Sara Whalen
Personal information
Full name Sara Eve Whalen
Date of birth (1976-04-28) April 28, 1976 (age 46)
Place of birth Natick, Massachusetts, U.S.
Height 5 ft 6 in (1.68 m)
Position(s) Defender
College career
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1994–97 Connecticut Huskies
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1997–99 Long Island Lady Riders
2001–02 New York Power 31
National team
1997–2000 United States 65 (7)
*Club domestic league appearances and goals, correct as of December 25, 2013
‡ National team caps and goals, correct as of December 25, 2013

Sara Whalen Hess (born April 28, 1976), née Whalen, is a retired American professional Olympic medalist soccer player. Whalen played for the United States Women's National Soccer Team from 1997 to 2000, won an Olympic silver medal with the team, and was a founding player of Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA).[1]

Early life

Born in Natick, Massachusetts, to John and Linda Whalen, Sara was raised in Greenlawn, New York, with her sister Deborah, and is Jewish.[2][3][4][5][6] She attended Harborfields High School in her hometown, where she played varsity soccer, basketball, and track as a sprinter.

Whalen graduated from the University of Connecticut with a degree in psychology. She received her master's degree in psychology from Fordham University, and her doctorate from Fairleigh Dickinson University.[7][3][8]

Connecticut Huskies

At the University of Connecticut she was a defender and forward for their Huskies women's soccer team. While playing soccer for Connecticut, Whalen was a three-time All-American and was the 1997 NSCAA Division 1 National Player of the Year, as well as being named to Soccer America's Collegiate Team of the Decade for the 1990s.[9] She scored both goals in the 1997 NCAA Final Four semifinal match against Notre Dame, as Connecticut won 2–1 to record one of the biggest upsets in NCAA women's soccer history by defeating the previously unbeaten Irish.[10] Whalen was the 1995 and 1996 Big East Defensive Player of the Year, before playing striker her senior season where she recorded 21 goals and 22 assists to lead her team in scoring.[3] In her final season at UConn, Whalen was named Hermann and M.A.C. Trophy finalists. She also won the Honda Sports Award as the nation's top soccer player.[11][12] She finished her college career with 23 goals and 43 assists. They retired her No. 8 jersey.

Playing career


In 1997, Whalen began her career for the United States women's national soccer team as an outside defender. She earned her first cap against France, while still in college. The following year, 1998, Whalen had a very successful season scoring two goals and garnering three assists.[3] Her role on the team was constantly redefined. She usually appeared as a late game substitute to add attacking speed from a wild midfield post. Because of her versatility, she could either increase the attacking pressure or function as a defensive midfielder as the game situation demands.

In 1999, Whalen helped the US Women's National Team win the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup. This group is famously dubbed the "99er's"; each player helped change the face of women's sports forever. The World Cup was hosted in the United States in various stadiums including the Rose Bowl, Soldier Field, and Sanford Stadium. In the final game against China, neither side had scored and the game moved from extra time to penalty kicks. Whalen played every minute of extra-time in the final against China. Although she did not take a penalty kick, Whalen was the first to run up to Brandi Chastain after she secured the victory for the United States. Both were featured on the cover of Time Magazine and today it is still one of the most iconic images in sports history.

The following year, Whalen won a silver medal as a part of the US Women's Team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. They lost to Norway in the final game 3–2.[13][14][15]


From 1997 through 1999, Whalen played for the club team the Long Island Lady Riders. In 1997, Whalen helped the Riders win the USL W-League Champions. In 1998, she returned to play for the Lady Riders but due to her commitment to the Women's National Team she was not able to return until after the World Cup. From 2001 through 2002, Whalen played for the New York Power where she made 31 appearances. Her season was cut short due to injury.

