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A brain injury cut short Briana Scurry's soccer career. It didn't end her story

After a traumatic brain injury left her in terrible pain and unable to work, the legendary goalkeeper had to pawn her Olympic gold medals. Scurry charts her pioneering soccer career and her road to recovery in My Greatest Save.

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Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF SONNY ROLLINS' "TOOT, TOOT, TOOTSIE")

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I am Terry Gross. My guest, Briana Scurry, is one of the most celebrated players and one of the top goalkeepers in the history of women's soccer in the U.S. She won a World Cup in 1999 and two Olympic gold medals. The first was in 1996, which was the first time women's soccer teams competed in the Olympics. She's the only African American woman in the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame. A photo of her hangs in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. And she's pretty sure she's the only Black, lesbian goalkeeper who has been on the cover of a Wheaties box.

Her soccer career ended abruptly and painfully in 2010 when she was playing in the new women's professional soccer league and a player from the opposing team collided with her with her knee crashing into Scurry's right temple. It left Scurry with a traumatic brain injury resulting in constant, excruciating headaches, blurred vision, cognitive problems, depression, despair and poverty. She was unable to work. And the league soon collapsed, so she had no soccer medical team or training facility to help her. Her insurance company kept denying her money for the surgery she needed to repair the nerve that was the source of her pain, and she was reduced to pawning her two gold medals. How she got them back and ended up marrying the woman who made that possible is just one of the stories she tells in her new memoir, "My Greatest Save."

Briana Scurry, welcome to FRESH AIR. And I'm so glad you're feeling better and that you're back in life again.

BRIANA SCURRY: Oh, my goodness, Terry. It's such an honor to be on the show and speaking with you. Yes, I am doing incredibly well. So thank you for that and for having me.

GROSS: I want to start by asking you to describe your point of view on the field as a goalkeeper and how your version of the game is different from the rest of the team's.

SCURRY: Yeah, so goalkeeping itself is a bit of a interesting undertaking. A lot of people consider goalkeepers to be a little bit crazy including a lot of my teammates. So my point of view is actually very intriguing. I am considered the general of the team. I - you know, one thing I do is I stop attacks, but then I start offensive attacks as well. And so the goalkeeper is an acquired taste. We are very instrumental in all aspects of the game, and oftentimes, a great goalkeeping game can result in a win. The one thing that I've always appreciated about goalkeeping is I can prevent the other team from winning.

GROSS: Yeah, your most famous emergency save was at the 1999 Women's World Cup. This was a game against China. And it was toward - you know, was a penalty kick at the end of the game, and you basically jumped horizontal to the ground to keep the ball from getting into the goal. How do you even get in that position physically?

SCURRY: So the goalkeeping shootout for a major game like that is a very interesting proposition. So we train for it pretty much every day in training leading up to that event. And then you also actually hope you don't have to be in a shootout. But when you find yourself in one like I did in '99 - I was supremely confident. We had trained it. We had talked about it. I had done some sports visualization with the sport doc on that.

And that third kicker - my normal MO, method of operations, for penalty kicks is to not look at my team's kicks, nor do I really look at the opposing player walking up to the penalty spot. And on that particular kicker, that third kicker, as I was walking into the penalty area to present myself for the save, I heard something in my mind say, look. So I actually looked at her and watched her approach a penalty spot, which is something that I normally didn't do. And I knew right then that that was the one I was going to save.

GROSS: When you're defending against a penalty kick, do you have to decide whether you're going to move left or right before the kick even happens?

SCURRY: That is an age-old question in goalkeeping training. So for me, I was taught certain cues by my college coach at UMass, Jim Rudy, who had diagrams and had research on tendencies and percentages. For example, the runup to the ball, the angle of the runup, the distance that player is from the ball, the - whether they're right- or left-footed, what surface of their foot they're using - whether they're using their instep or they're using the side of their foot - all of these different things come into play. So I would say there is a precise mathematical procedure to go through in my brain when I see a kicker approach the ball that - it happens obviously in light speed, and then also an instinct that has nothing to do with all those stats inside of me that makes me know if I want to go a certain direction or not.

And then in that moment with that third kicker, time slowed down. I know you've probably heard many athletes talk about being in the zone. Well, as soon as I was walking into that goal, I was in the zone. And I knew. So everything she did was slow motion and very clear. She opened her hips up. She approached short from the same side. I saw her inside of her foot she was using. And so I knew exactly where she was going before she kicked the ball.

