffic so this makes it easy! I also sometimes struggle to get motivated to workout (yes, even athletes have a hard time) so I always schedule out my workouts for the week and put out my workout clothes the night before so it forces me to get it done in the morning. I have a hard time working out after 4 pm haha I'm always so tired! I also am a big fan of small goals and making a to do list and checking the boxes! Also I try to get in a workout in everyday if possible even if it's just a 30 minute walk while taking calls or a 10 minute hit session before I shower in the morning and go off to meetings! 

How have all the different experiences that you have had affected your mental health and how do you take care of yourself?

I am genuinely a very happy person but we all go through our struggles. When I tore my ACL and when I went through my transition from sport to the real world I struggled heavily with depression, but I was very fortunate to have amazing people around me. It was a test of my own inner strength and to see how I could get out of that hole myself. Everyday I would listen to music or meditate or go workout. Even when I felt like doing nothing, I made myself do it and told myself I had a bigger purpose. It wasn't easy but reading all the comments from fans and family of how they looked up to me and believed in me and wanted to be like me gave more meaning to my life. I would also talk about it with others who were struggling and realized I wasn't alone and that helped a lot. Mental health is a big thing in this day and age, especially in the sports world and it's not talked about much, but now starting to be a topic of conversation. Talking about it helps tremendously. If anyone is struggling they can always reach out to me!

Learn more about Providence St. Joseph Health’s history of empowering women, and about the work we’re doing to empower women today, by visiting this article from president and CEO of PSJH Rod Hochman.

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