You never know when or where true love is going to strike.
Consider Abby Wambach and Glennon Doyle, who met at a librarian convention in 2016. Both had new books out to promote. Doyle's, Love Warrior, was about all the work she and husband Craig Melton had put into saving their marriage after a series of problems (including his cheating).
"When Abby showed up, something happened," the author and motivational speaker recalled to the Wall Street Journal in early 2020. "I saw in her someone who never internalized the stuff I had been trying to shake off. She seemed so free and strong and was the kindest person in the room. I had always thought there was something different about me. With Abby, I understood. I didn't think to myself, 'Oh, I'm gay.' Instead, I just knew she was my person forever."
Meanwhile, Wambach, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and World Cup champion with the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team, was at the convention with her memoir Forward, in which she opened up about, yes, her achievements, but also her divorce (which was so recent she first revealed it in the book) and her battle with alcohol and pill addiction.
Needless to say, she didn't always feel like the strongest person. But then into her life walked "a Christian mommy blogger."
Wambach, the leading all-time goal scorer for the USWNT, had known very little besides winning all of her life. The youngest of seven kids, she started playing soccer at 4 in her hometown of Rochester, NY, after her mom checked out a book about the sport for her from the library.
She went on to be an All-American selection in high school and college, and she led the University of Florida Gators to their first women's soccer championship as a freshman in 1998, and she remains the school's all-time goal scorer. In her first year as a professional, she was named WUSA's Rookie of the year, and she is a six-time U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year. In 2012, after the U.S. women's team won their second straight Olympic gold medal, she was named FIFA World Player of the Year—only the fourth woman ever to be given the honor, and the first since the previous face of women's soccer, her former Washington Freedom teammate Mia Hamm, in 2002. (In 2003, they tied for highest scorer in the league, with 33 goals apiece.)
Name a lofty height in soccer, Wambach has achieved it. Her natural talent, discipline and drive made her one of the best athletes playing in any sport.
Her personal life, however, was a bit more all over the place.
After retiring from the USWNT at the end of 2015, the universe started throwing yellow cards her way.
Wambach was arrested for DUI in April 2016 after being pulled over in Portland, Ore., for running a red light and she promptly pleaded guilty, part of the deal including that she have a breathalyzer installed in her vehicle and that she undergo drug and alcohol treatment. Because she was a first-time offender, she was eligible to have the conviction removed from her record after a year if she successfully completed a diversion program.
The MVP Healthcare spokeswoman considered her embarrassing run-in with the law a much-needed wake-up call.
"That night getting arrested was one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Because if I don't get so publicly shamed and publicly humiliated, I don't think I wake up," Wambach told the Associated Press on her book tour that September. "I think I was asleep for a lot of years. Asleep to the pleas from my family and friends, and even myself, to get help. So that night I was humiliated enough to wake up."
At the same time, her relationship with wife Sarah Huffman was on the rocks. The Western New York Flash teammates had tied the knot on a Kauai beach in October 2013, Wambach later denying that it was some sort of political statement, same-sex marriage not yet legally recognized at the time in Hawaii, much less all 50 states as it would become in 2015.
''I wasn't going to wait for a state to legalize it for my own life," she told reporters a couple weeks after the "I dos," adding, ''I can't speak for other people, but for me, I feel like gone are the days that you need to come out of a closet. I never felt like I was in a closet. I never did. I always felt comfortable with who I am and the decisions I made."
She continued, "I've never been asked a question in my soccer world about my relationship, rightfully so because it shouldn't matter, because it doesn't have anything to do with soccer. But I realize I'm a public figure and people are curious about my private life. I'm honestly not the kind of person who wants to step up to a podium, test the microphone and be like, 'Hey, I'm homosexual and this is who I am, hear me roar!' That's not who I am."
But the kiss she shared with Huffman after the USWNT won the World Cup in July 2015 roared on its own, a shoo-in for the Romance Hall of Fame. And even after their split just months later, Wambach paid tribute to Huffman for helping her keep her life together when it threatened to spiral out of control.
"Not only was I hiding this secret from the world for so long, so were the people that I loved—they loved me so fiercely they wanted to protect me as much as possible, almost from myself," she told the AP. "Sarah was definitely one of my saving graces because she was one of the first people in my life who made me aware of the problems that I was having. And this was years ago. This isn't something that just snuck up on me when I retired from soccer. This is something I've been dealing with for years now."
Wambach concluded, "It's really hard to talk about things when you're ashamed. And I'm not ashamed about what happened to me anymore because it led me to where I'm at right now. I'm proud of where I'm at."
What she didn't indicate about where she was at, at the time, was whether she was already newly smitten with Momastery blogger Glennon Doyle.