GROSS: It's remarkable that you can do that.

SCURRY: Mmm hmm.

GROSS: Yeah. Your first of two Olympic gold medals was in 1996, and this was the first time that there was women's soccer competition in the Olympics. So it had to have, like, special meaning for you and for soccer fans throughout the United States. But it was the early days of women's soccer, and it wasn't that long ago. What did your win mean to the future of women's soccer?

SCURRY: Mmm. That's a fantastic question. So I was 8 years old, sitting on the couch with my mom and dad on either side of me, watching the 1980 Lake Placid ice hockey team beat the USSR in the semifinal game 4-3. And as you know, they had lost to them 10-3 before that. And so seeing that game somehow at 8 years old, I was so inspired, I rose up from the couch and declared to my parents that I wanted to be an Olympian. And they, thankfully, were nurturing of that little inspiration and helped me hone my skills in all different sports through high school. And I made this sign when I was about 15 years old that said Olympics 1996, I Have a Dream. And at that point, I figured about that time, I would be old enough to actually participate in Olympic games.

And so I had a bit of a road map that I had created, not really knowing the power of what I was doing at the time. But that road map led me to the Olympics in 1996, and soccer just so happened to be, like you said, a brand-new sport that was allowed into Olympic Games. The soccer has been the most popular sport throughout the world, and the Olympic Committee decided that women's soccer was on the upswing and deserved to be in that Olympic Games. And so I found myself at the exact right place at the right time.

In addition to that, that Olympics was considered the Olympics of the woman. And for women's soccer, it was literally an explosion. We had 76,000 people at our Olympic final. And it was a glorious and fantastic evening. I saw so many different people that I knew from my childhood and growing up. And that game not only did amazing things for women's soccer but also for women's athletics in this country. And so women's soccer started to explode in that time period.

GROSS: Well, let me reintroduce you here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Briana Scurry. Her new memoir is called "My Greatest Save." We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAX MORAN AND NEOSPECTRIC SONG, "ALL RIGHT")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Briana Scurry, one of the most celebrated players and one of the top goalkeepers in the history of women's soccer. She's a two-time Olympic gold medalist and won a World Cup in 1999. So in the mid-1990s, during the period of the Olympic win - the first Olympic win - you helped fight for some semblance of equity for women's soccer. And what you were asking for in those early days seems so small. I mean, what were you asking for then?

SCURRY: So back then, that was the beginning...

GROSS: And I don't say small to belittle it, but, I mean, things were so disproportionate...

SCURRY: Comparatively.

GROSS: Comparatively, yeah, you had to start someplace.

SCURRY: Absolutely. No, you're right. You're right. We had to start someplace. And where we started our battle with U.S. Soccer was with resources. So, for example, we were asking for the same number of massage therapists that the men's team had. We were asking for similar hotel quality. We were also asking for no middle seats on planes, potentially first class and business class but at the very least, windows and aisles. Because we often took these routes to games and to training sessions that were ridiculous, you know, multiple three and four flights instead of having direct flights. There were so many inequities back then in certain things, mostly resources and conditions, that we wanted to equalize. Also right before the Olympic Games, we wanted to make sure that we were going to get a bonus for silver and bronze as well. Like, the expectation of the Federation was that the women needed to win to get any bonuses. And we didn't think that was fair. We thought a medal of any color deserved reward. And so the Federation was very precarious. They were very, you know, against giving the women their just do. At that point...

GROSS: Oh, well, compare what men got to what women got.

SCURRY: So, for example, we were allowed to have $10 a day for per diem for women. And back then, the men made $25 to $35 a day. And the explanation for that was that men eat more, which...

(LAUGHTER)

SCURRY: But here's the irony in that statement is per diem was not used for eating because meals were provided. The per diem was for other activity and for your stay for that day.

GROSS: And what about what men got for medaling compared to what women got?

SCURRY: So the men were not only going to receive, you know, tens of thousands of dollars per player for medaling, but they also were going to receive tens of thousands of dollars for advancement out of the round-robin group into the quarterfinals, semifinals and the final. Never mind actually winning anything, they were going to receive money each step of the way. And so that was one of the biggest glaring issues back then was - pool money is what they call it - pool of money for certain positions out of the tournament. The higher, obviously - the further you go, the higher the money is.

