The Source
My Strength
Phil Stevens

   On the eve of the Sydney Olympics, Michelle Akers, 34, the most decorated woman in soccer history, announced her retirement from international competition. She would not compete in the Olympic Games due to an injured shoulder and her long-time battle with Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome. But she has already won a bigger battle with herself.
   Michelle Akers' retirement after a historic 15-year career marks the end of an era. She played in the first-ever U.S. Women's National Team match on August 18, 1985 against Italy, and was the top scorer at the first Women's World Cup in 1991, pounding in 10 goals to become the first American to win a Golden Boot at a FIFA (internationally sanctioned) competition.
   Her combination of speed, power and strength, as well as her artistry with the ball, made her a player feared and respected worldwide. Tony DiCicco, head coach for the 1999 Women's World Cup, has called Akers "the best woman to ever play the game." She was the first female player to gain national and global fame in her sport. During her time with the national team, women's soccer grew from humble beginnings into one of the most popular sports for girls and women in the United States.
   Her teammates nicknamed her "Mufasa" because of her wild, long mane of hair and her aggressive play on the field. At 5'10" she was easily seen on the soccer field, stalking her opponents and attacking the ball. Akers describes herself as "kind of a kamikaze. I take lots of risks and when you do that, when you put your head in places where only feet should be, you're going to end up with injuries." She has endured bumps and bruises, countless stitches, broken bones, a dislocated shoulder and 13 knee surgeries.
   She learned many lessons along the way. Michelle always hated to lose, even as a little girl. "They put me in goal," she says, "because I was the only one who would go after the ball, fight for the ball and dive in the mud, which I thought was the best thing in the world until we were losing, like 10-0. So after every game I cried and cried and hated soccer. I begged my mom, 'Please, I hate it. I hate it.' The only reason why I hated it was because we lost. I wanted to win. But she said, 'No. You've got to finish out the season.'"


   Michelle did more than finish out the season. After her family moved from California to Seattle, Washington, she kicked her way through camps and club teams and fell in love with the game. But soon the soccer field became a place to hide - to hide from pain. When Michelle was 10 years old her parents divorced.
   "It was really hard," she says. "I can remember watching my dad leave ... He had a pillow under his arm and it was raining and it was dark and he walked down the steps and me and my brother were looking out the upstairs window and my dad got in the truck and drove away. So, we were like, 'Now what?'"
   The pain continued into Michelle's teen years. While her ball control improved, her life spun out of control. Akers says she was "hanging out with a bad crowd, making wrong decisions, skipping school. I really started going off on this wrong track. It was like every aspect of my life was a mess. There was no place I could go to for safety except the soccer field." But she could not stay on the field forever. "It just got to the point where I was tired. I was tired of fighting it, I was tired of being scared, tired of messing everything up. I was tired of being lost." Then Akers met high school English teacher Al Kovats.
   "I started asking him, 'What's your deal?'" Akers remembers, "and he said, 'Well, I'm a Christian. You know what that is?' and I thought I did. I had grown up going to church. I said, 'Oh, yeah. Church and GOD and all that junk.' He goes, 'No, no. It's a relationship with Jesus.' So he started telling me all about it and I was like, 'That's nice, Kovats, but that ain't for me. If I become a Christian that means I'll have to stand apart from the crowd, I'll probably have to get some nun outfit and I'll be a nerd and there's no way I can do it. So, finally, after the course of a year ... I came to the end of my rope.
   He was driving me home from basketball practice one night and we were sitting in the driveway in the dark and rain, and I was crying and I said, 'I just can't take it. I hate what I'm doing, I'm scared and I want to know this Jesus.'"
   Over the next few years, Jesus and soccer were Michelle's best friends. Soon, colleges everywhere were recruiting her to play soccer. But it was the University of Central Florida that got her attention.
   "We get into the soccer season, and I'm playing great," Akers remembers. "I am striving of course and getting all this press which was really surprising me inside ... It was just kind of like a constant smile on the inside: Wow, this is fun!"
   Michelle's fun went over the line. The freedom and excitement on campus soon had all of her attention. She began drinking, partying and staying our late.
   "Essentially, I put Christ in my back pocket and said, 'I'm doing this stuff that's more fun,"' says Akers. "The partying started getting in the way of my performance and my coach sat me down and said, 'You've got to make some decisions. You are going to flunk out of school.' I had to stay for the summer and go to summer school and get my grades back up."


