By Brittany Alvarado

U.S. Women’s National Team and Washington Spirit defender Ali Krieger was dubbed a fighter ever since the day she was born. The name she proudly wears on her back translates to “Warrior” in German. However, she does not need to carry a sword or shield, for her fight comes from within.

Krieger’s journey to the top started as a dream and a desire, sparked by growing confidence in herself. After a successful high school soccer career at Forest Park Senior High School in Woodbridge, Va., that included being named the 2003 Virginia Gatorade Player of the Year, Krieger took her talents to Penn State University. That’s where Krieger realized that she had what it took to play at the highest level.

“I remember watching the National Team as a young kid and going to the World Cup in the U.S. and just being a part of that atmosphere and watching those players. I loved it,” Krieger said. “I thought, this is something that I want to do. I want to be as successful as they are and I want to have fun.”

With her determination, it’s no surprise that Krieger made an immediate impact for the Nittany Lions. En route to four consecutive Big Ten titles from 2003-06, Krieger was named The Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2003, a two-time All-American, a first-team NSCAA All-American, and she ended her career with being named the Big Ten Co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2006. She got all of that done despite breaking her leg in 2005.

After such a prosperous career, the stage was set for Krieger to showcase her talents on the big scene. However, it was almost all wiped away in the blink of an eye.

Instead of being face-to-face with an opposing team on the pitch at 21 years old, Krieger was standing face-to-face with death.

What started out as shortness of breath and an abnormally fast heart rate, turned into a life-threatening pulmonary embolism. Krieger’s world was turned upside down.

“It was a struggle because I was probably at rock bottom,” Krieger said. “I didn’t realize how bad it was. At the time I was dating a guy who basically saved my life. I told him ‘I’m having problems with my chest. I’m just resting here and my heart rate is 112.’ That was the only reason I picked up and went to the hospital. The doctors that night said, ‘If you would have fell asleep, you probably wouldn’t have woken up.’”

“The one thing that got to me during that time was looking over to my parents and my friends and asking if I was going to die and they couldn’t answer,” Krieger said.

A week in the hospital was a week of uncertainty for Krieger’s future on and off the field, but it was also an eye-opening experience that changed her life.

“I had a lot of time to think during that week and really put my life into perspective. I realized this is something I want to do,” Krieger said about wanting to play soccer. “I want to get back. This is what I love and this is what makes me happy, so I’m going to fight.”

Fast forward to the FIFA 2011 World Cup in Germany and there was No. 11 standing tall on the pitch. After playing every minute at the Women’s World Cup locking down the back line, Krieger’s historic moment came during one of the most heart racing, miraculous games in U.S. Soccer history.

Semi-finals, U.S.A. vs. Brazil, July 10, 2011

After an equalizing goal in the 122nd minute courtesy of none other than the header queen herself, Abby Wambach, It all came down to gut-wrenching penalty kicks and the final one in the line-up.

Cue Ali Krieger. With a composed and fearless look on her face, she stepped up to the spotlight and all eyes were on her.

“The biggest moment, this, of her soccer life,” ESPN analyst Ian Darke said before she took the kick.

Krieger pulled through, just as she did with everything else in her life, and put the ball in the back of the net to defeat Brazil.

Then, with the 2012 London Olympics on her mind, Krieger took every day as an opportunity to continue to improve her game. However, in a match against the Dominican Republic at the 2012 CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament, the unthinkable struck again.

Krieger went down in the 42nd minute holding her knee and clearly in excruciating pain. The diagnosis was a torn ACL.

“I think I’m better than I was before,” Krieger said. “I can’t really be mad at that. It’s something you learn from and have to go through. Sometimes struggle is a beautiful thing.”

While Krieger has been a hero to many throughout her amazing comeback acts, her hero is her brother, Kyle. After struggling with a drug and alcohol addiction in his early 20s, it was Ali who never left Kyle’s side in order to assure him that just like her, he could fight through.

“We’ve been through a lot,” Krieger said. “We’ve always leaned on each other ever since we were young like when my parents got a divorce. Then we continued leaning on each other through our struggles — His drug and alcohol addiction. My injuries. We just take care of each other. He is my rock. He is my life and without him I don’t think I would be here, and I think without me in his life, he wouldn’t be where he is.”

Surviving and adapting run deep in the Krieger blood.

Even though life knocked Krieger down many times, she brushed her shoulders off and picked her proverbial sword and shield back up.

She is a Krieger. She is a warrior.

*Check out the full interview