GROSS: What did women get for medaling?

SCURRY: Well, the Federation wanted to give us, I think, $1.2 million as a whole, the entire team, for winning gold and nothing for silver and nothing for bronze and nothing for advancement. So it was very, very glaring differences. Their expectation of the women's team in order to get any reward or money was to win the whole thing. Whereas the standard for the men's team was just to get out of the round-robin play in order for them to get a bonus.

GROSS: So what leverage did you and your teammates use to improve, to take a step forward toward equity?

SCURRY: So we felt in 1995 that we had some leverage at that point in time because the Olympics were just around the corner, and we were, in fact, favored to win. So myself and eight of my other teammates basically decided to go on strike against the Federation. We risked not only our livelihoods but also our dreams. Like, I said earlier, I was an 8-year-old girl who wanted to be an Olympian. And here I was at the precipice of potentially achieving a lifelong dream, and I was risking it for something that was greater than myself. We knew that the Federation would have to cave eventually, but, boy, were they mean and nasty in the process. I mean, they said some very unsavory things about us as players. And all we were trying to do was provide equity for not only ourselves but for all the women that would come behind us and don the jersey and represent the United States of America in soccer. We wanted to make sure that that playing field was more level. And they were very, very, you know, strong willed and had iron fist about it. But eventually, we got what we wanted.

GROSS: And what did you get?

SCURRY: So we did get bonuses for silver if we won. So we compromised there. And also the circumstances and the conditions with the resources that I mentioned - increasing the number of massage therapists, things like child care, the per diem went up to $25 from $10. So we did actually make a lot of great gains. But there was obviously a lot more things that had to be handled. But in subsequent CBAs, which is collective bargaining agreements, we were going to attack those things in the future.

GROSS: As you say in your memoir, soccer is often thought of in the U.S. as a white game. And you were always, like, the only Black person on the team. And that starts from when you were, you know, a teenager to when you were, you know, playing professionally and in the Olympics. Correct me if I'm wrong here. It's certainly not a white game in Africa or in Latin America or in China. How did it get so white in the U.S.?

SCURRY: So unfortunately, soccer's roots and its progression was in the suburb areas because, A, it was an expensive sport and, B, you needed space to be able to - green spaces in order to play. So the sport of soccer grew rapidly in the suburban areas and not nearly as much in urban areas. And in my career, it was interesting for me because my mom and dad moved from Minneapolis-St. Paul into a rural, predominantly white area in Dayton, Minn. And so that's the reason I was even exposed to soccer in the first place.

GROSS: What impact did it have on you to, especially in the early days of women's soccer, have so few Black people in the stands?

SCURRY: It was difficult to not see more people like me. But the interesting thing that I found was I was so driven and was so passionate about my dream of being an Olympian. And I was so lucky and fortunate and grateful to be able to have that opportunity be through soccer. Soccer became the vehicle for that. I didn't have too much difficulty being the only one because I knew I was blazing a trail for myself and for others to come behind me. But I also knew that more representation of women of color on the team was necessary and relevant. And so I really advocated for more women of color to play on the team.

Not only did I work with different organizations, like the Boys and Girls Club of America, different sponsors, like Allstate and Pepsi, who helped me essentially go to the urban areas and tell young girls in junior high and high school about the game of soccer. And so I did a lot of these different events. And sponsorships helped me. And I had one incident. I was in a Boys and Girls Club event. And one of the young girls, who was 12 years old, roughly, a young African American girl, she said to me - she goes, I didn't know Black people played soccer.

GROSS: Yeah.

SCURRY: You know? And right there in that moment basically encapsulates the whole problem, right? She didn't know.

GROSS: Were you still always the only Black player on your teams?

SCURRY: When I, unfortunately - after my mom passed away in 2015, I went to the house and cleaned out her hope chest. In there, she had a stack about 10 inches high of all the photos of all the teams I played on when I was younger - softball, basketball, soccer - all the different sports I played. And I looked at every photo. And I was the only Black player on every single team in every single one of those photos. And so it has been something that I've always dealt with. But it really, for me - within my teams, my teammates, my ability to play, playing against opponents, I never had any issues with that. I think I found issue with the media and also, potentially, with sponsors that maybe didn't think that an African American, gay player was someone that they wanted to get behind and represent. So I felt like I was somewhat discriminated against in the media and with sponsorships, but never from my own teammates.