   Michelle gave her life back to the main game. For four years she was named a first team soccer All-American. After graduating, she continued to play for the U.S. National Team. In 1991 they set their sights on the first Women's World Cup Championship that was to be held in China.
   "I came home from the '91 World Cup as world champ, best player in the world," says Akers. "The focal point for women's soccer was on me, and I really came home realizing all my dreams and immediately went into this frenzy of appearances for the women's game and endorsements and media ... [and then] I went to try to train again two months later and I couldn't get going."
   After trying to play for almost two years and undergoing a barrage of medical tests, Michelle was finally diagnosed with a life-long illness, Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS).
   Most of the time Akers felt "extreme fatigue, just bone-weary, just dragging myself around like I had sandbags on my shoulders," she says. "Bad headaches, grinding, crushing headaches, couldn't sleep at night, terrible dreams, sweating ... I'd go through two or three t-shirts."
   Her illness affected her not only physically, but emotionally: "Okay, here I have achieved my dreams, I have this status, I have this popularity, I have money, I have a home. I have all these things I've always dreamed of ... and yet they are ... of no use to me and so I sat there looking at my little trophies thinking, 'Now what?' I poured my life into this one thing and now I can't play even for five minutes. So now, what will I do and who am I?
   "It finally came to the point where [I couldn't] take it anymore and I went away to Seattle where I grew up. I tried to go on walks, I tried to go hiking, I tried to be outside and I couldn't do it because I was so sick, so what I ended up doing was just ... laying on the couch thinking. It had been a long time since I had thought about GOD, looked at a Bible or thought about going to church, and I just kind of said, 'Wow! Okay, GOD. I can't do it anymore. I give up. My life is a mess but You can have it. Whatever I have left You can have.' From that moment, it was not like I knew I was going to be well again; it was not like my career came back and everything was hunky-dory, but I kind of knew that if I put one foot in front of the other, I was going to make it. You know, GOD made me and from the beginning of time GOD already had in mind for me who I was, how He was going to put me together, what my life would be. He had a specific plan for me.
    "I came home from Seattle filled with hope. I was still sick as a dog, but I began going to church every weekend. I started reading my Bible and it was a lot of work and there was a lot more disappointment in my soccer career, but I found out ... that faith is not necessarily acting on a feeling but saying, 'Okay. Here's what GOD says. He has this promise for me and I can choose to make it real.'
   "And so I would daily try to choose," she says. "Once I did that ... I started to understand. My faith started to become real."


