Originally published on cbc.ca/sports

In the span of 16 minutes Carli Lloyd became a superstar. Her three goal performance at the 2015 Women’s World Cup to help the U.S. defeat defending champions Japan (5-2) stands as one of the greatest performances (male or female) in a final.

Accolades naturally followed, including the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year Award — where Lloyd stood shoulder to shoulder alongside Lionel Messi on a gilded stage.

And yet Lloyd, 34, insists she hasn’t reached the pinnacle of her career. Speaking in June to Us Magazine she said, “I set out [to become] the best player in the world and I achieved that… Now it’s about continuing to be the best.”

Rio will be her next shot at cementing her legacy, where, along with fellow co-captain (Becky Sauerbrunn) she hopes to lead the U.S. to their fourth straight gold medal (fifth overall).

Carli Lloyd and Lionel Messi pose after receiving their respective awards for the best male and female soccer players of 2015 at the FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala in Zurich, Switzerland in January. (Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)

And while no women’s team has ever won back-to-back World Cups and Olympics, Lloyd’s ambition stretches far beyond 2016. For Rio is but one of three stepping stones — along with the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France and the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 — that she envisions winning to complete her ascension.

While some may see Lloyd’s confidence as cockiness there is no denying that her’s is the quintessential American story. Born in a blue-collar town, this “Jersey Girl” (a label she proudly embraces) is the embodiment of the ethos that hard work ultimately pays.

If nothing more, Lloyd is driven. “I know that the majority of people aren’t waking up at 5 or 6 a.m. if they need to go out to the field to train. I know that the majority of people aren’t training on Christmas Day, on New Year’s Day, on Thanksgiving and on various holidays.”

“I’m sick of losing… I’m a winner, and I want to go out there and win.” – Carli Lloyd, player

And yet, Lloyd first needed to fail to learn her lessons. Despite devoting herself to soccer from a young age, she nearly walked away from the sport after being cut from the U-21 national squad for poor fitness and defensive liability.

“Growing up I relied on talent and was pretty much the best player on every team. Then [during national try outs], I was no longer the best but one of a bunch of great, amazing players and I didn’t know how to handle it.”

Realizing she needed help, Lloyd hired a fitness coach and began training twice a day, seven days a week to turn her perceived weaknesses into strengths.

“That final [those 16 minutes] encapsulated the last 13 years of hard work; you don’t just do something like that overnight,” says Lloyd.

But there was still something missing.

After all, Lloyd has been leading the American midfield for years. She even scored the winning goal at both the 2008 and 2012 Olympics but remained in the shadow of more recognizable players like Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan.

“I’ve done well in Algarve Cups. I’ve done well in World Cup and Olympic qualifiers, Olympics. In big games when we’re playing top-five teams. But yet you never see my face or my name out there. And it has frustrated me my entire career,” Lloyd told ESPN in May.

Tired of being ignored, Lloyd started to do that other quintessential American thing: she began to market herself, especially after the US suffered a series of high-profile defeats to Brazil and France in early 2015.

“I’m sick of losing; I’m sick of all the naysayers saying, ‘you’re [only] second in the world — the U.S. is done.’ I’m a winner, and I want to go out there and win.”

So when Lloyd scored a 54-yard screamer to complete her hat trick, her actions amplified her rhetoric and the world took notice.

Endorsements came flooding in: Comcast, United Airlines, EA Sports, Whole Foods, Visa and even Heineken came calling.

Lloyd even has a book coming out after the Olympics — When Nobody Was Watching: My Hard-Fought Journey to Soccer’s Summit — in addition to a fall wedding to her longtime boyfriend.

She wants her legacy, however, to be about more than just her performance. Now that she’s a veteran she has begun mentoring younger players like defender Julie Johnston, who has started training with her.

When asked what she has learned from Lloyd, Johnston said, “Mental toughness. Lloyd, mental toughness, that comes together, I mean that’s an easy question.”

But Lloyd is also looking to make a mark off the field, filing a complaint along with teammates Hope Solo, Megan Rapinoe, Morgan and Sauerbrunn to the The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against the US Soccer Federation as part of a continuing effort to win equal pay for the women’s team.

For if there is one thing that defines Lloyd beyond her winning attitude it’s — respect.

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