GROSS: You know, it's interesting that your parents decided to move to a white, rural suburb of Minneapolis because the reason why they moved north in the first place - they were both from Texas - was because a friend, who was married to a white woman, went to another town where he was lynched for being married to a white woman. At least that's your understanding of what happened. And then they end up moving to Minneapolis and settling in, you know, a white town and raising you there.

SCURRY: Yes, they did. They had a lot of issues with Jim Crow in Texas. I have so many family members in Galveston, in particular, and Houston. And my mom and dad decided that it was time to go. And they did move up north. And for the longest time, I wondered why they moved there at that time. And it was through the research in doing the book with Wayne Coffey that we found out the reason why they moved and were able to put that in the book. And I feel like my mom and dad made a lot of interesting decisions in their lives. And I feel, had they not made that one, you and I probably wouldn't be speaking.

GROSS: Let me reintroduce you here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Briana Scurry, a two-time Olympic gold medal winner for women's soccer. Her new memoir is called "My Greatest Save." We'll talk more after we take a short break. I'm Terry Gross. And this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF WYNTON MARSALIS' "JUMP START - THE MASTERY OF MELANCHOLY: BOOGIE WOOGIE STOMP")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Let's get back to my interview with Briana Scurry, perhaps the top goalkeeper in the history of women's soccer. She won a World Cup championship and two Olympic gold medals. The first was in 1996, which was the first time women's soccer teams competed in the Olympics. She's also the only African American woman in the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame. Her soccer career ended abruptly in 2010, when she was playing in the new women's professional soccer league, and a player from the opposing team collided with her, her knee crashing into Scurry's right temple, leaving her with a traumatic brain injury. We'll talk about that a little bit later.

So you've always been out as a lesbian but never made a thing of it publicly because you were never in the closet so never felt the need to, like, come out and make any proclamations. But I want to quote something you say that your mother told you after she suspected that your girlfriend was your girlfriend. And she said to you, when I was your age, I did the same thing. It's good to have those friendships, but in time, I got past it. It was just a phase for me. I'm not upset at all about whatever you and Kelly were doing, but don't make it a habit. I wonder what you think your mother meant when she said, when I was your age, I did the same thing.

SCURRY: (Laughter) I think what she meant was that she probably had very, very close relationships and probably experimented intimately with some of her friends when she was younger - her female friends when she was younger - and that that was just something that curious young people did. I think that's what the intent was there for her. She was interesting and candid about that. And the interesting thing, too, about her was my mom was a very free spirit. She was my heart. When I think about her, I think about someone who was strong, who was bold, who was willing to speak her mind. And I'm grateful that I got those traits from her.

But I think what she meant for sure was, you know, it's OK to experiment at this point in your life, but don't make a habit out of it, as if to say, don't necessarily think that girls are where you're going to be. You'll probably end up marrying. Or probably what she meant was, you know, in her generation and her time when she was younger, that wasn't something that was necessarily, you know, shined upon. It wasn't necessarily something that you continued with. And it was understood that it was a phase. And I think that's what she was trying to say to me.

GROSS: Were you surprised that she said that she did the same thing when she was child?

SCURRY: Yes (laughter), I was.

GROSS: Like, I can't imagine my mother saying that.

(LAUGHTER)

SCURRY: Absolutely.

GROSS: But at the same time, you say, it was the end of the discussion. I never spoke to my parents again about my sexuality. Why did you feel like you couldn't? - because, you know, a lot of parents could not say, I tried that when I was young. So it seems like your mother would be more open to the idea.

SCURRY: Yeah. I thought she would be more open. And it was interesting because there were just parts of my life that I kept to myself with regards to my parents. And I think that was one of them at that time in my life. But it was later on I literally would bring my girlfriend home to visit my mom and dad. And they knew very well who they were and what the relationship nature was. And I think it was just understood, and it wasn't necessarily something that had to be spoken, especially since as I got older, they realized that I didn't talk about boys that much. I wasn't, you know, trying to get married, at least to another male. And so I think they understood over time that that is, in fact, who I was, that I was gay, that it wasn't a phase and that it was something that I, indeed, was going to make a habit out of.

GROSS: Were they warm to your girlfriends?

