Olympic hopeful Julie Johnston is engaged to Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz

By Hilary Shenfeld
Updated June 21, 2016 02:10 PM
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Soccer star Julie Johnston is most definitely out of uniform.

Typically decked out in soccer gear and a long ponytail, on this day she sheds her sporty attire as she slips into one beaded, lacy white dress after another, her blond locks cascading down her back. Not only is the 24-year-old preparing for what could be her first Olympics, she’s also a bride-to-be.

“It’s a really busy summer,”Johnston says while visiting bridal salons in Chicago, where she lives during her season as a defender on the Chicago Red Stars soccer team.

But being able to multi-task comes with the territory.

Johnston isn’t yet a lock for the U.S. team heading to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio this August – the final roster will be announced in early July – but she began amping up her already intensive training after she and her teammates won the Women’s World Cup finals last summer.

“It’s a dream to be able to think I could go to the Olympics,” she says.

The U.S. women have topped the podium three straight times, and a fourth Olympic gold in a row would be a record-setting achievement for the team. Despite their prowess, they know it won’t be an easy road.

“It would be awesome to be on the podium at the end of the day, but we know it’s going to be hard,” she says. “All of them are great. Germany and France are huge powerhouses every year. Australia has been a continuous powerhouse.”

To calm any jitters, Johnston tries to downplay the significance of the games in her mind.

“I just try to think of it as another competition so I don’t psyche myself out,” she says, “But it’s something I’ve been wanting my whole life.”

Fortunately, Johnston has a good distraction. The soccer star also squeezes in time to plan her spring 2017 wedding to Zach Ertz, 25, a tight end for the Philadelphia Eagles. The pair met through mutual friends in 2012 while he was a Stanford University student and she was attending Santa Clara University.

The pair have managed to maintain their relationship despite serious time constraints – staying close while they kept up with their studies and trained and travelled extensively for competitions.

He popped the question on bended knee in February with a huge sparkler he picked out with the help of his mom.

Indeed, both his mom and hers continue to be big supporters as each traveled to Chicago to offer opinions on potential wedding gowns.

“She looks beautiful in everything,” Lisa Ertz says, while Kristi Johnston agrees as she adjusts a veil on her daughter’s head.

Wedding excitement aside, Johnston and her fellow Olympic hopefuls are contending with serious issues leading up to Rio – issues that go beyond just athletics.

Like her teammates, Johnston expresses concerns about the outbreak of the Zika virus.

“Obviously it’s a scary thing,” she says, but adds the team is getting guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Olympic Committee. “They’re doing everything they can for us to be safe down there.”

Fellow teammate Hope Solo has said she plans to travel to Brazil for the competition, but only “begrudgingly”, and Alex Morgan also admits preparing to attend during the outbreak “is kind of scary.”

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Johnston is also in sync with Solo and the rest of the women’s World Cup championship team, which in March filed a federal labor complaint against U.S. Soccer, alleging they are paid far less than players for the men’s team despite bringing in more revenue.

“I’m behind my team 100 percent,” Johnston says. “We just want to grow our sport. For us to grow, we have a responsibility for the next generation to fight for equality in the workplace.”

Meanwhile, Johnston receives support from her fiancée, even though she admits the most difficult part of being a professional athlete couple is being apart from each other as they pursue careers in different cities.

“Technology becomes my best friend,” she says. “I feel like I have a relationship with my phone.”

But their similar lifestyles and outlooks also offer huge bonuses: “He understands my training and schedule better than anyone.” Another plus, she says, is “sharing those big moments.”

And if all goes according to plan, she’ll have plenty more of those in her future.

To learn more about all the Olympic hopefuls, visit teamusa.org. The Rio Olympics begin Aug. 5.