By Steve Coulter
It’s hard to find an athlete with more diverse interests than Houston Dash defender Lauren Sesselmann.
The Olympic bronze medalist and Canadian national team member has always been known for her superior play on the field, but her portfolio off of it is what makes her a star amongst her National Women’s Soccer League peers.
From producing and hosting her own fitness DVD program to mentoring young players to taking roles in movies, Sesselmann refuses to sit still as she enters the final years of career.
“I like to do a lot of different things,” she said. “I know that the transition out of soccer is coming and I think preparing myself for that is an important part of my career. Too often you see athletes who aren’t ready to transition away from the game, and I know that’s not something that I want to have happen when my career ends.”
While getting ready to compete in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup last summer, the American-born Canadian soccer star took a profound step in that preparation process when she partnered with Arizona-based Athletes Brand to design a shirt that would raise awareness and money for ovarian cancer research.
It was a decision that didn’t highlight the distracted player; rather, it was a platform that allowed Sesselmann to honor her aunt Margaret who had battled the disease for years before finally beating it in 2015.
“I loved what they were doing with their shirts and I thought why don’t I give back and create something that raises awareness,” she said. “Ovarian cancer research is something I’m very passionate about and it hits close to home.”
Sesselmann said that it was very difficult watching her aunt suffer and lose her hair during therapy; however, she took strength in watching Margaret never complain about being affected by the disease.
The Green Bay, Wisconsin-native says she’s always had a close bond with her aunt, who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan and was able to attend the World Cup in Canada last summer.
“The biggest thing for me was that whenever I was struggling in my career, I just thought about her and realized that whatever I was going through didn’t compare to what she was suffering — it really put things in perspective for me,” said Sesselmann, who had to overcome several significant injuries before playing in the World Cup.
“She was so inspiring to me — she never let the cancer get to her,” she added. “You would never have known she was sick.”
The soccer star was further motivated by handwritten messages that she would receive from Margaret as she trained and went through rehab.
“She would just say how proud she was of me and I would call her and tell her it was very much reciprocated,” Sesselmann said. “With her cancer and my injuries, we were able to lean on each other and support each other, which is really amazing. It’s a testament to the amazing human being she is that she was there for me even as she fought against this terrible disease.”
Athletes Brand is currently promoting a shirt designed by US Soccer Player Alexi Lalas, but Sesselmann says her shirt is coming up soon for those interested in purchasing one and giving money to ovarian cancer research.
Without giving away too much, the defender said that the shirt is made up off different inspiring words — strength, believe, hope.
“It’s just a gigantic word ball with all these different words that mean a lot to cancer survivors,” Sesselmann explained. “It’s supposed to be an uplifting message that resonates with people who have had to go through struggle in their lives, and that includes athletes.”
It took a year to finalize the plans for the shirt, but Sesselmann has no regrets.
“They only promote a shirt a month and they’re always featuring a lot of different charities — it’s a very cool project,” she explained about Athletes Brand. “I wanted it to be released at the best time possible and I think that’s what’s going to happen here in March or April…
“It’s something I’ve been thinking about doing for a while now and I’m happy that it’ll be out in the public eye finally,” she added. “I’ve always been passionate about giving back and designing things.”
Beyond the words, Sesselmann realizes the reality of those battling the disease.
“It’s becoming a bigger and bigger issue for women,” she said.
“I wasn’t aware of a lot of things until my aunt got it and then I began reading and researching frantically,” she admitted. “It’s one of those things where you don’t think about it until it happens to you but we’re trying to change that line of thinking because they number of women who have been diagnosed has greatly increased over the years.”
Ups and Down
The 32-year-old Sesselmann made a name for herself at Purdue University where she earned First Team All-Big 10 honors twice, while setting six school records in points, goals, assists, game-winning goals, shots on goal, and multiple-goal games.
In January 2009, the Chicago Red Stars drafted Sesselmann triggering a professional journey that took her from the Windy City to St. Louis to Atlanta before she finally arrived in Kansas City as a member of the newly formed National Women’s Soccer League in 2013.