SCURRY: They were. They were really warm to my girlfriends, actually. I made a point to take, you know, my latest girlfriend to see my mom and to let her meet her before she passed away. And that was Chryssa. In late 2014, I took her to Minnesota to meet my mom. And as I mentioned in my memoir, my mom had Alzheimer's. And she remembered me, which is great, but she was declining. And I wanted to make sure that she met Chryssa before she passed away.

GROSS: And Chryssa is now your wife.

SCURRY: Yes, she is. She is now my wife.

GROSS: You started playing for the new pro league, Women's Professional Soccer. And in 2010, your career ended after a life-changing concussion. It was a traumatic brain injury. Would you describe what happened?

SCURRY: In the first half, I bent over for a low ball coming from my left-hand side. And as I was going to make that save and I was bent over, the attacking player came from the right-hand side and trying to get her toe on the ball in front of me crashed into the side of my head with her knee. And I never saw her coming. And so because of the fact that I didn't see her, I couldn't brace at all for it. And so I was completely exposed. She crashed into me. We bundled over. And, of course, my first thought was, did I make the save? Sure enough, I had the ball in my hands.

And then I stood up, and my whole life changed from that moment. And I knew there was something really wrong at that point. Normally - I had had concussions before - you get some blurry vision. You get some sensitivities. And then the moment - it fades away. Like, the wave of the emotions and the issue fade away, and you get clarity again. But I wasn't getting clarity. I was tipping to the left. The jerseys were blurry. The names on the jerseys were blurry. And at half time, which blew maybe seven or eight minutes later, I was walking off the pitch, and I was listing to the left as I was walking. And my trainer came in to the pitch to meet me. And she grabbed my hands, and she said, Bri, are you OK? And I said, no, I'm not. And that was the last soccer game I've ever played.

GROSS: Did you ever watch video of that collision?

SCURRY: Yes. That video - that collision is actually on YouTube. If you type my name and Philadelphia Independence, Washington Freedom, you can see it. And the interesting thing about that clip is the collision doesn't look all that severe in the moments that you see. But the problem was - and I learned this later - was the location and where she hit me in the temple is the most sensitive area to get hit. And most people who have really long-term damage and issues and symptoms with their concussions are usually people that got hit in the temple. And then also, I didn't have a chance to brace, and I never saw her coming. And she actually tries to stop. You can see it in the video, but unfortunately, she didn't stop enough.

GROSS: What's it like for you to watch the video?

SCURRY: For the longest time, I was mad at her (laughter). I found out what her name was and exactly who she was. And for several years, I was angry at her for putting me in this position, for not avoiding contact with me. And I realized over time that my anger towards her wasn't helping me and that I, at the time, for a long time, wished it was - I could undo it, that I could undo that hit.

And when you're in emotional state like a concussion, you are essentially disconnected from yourself. And I had all these symptoms, and I was so angry at her. And I prayed so many days. I was like, why couldn't you have just missed me? You know, because I was a different person now. I was - I changed. Emotionally, I was different - my confidence, my focus, all these different things. And I was so lost. In the wilderness is what I call it, lost in the wilderness. I was disconnected. And I just was so mad at her for hitting me and making my life go off the rails like she did.

GROSS: But you changed your attitude eventually?

SCURRY: Eventually, I did, yes. I was able to with a lot of therapy. So I was in that state of emotional distress. I had emotional and physical symptoms. I had depression. I once stood on the ledge of a waterfalls in Little Falls, N.J., and contemplated suicide. The railing where the falls were was really low, and the water was just rushing over the over the falls. And I could feel the mist of that water on my face. And I contemplated jumping over. And I knew if I did that, I wouldn't survive it because I couldn't swim. And the water was so high because it had rained just recently. And I knew if I go into this water, I'm never coming out.

But what stopped me was the image of my mom and some official, some law enforcement official, knocking on her door and notifying her that her baby was gone. I couldn't do that to her. So that image got me off the ledge and onto some solid ground, literally. And after that, I decided I wasn't going to commit suicide while my mother was alive 'cause I just couldn't do it to her. And that was the beginning of my journey back to me.

GROSS: My guest is Briana Scurry. Her new memoir about her soccer career, her concussion and more is titled "My Greatest Save." If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis with suicidal thoughts, you can find support by dialing or texting the suicide and crisis lifeline at 988. That's 988. We'll hear more of my interview with Briana Scurry after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARIO ADNET AND ZE NOGUEIRA'S "EXCERTO NO. 1")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Briana Scurry, one of the most celebrated players and one of the top goalkeepers in the history of women's soccer. She's a two-time Olympic gold medalist and won a World Cup in 1999.