   But Michelle's injury troubles were not over yet. "Getting into the '95 World Cup was the whole focus of my being. Playing in the first game, the whistle blows, and ... I'm thinking, 'I made it. I'm here.' Two minutes into the game I get smashed in the head ... I go unconscious, fall to the ground and crumple in a heap. I ripped my MCL [knee ligament] ... so I'm out for the tournament. So, I'm recovering from my concussion a couple of days later, finally coherent ... and I'm starting to realize what is real in my life. I had almost been using my faith as a way of getting what I wanted ... and I still wanted my soccer. The World Cup experience of being knocked out in that first game was the beginning of owning my faith."
   Michelle came home from the '95 World Cup disappointed but optimistic - optimistic because she believed GOD was in control of her life. After recovering from her injuries, she continued to play soccer. The chronic fatigue was still affecting her physically. Then, just prior to the '96 Olympics, she ripped up her knee again in a game against Norway.
   Akers remembers shouting at GOD, "'What are You teaching me? I don't get it. I've learned my lesson. I know You're the most important.' ... I was so mad at Him. These circumstances, obstacle after obstacle, kept coming my way and I would have to endure and endure. How much more could I endure?"
   Michelle needed surgery on her knee, but that would have meant missing the '96 Olympics. She decided to undergo strenuous rehabilitation instead. The goal was just to see how long she could last. Akers says, "This knee is flopping all over like spaghetti. I'm not sure how long that thing's going to hold up and then here I am in the Olympics going for a gold medal - in this situation where I shouldn't have been able to compete."
   U.S. National Team strength coach and longtime friend Steve Slain explains that after each game "Michelle had to take two IV solutions in her arm because she was so nauseated and had such severe migraine headaches she couldn't even eat."
   The U.S. team again met Norway in the Olympics semifinals. The United States was down 1-0 in the second half of play when Michelle scored on a penalty kick to tie the game. The U.S. went on to win in overtime, 2-1, and advanced to the gold medal round. Michelle hung on through the entire final game against China to help her team win the Olympic gold.
   This victory taught Michelle an important lesson in her relationship with GOD. "That gold medal," she says, represents "a brief, ... tangible moment. ... The gold medal is not enough, but it's a symbol of what is enough. [GOD] brought me to a crossroads where I had to choose: soccer or Him. And I chose Him but He gave me my soccer as well, as long as I hold it loosely.
   "I didn't understand what it meant to walk with Christ, to walk in Christ. I didn't understand that Christ is a person and this relationship is with a person. It's not with some faraway GOD or with the book, the Bible, you know. He's in you and He's with you. It's knowing Him. It's knowing and following this person, letting Him transform you. ... It took a lot for me, a lot of adversity, bad decisions and stupid stuff to come to realize that this whole deal is about following a person."


   Akers is grateful for opportunities to share her faith. "It has been cool to see the doors GOD has opened through the World Cup. He is allowing me to share my story and His glory. People want to know the source of my strength, and I am glad to exhibit my faith and the power of GOD in and through me."
   Michelle recalls one memorable moment: "I had heard from friends that [Chinese goalkeeper Gao Hong] was a fellow Christian, but I was unable to make contact with her amid the chaos of the World Cup. In the tunnel prior to the game, she saw me, made eye contact, and then thumped her fist to her chest and pointed up to GOD, as if to say, 'I'm a Christian.' I returned the gesture and smiled. Rock on, I thought."

Excerpted from "The Game of Her Life" (videotape, RBC Ministries), The Game and the Glory, Michelle Akers with Gregg Lewis (Zondervan) and information provided by the United States Soccer Federation. To learn more about Michelle Akers visit For more information on CFIDS, go to

- See testimony from Joni Eareckson Tada.
- To encourage Michelle to become a true saint
and join the level of Joni Eareckson Tada, write to:
Michelle Akers
P.O. Box 622053
Oviedo, FL 32762-2053

GOD's hard work on Michelle Akers
[see Biblical material: 1] [ 2 ]

In 1993, Michelle Akers (who some experts have called the greatest women's soccer player ever), was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue & Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS).
In the following weeks and months, check here for more and updated information regarding CFIDS.
Check out Michelle's CFIDS Library.
In May of 1996, Michelle gave her testimony on CFIDS to Congress.
My CFIDS/health update, Nov. 1997
Here is a moving note I received recently.
Michelle's Treatment Regimen Michelle shares her thoughts on juicing, vitamins, and the elimination diet.
Exercise and CFIDS
Neurally Mediated Hypotension (NMH)
NEW! Questions & Answers on CFIDS Basics

CCCInc Note: GOD's judgement (6 months), see GOD's Holy Judgement

What Happened to Me. It all began in 1991 immediately after the first FIFA Women's Soccer World Championship in China. Upon my return to the US, I felt tired and lethargic, but thought nothing of it as my travel and career schedule (the WC, sponsor/speaking appearances) was and had been extremely hectic and demanding. I was on the road three weeks every month and training on top of it. I mean, who wouldn't be tired with a schedule like that?! After several more months of increasingly diminished energy levels, I became concerned and visited a doctor . . . and on his advice rested a month or so, then resumed my soccer and appearance schedule.

