“Always play with your heart,” a coach of Natasha’s once advised her. “When you play with your heart, you’re unstoppable.” Her record certainly suggests so: In college she was named conference player of the year an unprecedented three times. In 2004 she was the leading scorer for the US Under-21 Women’s National Team. After a trying recovery from shoulder surgery in 2005, she joined the US Women’s National Team in 2006.
Coming off the bench for that team, she scored critical goals in her first two professional games, which secured the 2006 Algarve Cup for the United States and valuable credibility for Natasha. In 2007 she was chosen for the US Women’s World Cup Team.
“Coaches know that I’ll give 110 percent if I play one minute or 90 minutes,” she says. Her disposition has been known to cross the line from passionate to hot-tempered, but when the game’s on the line, she has proved her mettle. “When you only need one goal to win, the team needs that energy to feed off of,” she insists, defending her aggressive style. “I come off the bench as a firecracker.”
Her fervor pushed her all the way to the highest of athletic hopes, the Olympic Games. There, during the quarterfinal game against Canada, Natasha seized the Olympic spotlight, scoring the winning goal in overtime to send the United States into the medal rounds.
The image of the crowd that filled the Workers’ Stadium for the gold-medal game remains vivid in her mind. “There were 1,000 Americans and a hundred million people from everywhere else,” she describes. “It was us against the world!” Defying the fans’ expectations, the United States prevailed against Brazil. For Natasha it was the realization of a dream she had pursued since she was a small girl of 5. “When we got the gold medal locked up, I felt complete,” she says. “It felt so good just to win, especially since we were the underdog. I cried like a baby.” That night she slept with the gold medal around her neck.
Natasha racked up some other unforgettable moments at the Olympics: Kobe Bryant throwing her a shaka from the skybox. Trading tattoo stories with David Beckham at the gold-medal party. Watching Usain Bolt sprint to a gold medal in the Bird’s Nest Stadium. Vince Vaughn arranging for her to fly home first class.
“When we walked out and heard our national anthem and saw our flag blowing above all the others, it was every feeling in the world, every memory, good and bad, the whole emotional roller coaster,” she says, reflecting on the experience. “It took me twenty years to accomplish my dream. In those twenty years, I didn’t let people tell me what I can’t do.” She describes the tattoo that now stretches across her shoulder blades. It shows the Chinese characters for “believe” resting in God’s hands. She shares the mantra the US team repeated throughout the competition: “If we believe in each other, then we’re going to win.”
In March, Natasha moved to New Jersey to play for the New York/New Jersey Sky Blue FC, one of seven teams that comprise the Women’s Professional Soccer League. But the Kahuku girl will always look to her roots for leverage. She intends to do the Red Raiders proud. “Now that I know what it feels like to win,” she says, “I want to win everything I do.” HH