Boxx battles past Lupus into final World Cup

At 38 years old, U.S. Women’s National soccer team star Shannon Boxx will put an end to her national career after her fourth and final appearance in the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015.

Boxx, or as friends and family call her “Boxxy,” won’t play another minute of national ball after this summer, but her sizable contribution to team history — and the hole created in the hearts of adoring fans — leaves a legacy into the future.

The national team veteran and member of the Chicago Red Stars of the National Women’s Soccer League reflected on her journey after Sunday’s tuneup match at Avaya Stadium, where the U.S. dispatched Ireland 3-0 to set a promising tone leading up to June’s Women’s World Cup.

Many factors led to her decision to hang up her cleats, Boxx said. Her 14-month-old daughter is first and foremost — with her health right behind.

Though she takes medications to help control her lupus, Boxx said she had a flare just two days ago. Her practice performance suffered, but during Sunday’s afternoon game versus the Republic of Ireland, she told SFBay she felt great:

“I do have it. I do struggle with it. You never know. But I think it’s smart for me to be done soon for my health. It is a lot of stress on your body.”

In 2012, Boxx shocked her teammates and the world with her public announcement that she was diagnosed with lupus, which she had kept secret for five years.

Lupus is a chronic, autoimmune disease that can affect and damage any part of the body from skin to joints and organs. The body is unable to tell the differences between viruses, bacteria, and germs and the body’s healthy tissues. As a result, the body produces antibodies that attack and destroy healthy tissue.

Lupus is a flaring disease, meaning it worsens before remission and causes mild to extreme inflammation, pain, and damage to the body for life. According to the Lupus Foundation of America, about 1.5 million Americans have lupus and women from age 15 to 44 are most likely to be affected.

As Boxx enters her last World Cup, she has found and embraced her new identity, a mix of her old firecracker spirit on the field, a spokeswoman and fighter of lupus, and a dedicated, loving mother:

“I’m going to miss my teammates my around me and walking out onto the field and feeling the atmosphere of the fans. It’s like a light switch, it just turns on and you’re like ‘wow.’ I think I’m going to miss that. You can’t get that adrenaline rush anywhere else.”

Boxx’s national journey began in 2003 when she first made the roster of the Women’s World Cup team as the first player in team history to represent her country without ever previously having a cap, or national team appearance.  She scored in both games of the tournament, going on to be one of the three U.S. players to be named to the 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup All-Star team.

Through her early time with the team, Boxx became a deadly force of a defensive midfielder that wouldn’t quit. In 2005, she was voted third for the FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year.  She started every game except one until the 2006 season, when hip and knees surgeries kept her off the pitch for eight months.

After recovering from her injury, Boxx was lights out for the U.S., starting most games and being a consistent play-making member of the squad. In 2008, she finished second for most minutes played with a total of 2,807 in her 33 starts.

She scored her 21st career goal in 2010 and was one of the two players to start in all 18 of the U.S. matches. In 2011, Boxx surpassed 150 caps for her country, making her the sixteenth player in team history to do so, playing every minute of that year’s World Cup. She was again named to the FIFA Women’s World Cup All-Star team.

Boxx spoke with CNN after revealing her disease, saying that in 2010 she was exhausted mentally, physically, and emotionally. She also said she remembers fighting through her training sessions and coming home to do nothing but lay on the couch for the rest of the day.

She adjusted her habits, took her medication and wrapped herself in compression pants at night to soothe her joints. She switched her weight lifting program around and pushed through whatever pain she felt.

In that same interview, Boxx said she kept her diagnosis a secret because she didn’t want the disease to define her or her performance on the field, but decided that it was time to use her own story as a voice for those with lupus.

In the year following her announcement, a knee injury kept Boxx out for most of the NWSL season. Adding to her challenges, Boxx and her fiance announced the news that they were expecting their first baby.

While she was away recovering from injury and the birth of her daughter Zoe, the team added new, young faces to their roster, gearing up for the next generation of soccer stars.

Boxx’s minutes decreased after her return. Her last match played was April 5, 2013 before playing a few minutes here and there in the 2015 season, but she remained the persistent athlete refusing to walk away from her home away from home:

“When I was pregnant and went through knee surgery I never once thought I didn’t want to come back. I didn’t feel satisfied after 2012, even though we won and that was great, I still felt there was a drive to play. I love the game. There was never a question I wouldn’t get fit again and get back in.”

She adds:

“It was a longer road than I thought [recovery process] and I dedicate a lot of this to Jill [head coach Ellis] who gave me the confidence and gave me the time to see what I can do.”

Boxx said that throughout training sessions, head coach Jill Ellis would remark that she often saw glimpses of the “old Shannon” here and there and, if that Shannon comes back, the team wants that. She used that as motivation to get better, faster, stronger and push to make her way back onto the field.

Reflecting back on her career, Boxx says she is excited to share all of her memories with Zoe and show her pictures of them together from their travels with the team. She is also excited to teach Zoe that her mom’s journey was hard and nothing was ever handed to her, but she worked harder and her stellar career was the result.

And after her last bow on the World Cup stage, Boxxy plans on spending time with her daughter and husband, maybe have another baby, definitely travel a little less, and as always, support the women in Red, White, and Blue.