In 2001, Whalen was a founding player of the Women's United Soccer Association, playing alongside US teammates Christie Pearce and Tiffeny Milbrett for the New York Power. This was the world's first women's soccer league in which all of the players were paid as professionals. Whalen was one of the 20 founding players; a lot of which players were a part of the 1999 World Cup team including Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, and Michelle Akers.[16]

On June 26, 2002, in a game against the Carolina Courage, Whalen tore her ACL and MCL in a collision with German international Birgit Prinz. This occurred just after recovering from a broken rib. Whalen had surgery, but noticed her knee was infected shortly thereafter. During her second surgery Whalen had a severe allergic reaction, nearly dying.[17] The doctors realized that the infection was in one of the screws, within the ligament of her knee, which had to be removed. Whalen had to go through seven surgeries, including moving ligaments from her right to left knee, to repair her injury.[17] This marked the end of her professional soccer career. During this injury time, she descended into a very dark place and questioned if she wanted to continue living. She felt that she had to grieve a life that she was leaving behind. She felt so much pain she stated, "your body can only sustain so much pain. It was like, ‘Just f****** end it. I can’t deal with this anymore.’” Her husband, Jon stated, "It's more than just playing soccer. You lose that sense of purpose." She was slowly able to piece back her life together and she used her education to sustain herself. It was a way for Whalen to occupy her time with something other than rehab on her knee. She was worrisome that she would not be good at a job in the psychology field because of all the trauma she endured. She was able to feel like she got some ownership back in her story and feels like her story helps her with her job. In 2004, after numerous leg surgeries she was able to run the New York Marathon in 4 hours 19 minutes and 38 seconds. After this event, she felt that she truly regained control of her narrative.

International goals

No. Date Venue Opponent Score Result Competition
1. 23 June 2000 Hersheypark Stadium, Hershey, United States  Trinidad and Tobago 10–0 11–0 2000 CONCACAF Women's Gold Cup
2. 11–0
3. 25 June 2000 Cardinal Stadium, Louisville, United States  Costa Rica 8–0 8–0

Personal life

Whalen lives in New York with her husband, Jon Hess, a NASDAQ trader and former Princeton University lacrosse player, and their three children. She is now a licensed psychologist and cognitive behavioral therapist.

Looking back on her time at the World Cup and with the Women's National Team she says, "we have some piece of history that will never change and that we all feel really incredible about having in our back pocket. Whether we're playing soccer or coaching or aren't doing anything related to soccer, its still apart of our identity which is really, really special." She continues, "because of how much media plays a role in everything now, it's actually very difficult to be very humble because you sort of have to be an image, and you have to market yourself. I think it was a more enjoyable time to play then, maybe because we didn't have that concern. We were just wanting to win. We didn't have to look a certain way or be a certain thing, which was very much a blessing."

Whalen was inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame on Long Island in the Soccer Category with the Class of 2001.

See also


  1. ^ "Sara Whalen". Retrieved December 23, 2010.
  2. ^ "A TALK WITH / Soccer Player Sara Whalen / She Gets a Kick Out of Being the Best / Sara Whalen's had a year of highs since the World Cup victory" | Newsday
  3. ^ a b c d "soccer profile: Sara Whalen". Retrieved December 23, 2010.
  4. ^ "Jewish Olympic Medalists". Retrieved December 23, 2010.
  5. ^ "Jewish Sports Hall of Fame". March 25, 2001. Retrieved December 23, 2010.
  6. ^ Wechsler, Bob (2008). Day by day in Jewish sports history. ISBN 9780881259698. Retrieved December 23, 2010.
  7. ^ "How Soccer Star Sara Whalen Hess Turned Crisis Into Opportunity" | SELF
  8. ^ "Where Are They Now: U.S. WNT Defender Sara Whalen". United States Soccer Federation. March 15, 2013. Archived from the original on December 26, 2013. Retrieved December 25, 2013.
  9. ^ "Len Tsantiris Retires After 37 Years as Head Women’s Soccer Coach" - UConn Today
  10. ^ Day by Day in Jewish Sports History - Bob Wechsler
  11. ^ "2010 UConn Women's Soccer Guide". Issuu. Retrieved March 20, 2020.
  12. ^ "Soccer". CWSA. Retrieved March 29, 2020.
  13. ^ It’s Not the Glory: The Remarkable First Thirty Years of U S Women’s Soccer - Tim Nash
  14. ^ It's Not Over 'til it's Over - Al Silverman -
  15. ^ "Sara Whalen", ESPN.
  16. ^ New York, Volume 34, Issues 22-25.
  17. ^ a b "Sara Whalen Hess, a former Olympian, gives advice for raising athletic kids without ruining their lives—or yours (she's a psychologist too)" — Quartz