Thinking it might also be diet-related, I consulted a nutritionist as well, but even with a diet change the tiredness, dizziness, migraines, night sweats, GI upset, and metabolism problems remained . . . and over time, worsened. In 1993, I finally collapsed during a game and this lead to my conclusion that I was sick, not just tired or run down. After various tests (echocardiogram, heart stress tests, blood tests), I was diagnosed with Mono, then Chronic EBV, and finally 6 mos. later in the spring of '94, CFIDS.

CCCInc Note: GOD's perfect time period.

In the Midst of Hell (1992-95). At my worst, I was barely able to function or complete day to day activities and tasks. It was an extreme effort to do laundry, prepare a meal, or attempt the exercise bike for 5 min. Many times, just doing these small chores, knocked me out for days or weeks. At my best, I could play 15-20 (or if really lucky 30) minutes of a 90 minute match, train in light to moderate intensity to stay in some kind of shape for National Team, and maintain a skeletal appearance schedule for my sponsor, Umbro. The repercussions of those activities being migraines and overwhelming fatigue during and especially after for days or weeks. It was a constant "trade-out". The trade being the ability to maintain my contact and involvement in the "normal" world and my career . . . with the devastating effects of that involvement on my body. Other symptoms included: Neck pain, muscle/joint stiffness, water retention, fuzzy head/brain, off balance, forgetfulness, night sweats, poor sleep, GI upset, diarrhea or constipation, metabolism high/low, weight gain/loss, emotional upheaval, sugar cravings, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations. I can honestly say these few years were pure hell for me. I went through a divorce. I struggled to get through the day or hour, depending on how bad I was feeling. I desperately searched for medical answers and help, but found very little. I frequently asked myself what happened to that strong, dynamic, tireless Michelle Akers? Will I ever see her again? And who am I now? I was alone. I was scared. And I was in agony.
The Light at the End of the Tunnel. After 1994, I slowly (slowly, ever so slowly) progressed to better health. I attribute it to:

Change in Diet. I made a conscious effort to eat a balanced diet (carbohydrates, protein, and fat). I cut down on caffeine. I drank more water. I began taking vitamin supplements. I ate small meals 4-5 times a day to maintain a steady energy supply. I even tried various herbs.
Rest. Each day I took a quiet time and either slept or just closed my eyes (10-45 minutes). Something I began to call "mini-vacations". I adjusted my exercise to how my body was feeling and pushed less (rather than every day!).
Smarter, Shorter, Supervised Work-outs. Since I knew I absolutely could not stop my work-outs before I felt like I was going to collapse when I trained on my own, I hired a training partner and coach. He monitored my physical symptoms/condition daily and forced me to be accountable. We devised an exercise program to slowly get me back on my feet and we pulled back when I wasn't responding as I should. Ever so slowly, I began to see results.


