Days after her mind-boggling performance in the World Cup final on Sunday, U.S. Women’s Soccer midfielder Carli Lloyd admits that none of it has “really sunk in yet.”
Lloyd’s unprecedented three goals in the game – capped by a jaw-dropping 54-yard kick over the head of a stunned goalkeeper – helped lead the team to a 5-2 victory over Japan, giving the U.S. its first World Cup victory in 16 years.
“It’s been incredible,” Lloyd, 33, says from the home in Delran, New Jersey, that she shares with her golf pro fiancé Brian Hollins. “I think when we look back on this moment, we’ll realize that we are etched in history, that we really did something remarkable.”
The two-time Olympic gold medalist spoke to PEOPLE about her long journey to World Cup stardom and a performance that sports critics are describing as perhaps the “greatest ever” in a title game.
How long have you dreamed about winning a World Cup?
Since I was a little girl. That’s when I first started dreaming about being part of the national team. Never did I think that was possible – let alone being a World Cup Champion. But it’s amazing what happens when you put your mind to something and just go out every day and work towards that dream – you can reach it. That’s basically all I’ve been doing for the last 12 years, grinding away and working.
Sounds like you’ve got a pretty full schedule over the coming weeks. Any plans on kicking back and relaxing?
I think I’m going to shut the brain off for a little bit and enjoy all these fun things like the ESPY Awards and the talk shows that I’m going to do. But my whole life revolves around soccer. We still have games – like the victory tour for National Team. And, before you know it, we’re going to be qualifying for the Olympics. So I’m still pretty busy. I’m not really sure where a vacation is going to fit in at this point. Basically my whole life revolves around soccer. I don’t take many vacations. Everything just gets put on the back burner because of my training. I miss out on a lot of weddings and family functions. But at the end of the day I’m sitting here as a world champion and it feels pretty good.
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Weeks before the competition began you saw yourself scoring four goals in the World Cup Final. Are you also psychic?
Before we left, I started having these dreams and having what you might call premonitions about the World Cup. I was sprinting during one of my workouts with my headphones on, feeling really, really excited about the World Cup. I caught myself visualizing that I was in the World Cup final, putting on an amazing performance and I ended up scoring four goals. I actually forgot about that feeling until after the game and I was at the press conference. I thought, ‘Wait a minute. I was dreaming about this.’ Any professional athlete will tell you that the mind is everything. For me there is no shame in saying that I visualize and I meditate because it really works. I was doing it all throughout the World Cup.
You’ve scored game-winning goals in the past two Olympic finals, but winning the World Cup is different, isn’t it?
It’s been amazing. Everywhere I go people recognize me and it’s pretty cool. I think throughout my time on the national team I’ve flown under the radar as someone who isn’t flashy, someone who doesn’t care about my hair or makeup or the glitz and glamour. I want to be a good role model for moms and their kids. I just go to work every day and I outwork everyone. I let my play on the field do the talking. And now, 10 years later, it’s finally getting recognized, which is cool. I’m not getting recognized because I posed in a swimsuit edition of some magazine, but because of what I do on the field and that’s important to me.
Any plans on changing your policy of asking your family and friends to not attend your tournaments?
Everything in my life – family friends, even my fiancé – are all second to soccer. And I’ve won every tournament where I haven’t had anyone there. It just seems to work for me. I don’t think I’m going to change that. If they come and I don’t know about it, like some of my family members did, that’s great. But not even my fiancé came to the World Cup games. He was about to book a ticket at the last minute, but he decided not to. He respects my decision because it’s important to me and he didn’t want to interfere. But I found out after the game that my aunt was there, along with my two cousins and my best friend.
What was going through your mind when you scored your third goal of the game from literally halfway across the field?
The thing with big games is that you train so much over the years that when you get into these big situations, these big moments, your instinct just kicks in. I wasn’t thinking. I had done all my thinking prior to that. When I got into that match I was on a mission to score, on a mission to win the game. Never did I really think that I could hit a 54-yard goal in a World Cup final. I had practiced it in the past. Not a ton. But I’ve never tried that in a game. The only time I’ve done it was in a scrimmage when I was a bit younger. But I remember looking up and seeing that the goalkeeper had come off her line, so I struck it. I couldn’t have struck it any better than I did. I started to see the ball just head in the direction of the frame of the goal and I was thinking to myself, ‘Wow, this could possibly go in.’ I was waiting and waiting and waiting. The keeper got her hands on it and I wasn’t sure if she was going to make it go wide. But it ended up hitting the post and going in.
Do you think you can ever top your performance from this past weekend?
I think so. The first words out of my trainer’s mouth were, ‘This is great. But you’ve got more work to do and I want to see this every single year until you retire.’ So I guess I do have my work cut out for me.
For more on Carli Lloyd, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday