WPS Defender Works Hard for her Dream

"There were times where rehab was very difficult," Hammond said. "But I think the mental side is what really picked me up--to mentally get through anything that might be physically bothering me."

It was during her sophomore year at Clemson that the professional league she aspired to play in, the WUSA, suspended operations due to lack of funds. But even that devastating news came with a catch--there was chatter soon after that professional women's soccer could make a comeback. No immediate timetable, no further information.

It was all Hammond needed to hear.

"I was hearing it was going to come back," Hammond said, "and I just kept myself in shape to give myself a shot at playing in the league."

She played on semi-pro teams during the summers to keep her skills sharp. She played pickup games wherever she could, whenever she could. She started coaching at the collegiate level--first as a graduate assistant at Kansas, then as a full-time assistant at Eastern Illinois--and would frequently work hands-on with the players she was leading.

In the summer of 2008, Hammond played for the Chicago Gaels of the semipro W-League. Soon after, she received an invitation to attend a scouting combine in Florida for the new WPS, the seven-team pro league she was waiting for.

Women's professional soccer was returning the following spring. Hammond would get her chance.

Hammond felt prepared in Florida, and tried to stay within her game. It paid off. She caught the eye of Sky Blue FC general manager Ian Sawyers, who drafted her in the fourth round of the league's inaugural draft. She projects to be an outside defender for New Jersey.

"It's kind of surreal for me to call myself a professional athlete," Hammond said. "But I think all the years of preparing and training and really pushing myself have helped me accomplish this goal."

It's now time to work. Hammond goes on a long run on Mondays, which gets her body ready for the exhausting week that will follow.

Hammond realizes what other professionals found out on their rise to the top. It was legendary basketball player Pete Maravich who summed it up best, after explaining that he too would spend up to eight hours a day doing individual work to become one of the best.

"You don't get here," Maravich famously said, "by wishing."

With that, Hammond takes off for another workout. There's more to be done.

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