No stranger to overcoming adversity, Doyle had battled bulimia at a young age and drank and did drugs in college, eventually deciding to get sober in 2002 when she got pregnant with her first child. (Also when she found out she was expecting, she married her now-ex-husband, because "I thought it was the right thing to do," she told Glamour.com.)
"I'd never even kissed a girl, so I had no context for what was about to happen to me," she divulged on MamaMia's No Filter podcast in May 2020. "But when Abby walked in the room, I'm telling you, it was like that [inner] voice that I had been practicing hearing and trusting [after my separation] just screamed. My whole self was like 'there she is,' and I just knew."
About a month later they started corresponding, Doyle recalled, and a month after that, "I sat down with Craig and said, 'It's over. I'm in love.' By the way, Abby and I had never seen each other outside of that room. We spent 10 minutes together and then dismantled our entire lives to be together."
As Wambach recalled to the New York Times, "We couldn't have been a worse fit for each other. Glennon had a husband and three children and lived in Naples, Fla. I'd been sober for a month, my marriage was falling apart, I'd just left my soccer career of 30 years and I lived in Portland, Ore."
That November, they became Instagram official when Doyle posted a photo with Wambach, writing, "Her name is Abby. You might recognize her from soccer."
By the end of 2016, they were both fully extricated from their marriages (Doyle called her divorce amicable) and in May 2017 they married each other, settling down in Naples.
Talking to the WSJ, Doyle said Wambach made her "unashamed" to be herself and showed her she was "completely lovable exactly as I am."
In addition to her writing projects, including her latest book, Untamed, Doyle is the founder of Together Rising, a nonprofit that supports at-risk women and families.
Wambach—now, like her wife, an in-demand public speaker—launched the leadership development and training program Wolfpack Endeavor, inspired by the theme of a 2018 commencement speech she gave at Barnard College that turned into her 2019 book Wolfpack: How to Come Together, Unleash Our Power, and Change the Game. She refrained from wading into politics for most of her career, not wanting to distract from the sport, but as her time with the USWNT wound down she became more outspoken, especially in the arena of gender equality.
And, of course, the spouses stay busy co-parenting Doyle's three kids with her ex-husband, Melton, whom she calls the second-kindest person she knows after her wife.
"A year and a half ago when I was really struggling and pretty sick, if you were to tell me I'd be a stepmom and sober and living in Florida and as happy as I've ever been, I would have called you a liar,'' Wambach told SI.com in June 2017. The kids—Chase, Tish and Amma—"are the best teachers I've ever had."
But as all athletes know, getting better at anything is a process. Strengthening any muscle, physical or emotional, takes reps.
"For the first couple of years, I was basically in observation mode—a little bit afraid to participate in the emotional welfare, the physical safety, and the development of these kids," Wambach admitted to Glamour.com in October 2019. "I felt like I was a little bit of an outsider. I didn't really know what the hell I was doing, and Glennon—if you could see her parenting in action, it would be like going to be the assistant of the best coach that ever was and having no experience. But over time I realized that we both have very different strengths and we both do provide very different things for each of our kids. There's no one-stop-shop parenting."
And while Melton does his equal share as a co-parent, Wambach acknowledged that her wife's ex-husband needed a minute to wrap his head around the new normal.
"What people don't know about us is that it has taken quite a bit of work to get to this loving blended family," she said. "It started with Craig, who put his feelings aside and his children's feelings before his own while going through the divorce. He gave these children permission to love me. It was truly maybe the greatest gift anybody's ever given me and, probably, Glennon."
Melton told the New York Times, "I've seen a lot of people in similar situations where the two exes put their egos first and the kids suffer. I wanted to be the best role model I could, knowing there was some damage that was my fault in the relationship."
Doyle, who on her website several years before meeting Wambach had written about being a Christian and seeing no issue with homosexuality, said on No Filter, "I'm so grateful that I have always taught my kids that we celebrate who people are on every level and we stand up for people who are marginalized in any way, because when it came time for them to live it out they didn't have to unlearn any crap. They were open-armed to Abby.
"And also," the author added, "she's a miracle. I mean, it really feels like she's not somebody that was added to our family—and Craig would tell you the same thing—it feels like she was missing from our family."
Perhaps that's why it seems as if they've been making up for lost time, cherishing every minute together and amassing memories right and left:
Considering they're just a few years into the rest of their lives, they know the challenges have barely begun. Which is fine, considering neither is the type to not give 110 percent to a cause that matters to them.
"It's not done," Wambach told Glamour. "The marriage part is getting to the altar and saying, 'I do,' but it's not the finish line. That's where it begins. That's where the work really does start, because everybody knows what it's like to be courting and to be falling in love and how your brain lights up. Being in a marriage is choosing to love each other every day and trying to co-create some beautiful existence. I'm just lucky to be able to do it with somebody who wants to talk as much as I do."
This story was originally published on Sunday, Aug. 20, 2020 at 7 a.m.