Mead began spending two hours every day at a park near her home in Encinitas, California, working to improve her strength and skills. Armed with just a ball and some cones, she performed drills she had learned at previous soccer practices over and over again, or she jumped through plyometric workouts she had developed with her father, a former college hockey player. The training sessions became her nightly routine.
"It's just a two-field complex," Mead says of the park. "The grass there isn't really nice, and people put a lot of holes in it. Sometimes it's extremely crowded, with football, softball, baseball or soccer teams needing to use different parts of the field. I would just be off in a corner doing my own little thing. Then there are times when no one else is on the field and I'd just be there by myself."
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She stuck with her two-hour-a-day workout habit throughout the summer, adopting a "no days off" philosophy. When soccer season arrived, Mead was playing well enough to earn a coveted varsity spot at San Dieguito High School Academy.
She didn't get a ton of playing time at first, but as the season wore on and she developed the trust of her coaches and teammates, she saw the field more frequently. Before the end of the year she had become a starter, and the team's older girls—some of whom are now playing soccer in college—had taken her under their wings.
Sammy Mead outlegs an opponent to get the ball. (Image courtesy Sammy Mead/Doug Sooley)
Mead says, "One of my teammates told me, 'You can be as good as you want to be at this sport, but you will have to work at it.' I knew she was right. Some athletes are just plain gifted. Me? I can do it, but I have to put in the work."
Her first high school season strengthened Mead's love of soccer, and before her sophomore season she set a new goal: To be good enough to play in college. She has worked tirelessly to achieve that objective ever since. She's strict about her sleep schedule, waking up at 5:00 a.m. every day to study before school, and she hasn't eaten junk food in three years. She also stayed true to her "no days off" schedule and added in strength work in the weight room.
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"I used a lot of fitness stuff from STACK," Mead says. "Speed drills. Medicine ball training. Weightlifting as well, because unfortunately in club soccer [Mead plays for San Diego Surf Academy], we don't usually do weight training practices, and in high school it's very limited. So the website helped immensely with weight training."
Mead's work on the field and in the gym produced a serious improvement in her speed. "My mile time decreased a lot," she says. "Before, I could probably run less than a 7-minute mile, which is good. But after training, I went and ran a mile and it was like 5:38 or something crazy like that. I was like, 'Wow, this training really made me run fast.'"
Sammy Mead on the pitch. (Image courtesy Sammy Mead/Doug Sooley)
The 17-year-old Mead, now in the midst of her senior year, is entertaining offers from colleges to play at the next level. With a 4.0 GPA, she says that the right school must address her academic needs first, sports second. She hasn't decided yet whether to attend a school near or far from home (several options she's looking at are in New England), or choose a big school or a small school. Wherever she decides to go next, it's a safe bet that nobody there will outwork her.