From high school, Michele was recruited on scholarship to play collegiate soccer for Florida International University (1998 – 2002). In her four years there, she was a two-time Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year, earned first-team All-Sun Belt Conference honors twice and was a two-time All-Sun Belt Tournament selection. During her summer breaks, Michele played on various semi-pro teams to keep her skills razor sharp.
Michele is still FIU’s all-time leader in shots (288), goals (58) and points (134) and is second in program history in assists (18).
After graduating from FIU, Michele knew she wanted to make soccer a professional career and she wanted to do it in a BIG way. So she headed to England and earned herself a coveted spot playing for the Arsenal Ladies Football Club, which is the most successful team in the U.K. During her 8 months with Arsenal, Michele competed in world-class events such as the European Cup and FA Cup. Compliments of some of her Irish born teammates, she then set her sights on another international country.
Because Michele’s paternal grandparents were from Ireland, she was eligible to apply for Irish citizenship. With her application in process, she was given the opportunity to try out for the Ireland National Team. They wanted Michele so badly that they helped expedite her citizenship approval process from 6 months to 1 week.
In 2003, Michele became a member of Ireland’s National Team. Just two years later, in 2005, she was named the FAI (Football Association of Ireland) Player of the Year. She also helped lead her team to the 2011 European Championships. Michele stopped playing internationally for Ireland last year, in 2013. In her ten years with them, she also played club soccer for different countries, like Sweden, on a permanent basis. On top of doing all that, Michele also took a position as the assistant coach for the New York University women’s soccer team for their 2003 – 2004 season. We’d love to see this woman’s passport.
Michele officially moved back to the U.S. in 2005, though she continued to play professionally for Ireland, traveling back and forth from the U.S. for games all over the world in countries like Nigeria and Bosnia. But whenever Michele was stateside, she also played in the women’s semi-pro league, the highest women’s soccer league in the U.S. at that time, for teams including the Long Island Rough Riders (2000 – 2007), Jersey Sky Blue (2008), and Chicago Red Eleven (2009).
Her first job back home was as the assistant coach for the Division I women’s soccer team at Columbia University from 2005 – 2007. While coaching there, she earned a Masters in Exercise Physiology (2006).
From New York, Michele headed west to Chicago, and on February 16, 2009 joined the women’s soccer program at DePaul University as assistant coach working alongside head coach Erin Chastain. For the last five years, they have worked together tackling all aspects of the program including recruiting, scouting and player development. It’s a job that Michele absolutely loves.
With this kind of jaw dropping resume, and list of impressive achievements, clearly Michele’s heart issues never held her back. Rather, it’s the passion in her heart that drove her to triumph over the greatest adversity and continues to push her to always be the best she can be.
In looking back on the last 29 years, Michele told WYSK, “I feel like I got a second chance at life and I think about it every day. So I strive to always be in a positive state of mind, take care of my body, but most of all have fun, smile, and laugh… A LOT!”
As for what soccer has meant to her, she says, “I love soccer with a passion and am proud that I continued to play at the highest level after graduating from college. Now that my competitive playing days are over, I am so grateful that my profession is truly what I love to do; teach and coach the game of soccer to college female athletes, and hopefully be a positive role model for them”.
So that open-heart surgery scar Michele O’Brien looks at every day is really a badge of courage… a beautiful reminder of what makes this Woman You Should Know truly extraordinary.
Lead image: Photo credit – Katie Stapely, via Amanda Vandercort, a player Michele coached at NYU. Amanda says, without mincing her words, “Michele kicks ass”. We could not agree more!