Bindon guarding Football Ferns' goal for gold
Football Ferns goalkeeper Jenny Bindon's former claim to fame was a pretty good one.
Before she moved to New Zealand from her native Illinois in 2000, Bindon spent a short time working for NBA glamour franchise the Chicago Bulls during the Michael Jordan era.
She worked at his camps, met the great basketballer and even played a minor role in the documentary/movie that chronicled Jordan's life and starred the man himself.
"He has a scene where he is playing against women, and I'm in there. It used to be my claim to fame."
Now, it is the fact she is about to become a two-time Olympian.
Bindon debuted at the world's biggest sporting event in Beijing, as a 35-year-old, when the Ferns made their first Olympic appearance.
Four years later and she's London-bound, a few months shy of her 40th birthday, proof that if you work hard and never give up, dreams can come true. That was something she learned from her short time around Jordan.
"He's one of those people that attracts everyone to what he's doing and saying, and his biggest message to anyone was never give up, there's always someone out there working harder than you. I've always thought that once I park up, I'll get passed."
There has been little chance of that happening since she made her international debut in 2004.
Four years earlier, Bindon moved to New Zealand with her husband Grant, a former New Zealand men's volleyball team captain she met when the pair were studying at Lewis University in Chicago.
Grant was there on a volleyball scholarship while Jenny was the classic allrounder, playing three sports – football, tennis and basketball – at college level.
"Basketball was my love and my passion, but I just happened to be better at goalkeeping."
A marketing major, she got a dream job with the Bulls and baseball's Chicago White Sox, helping to market their various camps. But she gave that all up to move to New Zealand with Grant, and has never looked back.
"I earn a lot of money in football, well, I think I've had a few free Powerades," she jokes.
"We decided to get married and move back here for five years, but that's stretched to 12 and we have no intention of leaving. This is home."
After Bindon had bided her time, she made her debut for New Zealand in 2004, just before her 31st birthday. She has been a regular between the sticks ever since, playing 69 A-internationals, a record for a New Zealand goalkeeper, male or female.
She has seen a lot in that time. The Ferns have gone from being also-rans who hardly played a match, to a genuinely competitive team on the world stage.
"I think dreams become a reality when you work really hard," she says. "People might say we're lucky, but things haven't always gone our way, we've had some heartbreak at the Olympics and the World Cup, but we're getting there.
"If a little luck goes our way, we could be a force to be reckoned with in London."
Much of their rise has to do with a five-year plan implemented by then coach John Herdman in 2007, with the London Olympics being the ultimate goal.
Herdman jumped ship last year to coach Canada, but Tony Readings has continued to build on the foundations. The results have followed. They came within a whisker of beating the world's top team, the US, earlier this year, whereas five years ago the focus would have been on keeping the scoreline under five.
A big factor is that most of the 18-strong Olympic squad are now playing professionally or at a top-10 US college. Five years ago, there was just one pro, captain Rebecca Smith.
Bindon is one of the few who continues to play her football in New Zealand, for her Auckland club side Hibiscus Coast. Circumstances mean she has never contemplated anything else – they have a son, Tyler, and she is at a different stage in life to many of her team-mates.
"I've had my offers to go pro, but I wouldn't change anything," she says. "The girls keep me young. I'm 39 and sometimes my roommate is 18, but you wouldn't know the difference. We're like a family."
Bindon says there is a strong belief they can be something of a Cinderella story at the Olympics, starting with toppling the hosts Great Britain in the opening match on July 26 (NZ time) in Cardiff. They came close to beating England at last year's World Cup, before losing 2-1, and an opening win would "set us on our way".
As for post-London, Bindon will start a primary school teaching job – she also has a passion for coaching, whether it be football or basketball – but could continue her international playing career.
"I take things as they come. The goal is the Olympics, after that I'll make a decision. As long as I'm fit and healthy and there's a smile on my face, I don't see why I should give it up."
- © Fairfax NZ News