Get to Know Alex Morgan

From a very young age, Alex Morgan was an undeniable athlete, devoting her childhood and early teenage years in Southern California to basketball, volleyball, track, and soccer.

By the time she turned 14 years old, she joined a club soccer team for the first time, outshining her teammates with her speed and agility, eventually becoming an all-league and All-American player.

Already having had a late start to the game, Morgan decided to focus on soccer. In no time, she was asked to train with the United States under-20 women's national team at the age of 17, leading to her career as a Golden Bear for the University of California, Berkeley.

Only a few short months after her graduation, Morgan was the No. 1 overall pick drafted by the Western New York Flash in 2011, a short time before she played at the U.S. World Cup — the team's youngest member at age 21.

Just five years later, 26-year-old Morgan has become a highly recognized figure in the media world, a New York Times Middle Grade best-selling author of a fictional book series for young girls, and a role model for female athletes everywhere.

Check out her Q&A with MAKERS below and learn more about her new campaign involvement, how she is preparing for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, and her advice to her future children.

Q: How did you get involved with the Always #LikeAGirl campaign? What does it mean to you?
A: I've always felt a commitment to empower girls around the globe to play sports. After seeing the first Always #LikeAGirl video, I instantly felt engaged in the campaign and wanted to be, even just a small part, of the Always #LikeAGirl message. Then, after learning about the latest research findings on how societal expectations have an impact on girls’ decision to keep playing sports, particularly during puberty, I knew I had to join Always’ movement and help spread the message to “Keep Playing” to all girls. I was shocked to learn that half of girls will quit sports by age 17, because I know how much playing sports helped my confidence. I hope that as girls see me playing and giving my all, they will know that they can do amazing things too.

Q: It is shocking to hear about how many girls are quitting! Why do you think that is and what was your own experience playing sports growing up that made you keep playing?
A: It is. Always' research found that seven out of ten girls feel like they don’t belong in sports and, when only about a third of girls feel encouraged to play, it's no wonder so many quit. I’ve always had a love for sports, but there were definitely times that were hard. Those teenage years are tough, and I didn’t always feel confident — so I can relate to the girls that we’re trying to reach with this Keep Playing #LikeAGirl message. Thankfully, I had a really strong support system of family and teammates and they helped motivate me to keep playing. My parents helped me realize that sometimes the things you love take hard work. I can’t even imagine my life without soccer and I’m so proud of myself that I continued to push myself and keep playing. I want to encourage every girl to do the same.

Q: As part of the new Always #LikeAGirl campaign, how does it feel to take on the part of role model for young girls?
A: I'm truly honored to be a role model for girls across the world. We’ve seen through Always’ research that more than half of girls feel there aren’t enough female role models in sports. If I can help fill that role and encourage girls to keep playing and doing what they love, that’s incredible. I want every girl to realize that they have true potential and can do anything they set their minds to.

Q: If you could talk to your 17-year-old self, what would you tell her?
A: I would just remind myself that if you put hard work into something, you can achieve amazing things. Because I decided to keep playing and challenging myself to do better, I have earned the honor of representing my country and the sport at the highest levels. Now, ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, at a moment when female athletes are celebrated for their achievements worldwide, I hope to help to empower all girls to keep playing the sport they love and not stop.

Q: A few months back the U.S. women’s soccer team suggested they may boycott the 2016 Rio Olympic Games due to wage discrimination and gender inequality in the game, but the Senate option has since been shut down by a judge. What is the team doing to prepare for an event they did not know if they would be attending?
A: Soccer is both my passion and my profession, so my priority has always been on the game itself. I made a commitment to keep playing because this sport has made me the woman I am today. I approach every practice and every session in the gym with the same determination — whether in the lead-up to the Olympics, a championship final, or a scrimmage on my home turf.

Q: What are the team's plans to close the wage gap once the memorandum is over at the end of 2016?
A: Right now, we're really focused on the task at hand — which is representing our country at the Olympics and performing as well as we can. We're working hard and shooting to bring home that Gold for USA in August and I hope we’ll be able to show girls everywhere that playing #LikeAGirl is pretty awesome.

Q: How do you think closing the wage gap in national soccer will affect the wages of women in every other field?
A: I don't pretend to be an expert on wages and the economy, but I know that wage inequality is one way that society can limit girls in what they can do and achieve. I hope that the visibility we’re bringing to the issue will help girls and women around the world feel like they can have these hard conversations too.

Because I'm passionate about empowering girls, I’m so excited to be working with the Always #LikeAGirl campaign. I really believe that girls can do anything and everything they put their minds to, and they deserve to be recognized for their contributions.

Q: In her exclusive MAKERS interview, Abby Wambach says: "When you're in it, you can't really feel the injustices that may be going on because you’re at the mercy of it, you still have to pay your bills." How has or hasn't this impacted your career choices?
A: I didn't dream to be a professional footballer thinking about whether I would even make a living doing it or not. You don't get into women's soccer because of the money. We are told to feel fortunate with what we are given, and this is where the injustices stem from.

Q: If you could choose one of your U.S. Olympic teammates with whom to start a foundation, who would you pick, and what would the foundation’s focus be?
A: I would start a foundation with Becky Sauerbrunn on growing the game globally. Becky is our captain and someone who has given so much to the game of soccer, and I think it would be great to create women's youth leagues in countries that don't give any attention to women's sports.

Q: What's one personal goal you have for yourself for both before and after the Olympics?
A: Before the Olympics I want to keep healthy and be mentally 100% ready. After the Olympics I want to have a gold medal around my neck.

Q: As someone who is looking forward to being a mother in the future, and who continues to inspire youth through your book series "The Kicks," what would you say the single most important lesson would be for you to pass down to your future children?
A: Believe in yourself, and don't be discouraged by someone who doubts you. For that one person, there are ten more that encourage you.

Q: You're now 26 and had the dream of winning an Olympic medal since you were about 7 years old. Knowing how far you've come and all you have been through, what is one piece of advice you wish you had known that could help others with similar passions?
A: Love it every single day, and strive to learn something new or challenge yourself at least once a day.

NEXT: Alex Morgan Shares Why She's Fighting for Equal Pay »

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Alex Morgan