Joanna Lohman is an American professional footballer, who brings a lot of experience to the table, having played for the Penn State Nittany Lions, Washington Freedom, Philadelphia Independence, and D.C. United, as a well as a brief stint overseas playing for Balinge IF and Espanyol. Joanna was a member of the U-21 US National team from 2000-2005. Joanna made her debut with the National team in 2003-2004 during the Algarve Cup against Italy. Joanna also had a huge part in founding the JoLi Academy. She and cofounder Lianne Sanderson recently returned from a trip to India with the JoLi Academy.

I recently had an opportunity to interview and learn more about Joanna, her thoughts on the NWSL, and the JoLi Academy.

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Joanna, can you share a little bit about your recent trip to India with the JoLi Academy?

It goes without saying that Jharkhand, India is not easy to reach. After 20 hours of flying, we finally touched ground at the Ranchi airport. We had zero time to adapt since it was straight onto the bus for our four-hour trip to the Tata Steel Sports Complex in Jamshedpur, India. The drive should absolutely not be four hours but the last five miles of the trip are practically impassable. This was a public bus ride, for four hours, with no bathroom. For all of those who know me well, having no access to a bathroom for that long of a ride is usually a recipe for disaster but miraculously, I held out, and we finally made it to the Sports Complex around 10:30pm.

Originally, we had planned a seven a side tournament with six teams from all over India. What we got was a nine a side tournament (each team was so eager to participate it brought enough players to field an army – hence the needed addition in game size) with three teams from Yuwa and a team from Assam, a team from Himachal Pradesh, and a team from Manipur. Mix in a team from the local Jamshedpur school system and what you have is about 100 young girls of various skill level all speaking different languages. We pushed on and with all things considered, the tournament went off with flying colors. Most of these girls, if not all, have very meager upbringings. With this tournament, however, they were able to experience things they never would have imagined. For instance, playing on a top level soccer pitch, training with professional coaches, eating three meals a day, competing against and with girls from surrounding states, celebrating a game winning goal, being a part of a tournament with prizes, having fans surrounding the field, and so much more. To witness the jubilation on these girls’ faces when they did something great made all the hard work and preparation worth it.

We learned some very important lessons in India. We have a more focused vision on what JoLi Academy can and should be. We have pinpointed the area where we can make the most significant impact and we cannot wait to push forward with your unwavering support.

For those who aren’t familiar, what is JoLi Academy?

Founded by footballer businesswomen with World Cup and Olympic playing experience, JoLi Academy has the resources to bridge the gap between the harsh realities facing millions of young girls around the world and the dreams they aspire to. JoLi Academy brings mentorship, education, and accessibility to young athletes the world over, from the deserts of Middle East to the forests of South America. Raising women around the world using soccer as our vehicle, JoLi Academy levels the playing field by placing passionate hopefuls face to face with the people and tools to help them grow into world-class leaders and athletes.

JoLi Academy believes that to empower a girl is to empower a nation.

How did the idea first originate for JoLi Academy?

The idea firstly originated, due to my brother living in Chennai (India). He works in the US Consulate as a Vice Consul. Lianne and I planned a month-long trip to go see him and to explore a country full of unique experiences. At the time we thought to ourselves why not make a fusion of this trip with our unique soccer backgrounds.

The original idea was called “Indian Vision”, the goal of this was to share our experience, passion, and knowledge for the game of soccer with the All India Football Federation (AIFF) with the intent of evolving and growing the women’s game. Lianne and I both know how hard it can be for women to have the opportunities she and I have had in the world of soccer. Coming from the Western part of the world we have advantages as females that some women in other countries don’t get. One of these advantages has been to play professional soccer for both country and clubs all over the world, from the United States all the way to Spain. What drove us to this idea of “Indian Vision” was the burning desire we had and still have to give back what we have gained from years and years of playing this beautiful fulfilling sport. We have learned qualities such as confidence, drive, ambition, determination, leadership and focus which are essential not only on the field but also in the day to day life off the field. We want to share our experience and we want to help by making an impact mainly in developing countries where soccer, especially women’s soccer is minimally supported and under developed. It is with all of these important things in mind that we focused on this mission with the hope and intention of building long lasting relationships and long term positive impact not only with individuals but with whole countries.

