Joy Fawcett: “If you look at most of the Olympics, I had a lot of emotions, knowing it would be the last [game]We didn’t.  even know these games would happen. So I looked at that as my last game. I’m sure that I’ll be sad when its over and sad not to see them. It’ll be hard not being able to play.” (USA TODAY SPORTS)

This story originally was posted on BigAppleSoccer.com Dec. 8, 2004

By Michael Lewis

Joy Fawcett knows how to play with pain. But then again she didn’t expect to play with it this long.

For the past year or so, the 36-year-old Fawcett has overcome rheumatoid arthritis and a herniated disk in her back to help the U.S. capture its second Olympic gold medal in women’s soccer.

On Wednesday night, she will be honored at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. along with Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy. The latter two will play in their final competitive matches against Mexico (ESPN Classic, 11 p.m. ET). Fawcett, who twice had surgeries to repair a herniated disk, will watch from the sidelines.

It will be an emotional night for Fawcett, who realized she had played her final game in the gold-medal triumph over Brazil in Athens in August.

“If you look at most of the Olympics, I had a lot of emotions, knowing it would be the last [game],” Fawcett said. “We didn’t even know these games would happen. So I looked at that as my last game. I’m sure that I’ll be sad when its over and sad not to see them. It’ll be hard not being able to play.”

When she was on the winner’s podium in Athens, Fawcett said she “went through every emotion. We were happy, laughing. Then the national anthem’s going and the next thing I’m balling, and I can’t stop. Then you’re happy again.”

Fawcett was just happy to get an opportunity to earn a second gold medal to go along with her two world championship medals after playing in pain the past year.

“The biggest concern was keeping the numbness away from my legs,” she said. “The numbness comes back and I couldn’t sprint. The pain I could live with (laughs). The pain was fine.

“I have a pretty high threshold. It was painful. It was a pain in the back, but not enough to keep me off the field. Right before the Olympics, I re-herniated. It was bad enough that I couldn’t play. So I had to get a shot, which concerned me a lot. In the Olympics, it was livable. It was fine. It was painful, but not enough.”

After last year’s Women’s World Cup, Fawcett was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.

“My fingers were like sausages,” she said. “It got to the point where it was painful. We had those games after the World Cup. At halftime I had to ice them and stick them into an ice bucket it was so painful. Then I knew it wasn’t a soccer injury. I wasn’t using my hands.

“I’m lucky because I have access to doctors. They said they didn’t know. I was lucky that I caught it early and got treatment early, so it didn’t really damage any of the joints.

“I was more concerned it was going to go to my feet and my joints would degenerate. But I saw doctors early and my husband encouraged me to go to a rheumatologist early and start the treatment.”

Fawcett takes weekly medication, which controls the arthritis.

But after one problem was solved, another one surfaced — a herniated disk in her back suffered during the Olympic qualifying tournament in Costa Rica.

“I played half the final game and I had to sit out the rest because my leg was going numb,” she said. “I had surgery right away. I recovered well. I missed a lot of the prep games for the Olympics. Just before the Olympics, it went out again. I got an epidermal shot in the back. That took a lot of the pain away. A doctor said I had a 50-50 chance of making it to the Olympics. I decided to go for it. It was worth it.”

Fawcett had trainers who worked with her constantly on the field, making sure her back was aligned properly.

“So they got me through the tournament and afterward it fell apart,” Fawcett said with a laugh.

Fawcett had surgery a month ago.

“I’m taking it real slow,” she said. “These games weren’t worth it to me to try to play in.

In fact, Fawcett hasn’t played one minute in the previous nine games.

So, will Fawcett come on in the waning minutes and make it a Hollywood ending?

Don’t count on it.

“I think my doctor would shoot me,” she said with a laugh. “Even my three-year-old daughter knows that I can’t run still. She won’t even let me run down the sidewalk.”

Fawcett was the ultimate Soccer Mom, playing at the highest level of her profession despite having three children. Having one child can wreak havoc on a woman’s body and fitness.

“I was always wowed by her kids and how she was able to balance everything,” Foudy said. “It was never, ever a team issue. She probably hadn’t slept half the time because the kids were up all night because she traveled everywhere with them, but you never knew it.”

Now, Fawcett gets an opportunity to be a fulltime mom.

“Its great already,” she said. “Just being home this long has been awesome. I’m looking forward to it. I don’t know how I’m going to do it because I’ve never done it. I don’t know if I’m going to get antsy after a few months (laughs) or what. I think my children will miss traveling. They’re already asking me, ‘When are you and dad leaving so our friends can come over and baby-sit?’ “