Before landing in the NWSL, she won a Bronze medal with Team Canada at the 2012 Olympics in London, where she started all six matches on defense — a position she was converted to back in 2010 while playing in Atlanta.
“London was such a crazy ride and such a cool experience,” she added. “It was such an awesome moment in my career — definitely a highlight.”
Unfortunately, Sesselmann tore her ACLas she transitioned into the NWSL.
The rehabilitation was extremely challenging.
“I struggled mentally, physically and emotionally — I was very depressed,” she said. “But I was able to overcome a lot to compete and vie for a spot on the World Cup team.”
Paralleling her career, the World Cup outing had its ups and downs, including a tremendous opening ceremony in the host country, Canada, where Sesselmann was able to gain citizenship in 2010 through her father — a Newfoundland native.
Of course, soccer fans remember Sesselman for tripping over the ball against England that allowed the opponents to score and eventually win the game.
“It was cool that we got to host it, but we didn’t fare well especially after our Olympic performance in 2012,” she said. “I don’t want people to remember me for falling over the ball and that’s why I’m motivated this year to return, play well and end my career on a strong on a high and not a low.”
If the ACL tear and subsequent injuries weren’t enough of a hurdle, Sesselmann has had a bevy of challenges in her life off the field.
In addition to her aunt’s battle with cancer, she was directly responsible for saving her father’s life back at home in Wisconsin a few years ago.
“I was sleeping and in the middle of this really weird dream that my dad was in a car accident and he was hurt,” she described the fateful night. “I woke up in the middle of the night and heard a noise coming from his room and I opened his door and he was having a heart attack right there at 2 a.m. in the morning…
“The doctor told me that I saved his life,” she added. “It was an eye-opening experience.”
After numerous hospital visits and several surgeries, Sesselmann’s father made a full recovery and was also in attendance when she played in the World Cup last year.
“He came to all of my Purdue games and he’s traveled all over the world to see me play,” she said. “I was so happy that him and my mom and my aunt were all there to support me at the World Cup.”
Healthy and Happy Lifestyle
Sesselmann says that because heart disease runs in the family, she’s extremely motivated to promote a healthy living style and teach young athletes how they can train to prepare their bodies for the highest-level of competition.
In addition to hosting and producing Fit As A Pro With Lauren Sesselmann, she says she has started two other fitness-based businesses in the last two years and continues to train and mentor young athletes who want to get fit.
“Fitness has always been a part of my life,” she said. “I’m just grateful that I can use my platform to help fight issues like childhood obesity and raise money for cancer research.”
Coming up at the end of the year, Sesselmann will star in her third movie. And next spring, she will unveil her new clothing line.
“I’ve always loved fashion, especially sporty fashion being an athlete,” she said. “It’s always something I wanted to pursue but it’s a lot of work.”
The movie work is done in Miami and allows her to get out of the freezing weather of Green Bay.
“I like being all over the place and I love to travel,” she said. “One of the best things about soccer is that it has taken me all over the world and I look to continue that when my career is done.”
For now though, she’s looking forward to this season in Houston — the rest of the projects can wait.
“I have some really simple goals for this year,” she said. “I want to have fun and enjoy it because you never know when it’s going to end.
“I was in a dark place there for a little while but I’m so much happier now,” she added. “A lot of people didn’t expect me to be back but I’ve stayed motivated and confident throughout the last year and I’m excited to be part of this team for at least one more year.
“I’ve always said believing in yourself is the most important part of being an athlete — it’s all that matters,” she added. “I would have never made it to the Olympics if I had listened to the doubters. You have to want it bad enough and go for it.”
After years of injuries and family health issues, Sesselmann believes she will be able to achieve one thing that’s alluded her on the field.
“I look forward to being present this year and enjoying the moment,” she said. “It’s been a long journey for me but I can’t wait to get back out the field with my teammates and play the game I love to play.”