So you were going through the depression. You had no income because you couldn't work. And because the professional league that you were part of basically dissolved, you didn't have, you know, an infrastructure from the team of medical support or teammates. And so you were on your own.

Your insurance company kept refusing to give you the surgery that you needed to repair the occipital nerve, which had been damaged and was the reason for your excruciating headaches. So you were really just, like, getting nowhere, and you ended up pawning your Olympic gold medals. Well, it wasn't exactly called pawning. These were, like, nonbank loans, which is kind of, like, high-class pawning. Would you describe how you pawned the Olympic medals?

SCURRY: So on the day that I went there, I drove my vehicle I'd say not more than an hour downtown New York on Highway 80 with this raging debate going on in my heart and my soul and my mind about what I was doing. I was essentially going to take my 8-year-old self, the medal that I had wanted since I was young, the medal that I, my parents and all my family and all my friends and all my coaches had worked to get over the course of decades, and I was going to go, and I was going to give it to these strangers for money. And at that point, I cried. I remember driving up the highway. Each exit I passed, I wanted to turn around and go back.

And I fought this battle in my mind. On one hand, I knew I needed this money in order to be stable, in order to not lose my apartment, in order to not, basically, either be homeless or go back and live with my mom to support myself. On the other hand, it was my Olympic gold medal. It was the medal that - we had worked so hard, and I was going to be such a shame to my friends and family for pawning this thing that meant so much to me and to them. And I just cried the whole way there.

And then when I got there, I just sat there in the office. And to their credit, they were so kind. They were so nice to me. They were so polite. And they had a tenderness about them that made me feel comfortable about what I was doing. But as soon as I left the building, I went to my car, and I just cried. And I cried and I cried and I cried and I cried for over an hour before I could even get up the strength to drive home.

GROSS: Did your friends and former teammates know how bad your concussion was? Did they know the hell that you were going through? Wasn't there anyone who could have helped you financially and otherwise?

SCURRY: They did know how bad it was to a point. I had borrowed several thousands of dollars from friends and family at that point. And I just felt like I couldn't go back to that well again. I already owed them so much money, and I just was slipping deeper and deeper into despair. And asking for help back then, Terry really was a difficult thing for me to do. I had so much pride and so much built up in who I was, and I felt like such a shadow of myself at that point that I just didn't want to bother and be a burden to anyone else. And I knew that I did have something of value that I could use to get myself back on stable ground, even though it ripped my heart out.

GROSS: How much money did you get for the medals?

SCURRY: So I got a total of $18,000 for both of them. I got $5,000...

GROSS: Combined?

SCURRY: ...For the first one - yes. And then $13,000 for the second, combined.

GROSS: You know, in the scheme of things, that's a lot of money to help you get by for a while. But in the scheme of things, it's really not that much money.

SCURRY: It's not. It's not that much money at all, considering all the time and effort that goes into winning and what those medals represented. It was a pittance comparatively, but it was the patch and the temporary fix that I needed to get some stability in order to continue to press forward and get the help I needed.

GROSS: At the same time that this was happening, your relationship with Naomi, who had been the team massage therapist and you'd been a couple for about six years, that relationship was breaking up, although you remained good friends. And she had a startup at some point for an apparel company that she was starting. And there was an event for potential investors, and she told you you should come. And you kind of reluctantly went. And it was there that you met the woman who not only helped you buy back your Olympic medals but eventually became your wife. Tell us a little bit about her and what she was able to do for you to get your life back. I should mention she - I don't know if she still has this, but she had what sounds like a very high-level public relations company.

SCURRY: Yes, she still does have it. And she was at that event that you'd mentioned, and I didn't meet her there in person necessarily. But at that event, at the end of it, after being there, my headache was so bad that I laid down on the couch in the other room. And as people were leaving the event, I was laying on the couch and, sure enough, Chryssa saw me on that couch. And so a few days later, when she and Naomi were talking over dinner about investing in the company, Naomi, in a stroke of absolute, like, miracle for me, learned that Chryssa was in PR. And she said to her, I have a friend who's battling the insurance company and trying to get this procedure done. They are not budging and not helping her. Do you think that you could potentially help her with maybe some well-placed media, move that ball along? And Chryssa said, sure, let her - have her call me. And so Naomi came back to me a couple days later and told me about this dinner that she had had with this woman, Chryssa, and that she thought she could maybe help me with the insurance company do the right thing.

