Hometown hero and soccer legend Abby Wambach returned to Rochester on Friday to promote her new memoir “Forward” at a unticketed book signing held at the UR Barnes and Noble bookstore.
The two-time Olympian not only captivated the greater Rochester community with her message, but headlined College Town’s most high profile event in its two-year history, giving managers hope that the University’s foray into business development can hold its own against Rochester’s established venues.
Patrons began lining up for the event at around 4:30 pm, two and a half hours before the signing was slated to begin.
“At one point, the line stretched all the way past Texas de Brazil from our doors,” Steven Lawrence, the bookstore’s General Reading Manager, said.
The line was a hodgepodge of hundreds of aspiring soccer players, longtime fanatics, and University athletes.
Young children, teens, and college students made up the majority, with many wearing either Wambach apparel or sporting their own personal soccer swag.
One group of teens had traveled over two hours to meet their role model,the person who had empowered them to keep playing and fighting for their rights.
“I like that [Wambach] is fighting for equal pay in this country. Women deserve equal pay as they won the World Cup, while the U.S. men did not,” Sara Rachon, 14, of Utica said.
Nine-year-old Marin Wood of Fairport cited Wambach as her soccer influence.
“I started playing soccer because of Abby Wambach,” she said. “From watching [her] play, I’ve learned to become a bit more aggressive and win the ball more.”
Although Wambach’s fan base is filled with young people, she said in a press conference before the signing that her new book contains “real-life stuff” and not the “shiny perfect pretty stuff” that the soccer star’s younger following is accustomed to.
For the Rochester native, it was her DUI in April that allowed her to recognize the “secrets” regarding her alcohol abuse she was holding onto. While the original purpose of her memoir was to serve as a career stepping stone, the focus shifted to helping people who are struggling with similar addictions.
“In the recovery world, secrets are the kiss of death,” Wambach said. “For me, I had to tell my truth, I had to tell it open, honestly, and unashamed, and I think I’ve done that with this book.”
To provide her young fans with some relatively age-appropriate insight, Harper Collins, the memoir’s publisher, released a young readers’ edition. But, when asked about her shifting optics from the parents of these young readers, Wambach responded without regrets and apologies.
“I’m not out here to be a role model; I’m out here to be myself,” the World Cup winner said. “If you choose to follow me and choose to want to be with me in my corner and have your kid follow in some of the footsteps that I lay, that’s great, but I’m not out here trying to get fans. I want fans to see who I really truly am unapologetically. I’m not hiding anything now. I think people want real. I would rather be honest and loved than shiny and admired.”
Her fans appreciate and admire Wambach’s candor and understand her imperfections.
Rina Bardin, UR junior and longtime fan of the soccer star, values not only her honesty, but her humility.
“She’s always honest very humble while being a good spokesperson who doesn’t let criticism get to her,” she said.
Irondequoit resident Robert Bens “doesn’t think any different of her,” as Wambach is only human.
“I support [her] because she’s the leading career scorer in international [competition] of either sex,” he said.
In discussing her life off the field, the Our Lady of Mercy High School alumna veered into her future aspirations and goals for society.
The contents of her memoir contain all of the labels she’s been previously assigned.
Her ultimate goal is to aid society to help strip itself of labeling and instead “meet people with real truth.”
Her visit invigorated the University’s College Town project, which has taken a hit in the last year as some businesses packed their bags and left.
“In our around two years being here, this is our biggest event yet,” Lawrence said. “[This event] helps college town in general, not just [us]. For example, a lot of different people are going to Insomnia,” he said.
Francine McAndrew, the bookstore’s event manager, concurred.
“This shows that we can handle a big event,” she said.
“Rochester is not the place people normally come to on book tours,” Wambach said at the event. “But I’m here because Rochester has been such a valuable part of my career. There’s no better way to come and celebrate with the people that helped me grow up, helped me learn about myself.”