Long before Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe became World Cup sheroes, Washington's Michelle Akers was a pioneering "goddess of soccer."
The sinewy girl with flowing curls was an All-American at Shorecrest High, which she led to a state championship in 1983. Later called "the Michael Jordan of soccer," Akers was just getting started.
She was the leading scorer in the first women's World Cup, won by the U.S. in 1991. Quiet and spiritual but fiercely competitive, she brought home a gold medal for the U.S. in the 1996 Olympics, despite battling chronic fatigue syndrome. She was an inspirational figure on the "99ers," the charismatic U.S. team that elevated women's sports with its 1999 World Cup victory before a record TV audience.
The first woman soccer star with an endorsement contract, Akers was FIFA's Female Player of the Century, jointly with China's Sun Wen. More than 30 surgeries drove her to retire. She now runs a farm for rescued horses. Akers, who had numerous concussions, helped launch a 2019 study of brain injuries that may be sustained by players heading balls. Goalies sometimes kick balls that drop from five-story heights.