Physical and Massage Therapy. Much like an athlete, CFIDS sufferers experience a lot of aches and pains. I began to treat my physical pains from CFIDS like injuries rather than sickness. I hired a massage therapist and began physical therapy (PT). The massage helps circulation, muscle fatigue, weakness, and spasms, promotes healing . . . and it feels good! The PT helps relieve painful muscle spasms and strengthens areas to help prevent and alleviate further pain.
Prioritizing Life and Career. I learned nothing on earth is more valuable than my health, so I prioritized the things that were most important to me and poured my limited energies into those things alone. I chose to focus on things that contributed to my health. For example: Vacations. Walks. Friends/family. Christ. Eating right. And rest. Those things (and more) contributed to my overall well-being and became high on my priority list. I also streamlined my career. I decided I wasn't going to kill myself for the company I worked for and I couldn't be everywhere for everyone. I chose which things were most important to me (and the company) and concentrated on those areas. I talked with my employer and asked them to cut my travel schedule. I said "no" a lot and stuck to it. I cut out everything except the most important and necessary in order to save the energy I did have to get healthy.
Stress Reduction (emotionally/physically). I mentioned this briefly already. I learned we have a choice in the emotions we feel. Or more accurately, we choose how to respond to the emotions we feel. When an "energy-sapping" emotion flares up (like anger, anxiousness, guilt, fear, etc.), take a hold of it and refuse to let it control or take away from the energy reserve you are trying to build or maintain. Choose to dismiss it. Choose to confront it and overcome it. It isn't easy, but it is possible. By keeping your priorities in the forefront and recognizing negative feelings early, you can head off a lot of physical repercussions that slow your recovery and sense of well-being.

CCCInc Note: GOD forced a spiritual realization & realignment

Spirituality (rekindling my relationship with Christ). This was a major step toward my recovery. In fact, I will say my faith was the beginning and is the center of my on-going recovery and how I deal with CFIDS on a day to day basis. I think everyone who is chronically ill has been forced to take a close look at a "higher power". I learned I did not have the strength to carry on under my own power. CFIDS wore me out and brought me to my knees. I wondered what is all for? Is there a purpose for this terrible illness and my humiliation and suffering? I asked myself how I could possibly contribute to the world and be so sick, weak, and limited? GOD answered all those questions and provided the strength, courage, peace, and people for me to live and overcome in sickness or in health.


Elimination Diet and NMH Diagnosis (1996). As 1995 thankfully passed by, I began to feel better and better. Not a recovery, but more good days than bad. A few months prior to the Olympics, I finally faced facts and decided I was not healthy enough to continue with my soccer career and as a last ditch effort, I went to Dr Paul Cheney at the Cheney Clinic for help (as I had read about him in Osler's Web). After a phone consultation, he put me on The Elimination Diet (where I saw results in two weeks), supplements (multivitamins, antioxidants, B Complex, Magnesium, CoQ10), and I began juicing 2lbs of carrots a day with UltraClear. I also met with Dr Peter Rowe at Johns Hopkins who diagnosed me symptomatic for NMH. In addition to the Elimination Diet, I also took salt tablets (to help retain water to increase blood volume to lessen NMH symptoms) and tried to stay as hydrated as possible. Ten weeks later, I felt the best I had felt since 1991. I had more energy, was sleeping good, the GI upset diminished, and the migraines ceased.
The Olympics. I played in the 1996 Olympics and performed admirably, but at great cost. Each game drained me to point of near collapse. Our team Doc provided IV's (2-3 liters of lactated ringers) post games to alleviate and prevent symptoms. It definitely helped, although by the end of the Olympics, I was completely wiped out. But, the fact remains--I played in every match in the Olympics and was on the field when the final whistle blew making me an Olympic Gold Medalist. I consider this an out and out miracle.
What's Happening Right Now. At present, I am still feeling "good". Not totally recovered, but leading a normal life (if my life can ever be thought of as normal!) with a minor crash now and then. I am still experiencing various CFIDS and NMH symptoms, but not with the severity of the past years. Thank GOD. I am now looking for the last piece of the puzzle to full recovery. There are several doctors I am talking with, diagnostic tests to do, and I am researching and experimenting with mineral supplementation, as well.
On a personal and emotional level, I have hope. I am encouraged. I still consider this illness to be a blessing and an opportunity. I learn more from CFIDS and the people who have it than anything else I have ever experienced. It is a continual and constant challenge and one I take on with a warrior mentality each and every day. We can overcome this thing! We will overcome it. Maybe not today or next month, but one day.
GOD bless and good health. --Michelle