At first the aim was to partner with Play3rsport in helping with the training and development of the All Indian Football Federtaion (AIFF), the aim was to do this by having a 4-7 day camp in Goa (India) during the month of January 2012. We will work with the AIFF and the female players to develop their game and help put their team forward in the global standings. The gear will be provided by Nike and the camp will be held in Margao, Goa home of one of the few turf fields in India. The initial camp will be the start of a 4-5 year program that works with the AIFF to assist in their qualification for the 2015 and 2019 Womens World Cups. This was all the original idea that came with “Indian Vision”, but things ended up moulding and taking a different shape. We originally wanted to work with the Women’s National Team (WNT) and the AIFF but we got introduced to YUWA and we felt that the biggest impact would be made at the grassroots level in one of the worsts areas of India, Jharkhand.

What are your thoughts on the NWSL?

My thoughts? Well, I am extremely excited to have a league back in the United States. Like I always say, there is no better place in the world to be a female athlete than America. With the support of US Soccer and several other Federations, I have reason to believe the third time will be the charm. With that said, it will take us years to create a sustainable league with a legitimate fan base but we are off to a good start.

I very much look forward to representing the league both on and off the field and I will take great pride in being a part of this new league.

You have played for Balinge IF in Sweeden and Espanyol in Spain. Can you share some of your experiences that you had on those teams?

Playing abroad is something I recommend for every female soccer player. It is extremely important in your development not only as a player but as a person. It is good to step outside of your comfort zone and it is when you do this, you grow and learn.

I distinctively remember Sweden during the summer. It was nearly light all day long. I lived in a small town about 40 minutes outside of Stockholm and when the sun was out, everyone in the town was out. It was fantastic to see. The league was very competitive and every game was difficult. I really appreciated this about the league because every day you were challenged to be at your best.

Spain – well you can’t dream up a better living situation than living in Barcelona. The league still has a lot of improvements to make for it to be considered a top league in the world. There needs to be more parody. Unfortunately, there are about 5 top teams and the rest aren’t able to realistically compete for the league title. All players, however, are skilled and technical because soccer is a way of life over there. I have some great memories from playing over in Spain – and the tapas – I will always miss the food.

You have a lot of experience, what has been one of your greatest accomplishments as an athlete?

One of my greatest accomplishments came just a few years ago. I was coming off a not-so-great season with the Washington Freedom during the WPS 2009 season and decided that instead of returning to DC, I would risk it all and try out for the Philadelphia Independence.

In preparation, I spent the off-season playing with Beleza in Tokyo, Japan. Because of this, when I returned to America I was on the top of my game and not only did I win a contract for the Independence but I went on to start nearly every game of the 2010 WPS season. In addition, I was tied for the second most goals scored that season. The process and journey of that entire year was something I was extremely proud of.

I challenged myself to find the best training environment and traveled all the way to Tokyo. I lived and played for 3 months in a country where very few spoke English and the cultural difference was quite extreme. Just like I mentioned above, it was this type of experience that made me a better player and person.

After Japan, I worked so hard to earn every minute I played for Philadelphia. I came to into the team with no contract and no recruitment and against all odds, I accomplished something truly remarkable.

If you could try any other sport, what would it be and why?

I always think about what sport I would play if I could play any at the pro level. The answer to that question would be golf or beach volleyball. The lifestyle is phenomenal. You are always in a warm place, either the beach or on the golf course. In my opinion, neither sport takes that much of a toll on your body and you seem to be able to have a long career. Now that I think about it, I would play professional beach volleyball, retire, and then become a professional golfer. Yep, that sounds perfect.

If you could trade places with any other athlete for a day, who would it be?

Hmmm…Cristiano Ronaldo. He is an incredibly talented, incredibly good looking soccer player living in Madrid, Spain and when he is not playing, he gets to go home to Portugal. Its sounds great, however, I am not sure if I could handle all the lime light, but I would be willing to give it a try.

Are you superstitious? Do you have any pre-game rituals?

Not at all

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Right now, having just returned from a two-week trip to India, I would go to an exotic beach in Bora Bora. One where your outdoor apartment is in the middle of the ocean and you have supreme privacy, seclusion, and luxury. You fall asleep and wake up to the sound of the ocean and you never want to leave.

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From this female athlete’s perspective “to empower a girl is to empower a nation” sounds like the JoLi Academy can only help create a win for all.

You can follow Joanna on Twitter @JoannaLohman. You can also learn more about the academy and follow all of Joanna’s journeys with JoLi Academy at joliacademy.com and on Twitter @JoLiAcademy.