The feeling was familiar for Abby Wambach.
As she took center stage Tuesday night, the former Gator soccer star stared into a crowd of about 1,000 fans, many wearing her name on their backs as they stood and cheered.
Hosted by the Accent Speaker’s Bureau, Wambach was interviewed by Ted Spiker, chair of the UF College of Journalism and Communications. She was paid $20,000.
Wambach, the all-time leading goal scorer in UF history and a two-time Olympic gold medalist with the U.S. women’s national soccer team, spoke about being a leader on and off the pitch.
"The reality is you can be a leader in any moment in any given day," she said. "All you have to do is believe in yourself and have some conviction and passion about what you do."
Although it was the place she would win a national championship during her freshman year and spend the next three prepping for a professional career in soccer, UF wasn’t on Wambach’s radar when she was a high-school graduate on the hunt for a university to attend.
She had her sights set on the University of California, Los Angeles and three other schools when her mother talked her into visiting Gainesville.
"When I got to college and came here, something really changed and clicked inside my brain about the game," Wambach said. "My goal was to win a national championship."
In 1998, when Wambach hoisted the national championship trophy as a member of the UF soccer team, Matt Nobles was still a student.
On Tuesday, Nobles, who graduated in 2008, wore a white No. 20 Wambach jersey. Although Wambach retired from soccer, he said she has the potential to achieve much more off the field.
"There’s even greater things ahead for her," he said. "I think she transcends athletics."
UF criminology and law junior Melanie Mason was watching when Wambach was in the midst of her 15-year career as a professional soccer player.
When Wambach helped the U.S. win the World Cup last summer, Mason was celebrating alongside her.
The feeling was familiar for Wambach on Tuesday night.
Later, the cheers may fade and the jerseys may bear different names.
But Wambach will always have a home at UF.
"You have no idea how many stadiums I’ve been in that there’s a Gator flag waving, that somebody is doing the Gator Chomp," she said. "I do still bleed orange and blue."
• When Wambach needs a break from her regular diet, she said she makes a trip to Chipotle. Her order? A burrito bowl with white rice, both types of beans, double chicken, mild salsa, a scoop of hot salsa, a little bit of sour cream, a lot of cheese, guacamole on the side, chips to dip into the bowl and a soda. And Wambach doesn’t have to worry about the price. She has a special card that allows her to have one free burrito every day.
• During either her sophomore or junior year at UF, Wambach said she was struggling in one of her classes. Her professor, whom she did not name, brought her to his office and told her "Abby, you’re literally not going to be able to do anything with women’s soccer." Wambach had a simple response to that Tuesday: "I hope you’re in the crowd."
Ted Spiker (left), journalism department chair in UF's College of Journalism and Communication, interviews former UF soccer and Women’s National Soccer Team player Abby Wambach on Nov. 3, 2015, during an Accent Speaker's Bureau event at the Philips Center of Performing Arts. During the hour-long talk, Wambach discussed her career, how she decided to play for UF and her post-retirement plans.
Former UF soccer and Women’s National Soccer Team player Abby Wambach Gator Chomps as she walks on stage at the Phillips Center on Nov. 3, 2015, for an event hosted by Accent Speaker’s Bureau. Wambach played at UF from 1998-2001 and has played for the United States’ Women’s National Team since graduating. Wambach announced her retirement from soccer on Oct. 27.