It’s Tuesday at 5pm and practice is wrapping up. The chilly air has stirred up frenetic energy, and players huddle into clusters of uncontainable excitement.
With their cleats and backpacks thrown into cars, hundreds of soccer players head to the Arlington Theater in Santa Barbara. Some are braving freeway traffic while others are briskly walking down State Street towards the theater. From faraway, everyone can see the illuminated marquee: Carli Lloyd.
Carli Lloyd—2015 FIFA Player of the Year and the only woman to perform a hat trick in a Women’s World Cup final—has been invited to speak with press officer and UC Santa Barbara alumnus Adam Heifetz ’89. It’s a night designed to inspire and, thanks to a partnership between UCSB’s Athletics and Arts & Lectures, Lloyd has graciously accepted.
“I’m totally excited,” declares Tenlay Jones of Goleta Valley Junior High School. “[Carli Lloyd] is totally a role model in my life! I totally look up to her!”
Jones’s enthusiasm escalates with every totally! exclaimed, and she represents the youth and teenagers who are there to hear one of their greatest idols take the stage. At $5 per youth ticket, the Arlington Theater is filled, morphing into a sea of Lloyd jerseys.
The spotlight turns onto Carli Lloyd and she steps onto the stage wearing civilian clothing: simple black pants and a women’s blazer with her long brown hair framing her face. The person in the spotlight looks so different from the ponytailed athlete and Lloyd’s quiet presence transfixes the audience. Almost instantly, she becomes relatable.
Heifetz begins the interview by asking Lloyd how she likes Santa Barbara so far. She smiles and shares that she went on a run earlier that day. “You guys have really steep hills!” she jokes.
Heifetz goes on to explore Carli Lloyd’s story—the drive, the passion, and the obstacles that she faced throughout the years as a professional athlete. He draws attention to a time when she considered quitting, a time when her U.S. U-21 soccer coach acknowledged her talent but said that she simply wasn’t trying hard enough. That moment, Lloyd reflects, “was the first time a coach gave me some tough love and I needed it. Every day you’re competing; every day is a tryout. Only the strong survive and it’s really true at this level.”
After the talk, fans spill out of the theater to form a large line where they wait to capture coveted photos with Carli. Young girls and boys charge to the front, revealing the evolution of women’s soccer in the United States.
“Women’s soccer is inspiring both genders,” says Tayler Christen of Cabrillo High School. She looks over at her sister with admiration, adding, “This is my sister. She’s a freshman varsity goalkeeper.”
It’s nights like these that inspire a community, bringing culture into a place that geographically could so easily be overlooked. Lloyd’s visit included not only her talk at the Arlington Theater, but a comprehensive outreach program—a day of meeting with the UC Santa Barbara Women’s Soccer Team and an on-field clinic for girls ages 6-13.
“It’s about what you do when the cameras are off and no one’s watching,” Lloyd says. “If I am able to be a role model and inspire another generation [then] that, to me, is priceless.”
Lloyd’s visit was only made possible by the generosity of Arts & Lectures donors—people like Jody and John ’75 Arnhold and Dr. Bruce’ 71 and Susan ’70 Worster—who feel a strong sense of responsibility for bringing affordable programming to the Central Coast of California. In fact, pooled resources from annual Arts & Lectures donations help to offset costs, providing flexible funding that allows the organization to draw talent like Carli Lloyd to Santa Barbara.
“For me, [the impact of Carli’s visit is] having my daughter see and hear what she has to say,” said father and soccer coach Joe Cate. “I saw so many people from the soccer community coming from so far away!”
Today, soccer fans can still recall Lloyd’s legendary hat trick, but for many children and athletes in California, they will remember how an “ordinary” female athlete became a legend.