GROSS: So the idea was get a lot of publicity, shame the insurance company and get the support that you needed from the insurance company so you could get your surgery.

SCURRY: Exactly. Exactly. Because the insurance company definitely didn't want the headline to be two-time Olympic gold medalist, World Cup champion battles insurance company over clear issues and obvious payments that they should make. They didn't want that to be in the USA Today, the LA Times, The New York Times and the like. And so when Chryssa and I finally did speak, I told her all about my plight, all about what I was dealing with. And she said, OK, let me speak to your lawyers, and we'll talk about what we can do. And so Chryssa spoke to them, and the lawyers are the ones that went back to the insurance company and said, look, here's the deal. You need to do the right thing. You need to pay for this surgery. We already went to court, and it was found that you were liable and that you need to pay. So do it or this is what's going to happen. The media is going to find out this story, and it's not going to look good for you. At that moment, they did a complete 180. I got my surgery. I got a whole year of therapy after that. And I was able to settle with that insurance company during that year as well.

GROSS: It's infuriating that they didn't really believe you.

SCURRY: It is.

GROSS: That they didn't believe how severe your symptoms were. They didn't believe that you should have this operation that was recommended for you. And when you woke - when you got this surgery and awoke from it, you had no headache. You felt great.

SCURRY: Yes, I did. I knew immediately. So Naomi and Chryssa were both at the hospital when I got this surgery. So when I came out of surgery, I remember opening up my eyes and just being so happy I started crying. Because when you have chronic pain like that that I had for three years, you don't realize how painful and how much energy it takes up until it's gone. And then when it was gone, I was just so excited. And I told Chryssa and Naomi, and they told me later that they looked at each other and said, she's just still under the anesthesia (laughter). It's not all that she thinks it is. But sure enough, it was.

GROSS: Let me reintroduce you again. If you're just joining us, my guest is Briana Scurry, and her new memoir is called "My Greatest Save." We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEBO VALDES TRIO'S "LAMENTO CUBANO")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Briana Scurry. She was a longtime goalkeeper for women's soccer, a two-time gold medalist and a World Cup winner. Her new memoir is called "My Greatest Save."

So there's a photo of you in the Smithsonian African American Museum of History and Culture. That would be meaningful to anyone who is in it. But is it especially meaningful to you because for so long, like, you were the only Black athlete on the soccer teams that you played on because soccer in the U.S. has been so associated with it being a white sport?

SCURRY: Absolutely. I didn't know that my body of work on and off the pitch was having that big of an effect on the African American community. And so when we finally did speak to the curator, I was so humbled and so thrilled to be honored, to be in the same building as Oprah Winfrey, as Rosa Parks, Tiger Woods, Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King. I didn't really think that my contribution was necessarily going to be worthy of that type of honor.

And then when I spoke to them, they wanted me to be the Title IX example for the "Title IX" exhibit within the "Game Changers" exhibit at the museum. And I was more than honored and thrilled to do so. So in that "Game Changers" exhibit is the jersey that I wore for the Women's World Cup that I made that penalty kick save in. That is the actual jersey in that exhibit.

GROSS: That's so great. Briana Scurry, it's been so great to talk with you. I'm so glad you're well and that you have - you know, that you have a good, fulfilling, stable, physically comfortable life now, that you're not in pain, and that you have the recognition, that you still have, you know, all the recognition and more. So it's been a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you so much.

SCURRY: Terry, thank you so much for honoring me and having me on your show. And it's been fantastic to speak with you.

GROSS: Briana Scurry's new memoir is called "My Greatest Save."

Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, my guest will be New York Times reporter Charles Homans, who has investigated how the Stop the Steal movement has morphed into a new phase. Looking ahead to future elections, he says scores of groups have organized at the state and local levels with the help of right-wing media figures and activists to take aim at the thousands of obscure pressure points in our electoral system. I hope you'll join us.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOMMY FLANAGAN PERFORMANCE OF COLTRANE'S "GIANT STEPS")

GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Susan Nyakundi. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I am Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOMMY FLANAGAN PERFORMANCE OF COLTRANE'S "GIANT STEPS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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