MOHEGAN LAKE, N.Y. -- Melissa Gonzalez travels the globe to play field hockey for the United States national team. And everywhere she goes, she brings a piece of home with her.
Gonzalez, 27, will represent the U.S. for the second time in the Olympics at the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, which begin Friday night, Aug. 5 with the opening ceremonies. The Lakeland High graduate has been a member of the national team for six years and played for the U.S. at the 2012 Summer Games in London.
While she travels around the world, the one thing she brings with her each and every time is her family.
The youngest of four sisters, Gonzalez sports a tattoo on her foot in the shape of a heart. It honors her father, Felix, who died when she was a junior in high school. She also wears a headband during training with her father’s initials.
““Her father was a big part of her life,’’ said University of Connecticut head Coach Nancy Stevens in a story on Vibe.com. Gonzalez played for Stevens, winning Big East Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2009 and 2010. “He told her when she was very young that she was going to be an Olympian, meaning he installed that dream in her when she was very young. He said, ‘I have no idea what sport you’re going to play, but you are going to be in the Olympics.'”
Her mother, Yolanda, still lives in Mohegan Lake, and worked in education along with Felix. Melissa led Lakeland to state championships in field hockey in 2003 and 2006, and was also the captain of the lacrosse team. She was recruited to play soccer at UConn, but chose to play field hockey instead.
Gonzalez had a phenomenal career at Lakeland, which went 82-5-2 during her four years at the school. In her senior year, she helped the Hornets compile a 24-0 record and broke the school's career marks for most goals, assists and points in a career. She was a national All-America choice following both her junior and senior season and a four-time All-State choice.
Gonzalez has helped the U.S. win two gold medals in international competition, in the Pan American games in 2011 and 2015. The U.S. finished 12th at the Olympics in 2012.
History has not been kind to the U.S. field hockey team. Its only medal came in 1984, when it won bronze in Los Angeles. The U.S. was 8th in 2008, and 5th in 1996.
The U.S. opens play in Group B of the Olympics on Saturday with a game against Argentina. It also plays Australia, Japan, India and Great Britain in pool play. Saturday’s game will be telecast on the USA Network at 4 p.m.
Gonzalez gives back to the game by working at camps throughout the Northeast. She also is rooted in community, supporting the Hopewell Junction-based Friends of Jaclyn . The agency aims to improve the quality of life for children battling pediatric brain tumors and other childhood cancers.
Gonzalez, who was born in Peekskill, thanked her family and community for their support in an Instagram post back last month. She wrote: “Without my family, community, friends, coaches, teammates who have picked me up , pushed me to my limits, been brutally honest & supportive NONE of this would be possible. THANK YOU. It's an honor to wear that uniform & I am grateful at every opportunity I am able to do so. #RIO”
Click here to follow field hockey on the Rio website.
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