Game Changer: Jill Ellis

Jill Ellis used to work at a telecom company. Now she's a World Cup champion-winning soccer coach.  As I write this, sitting on the back porch swing in the gloaming, mosquitoes pinching my ankles, the United States women's soccer team is celebrating its 5-2 victory over Japan in the championship match in Vancouver.  It's a victory for Team USA and one helluva victory for a woman who charted a seemingly-unlikely path to fulfillment.

Ellis and Team USA forward Amy Rodriguez.  Photo, courtesy of Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images.

Ellis and Team USA forward Amy Rodriguez.  Photo, courtesy of Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images.

I didn't know Ellis was a game changer.  But an article about her in today's New York Times brought me around.  Ellis, who's 48, had an interest in soccer as a kid, but she didn't play on a team until she was in her teens.  Organized soccer for women "was considered unladylike," her dad, John, told the Times.  She got an undergraduate degree in English lit, a graduate degree in technical writing, a job in a telecom company.  All the right moves, all very practical.  And then she hit a wall.

Jill told her parents that she was tired of sitting in a cubicle and wanted instead to be on a soccer field.

She ditched the $40,000 a year telecom writing gig and took an $8,000 a year assistant coaching job in 1994.  

Yeah, read that again.  From 40K to 8K, boom.  Just like that.  How nice for her that she had at least one person egging her on: her dad.  "I've always said to Jill, 'You've got to live on the edge."  This, from a former commando in the British Royal Marines.  Here's the philosophy he said he passed on to Jill: "There are two ways to go through life: You can let everything happen, or you can calculate risk."

I read something like that, and I hold on to it like a banister on a narrow, steep set of stairs.  I get tempted by the equivalent of that telecom cubicle.  Last week, my husband and I were in Kenton and passed a county office building that was holding walk-in job interviews.  I stepped inside and inquired.  "It's for driving standard transmission cars down to Marysville," the woman at the desk said.  

I didn't know what the pay was.  I didn't know what the hours would be.  But darn it if I didn't think right then, I used to know how to drive a stick shift. 

I haven't driven a stick shift since around 1984 -- ten years before Ellis quit the telecom job -- but learning to drive one seemed easier, in that moment, than forming my own business to get this bed and breakfast going, or coming up with a writing workshop or other programs that will bring people to our place and to our new town.  It sure seemed like a surer thing than spending more on revamping our place, this time for an apartment over our garage so that we can put that vacant space to good use.  But what if no one rents it?  What if no one comes?  And, more to the point: What if I lose my nerve?

Then, in front of me, this article on Jill Ellis, and nearby, from the television, the sound of a roaring crowd from Vancouver, where the World Cup final is being played.

Photo courtesy of Ronald Martinez/Getty Images.

Photo courtesy of Ronald Martinez/Getty Images.

"A sanguine outlook and an intrepid adherence to her own plan [...] have guided Ellis to the precipice of the first Women's World Cup title for the United States since 1999," said the Times today.  Ah, but she leapt off that precipice a long time ago.  Ellis has led herself, and her players, to the summit.