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ATHENS 2004

Going for a Matched Set

1996 gold medalist Gillian Boxx will be cheering for sister Shannon at the women's soccer final.

August 26, 2004|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — With any luck, there won't be any house fires or cats to get out of trees or any other sort of emergency this morning in San Jose.

That way, the men and women at Willow Glen Fire Station No. 6 can tune into the gold-medal women's soccer match between the United States and Brazil. They do, after all, have a direct connection to the game.

One of their own, 30-year-old firefighter and paramedic Gillian Boxx, is here in Greece. Not as an athlete, but as a spectator.

It was only a few weeks ago that Boxx was one of the highlights of the 33rd annual California Firefighters Summer Olympics, held in San Jose this year to mark the 150th anniversary of the San Jose Fire Department.

Boxx showed up carrying a makeshift Olympic flame -- one that was quickly doused by fellow firefighters amid general amusement.

But it was what she was wearing, not what she was bearing, that was significant. She had on the red, white and blue jersey of the 1996 U.S. Olympic softball team. Better than that, she had a gold medal around her neck.

A real gold medal, the one Boxx won as a catcher on the U.S. team at the Atlanta Games.

Tonight, Boxx will be at Karaiskaki Stadium, where she will be one of the most attentive and supportive spectators in the crowd. She has come to see her younger sister, U.S. defensive midfielder Shannon Boxx, try to duplicate in soccer what she accomplished in softball -- win an Olympic gold medal.

Gillian Boxx has embraced the spectator role with the same passion and commitment she had as a player.

The other day, before the U.S. played Germany in the semifinals at Heraklion, she showed up with the Stars and Stripes painted across her face, and then set about similarly adorning friends and family members of other U.S. players, including Shannon Boxx's fiance, Sean Taketa, a California highway patrolman.

"I'm having a better time watching my sister play than when I was in there playing," she said. "The biggest reason is it's not as stressful for me, but at the same time I get this pit in my stomach every time she's out there.

"When she makes a good play, I'm right there -- the biggest yeller, the biggest supporter. And when somebody fouls her, I'm ready to be out there because she's still my baby sister."

The Boxx sisters -- Shannon is four years younger -- have always been involved in sports. Their mother, a retired administrator for the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, encouraged them.

"We both grew up playing sports from a very early age, probably age 5," Gillian Boxx said. "I think I was annoying my mom enough that she decided to get me into sports. We both kind of gravitated to softball and soccer.

"We grew up in Southern California, basically Torrance and Redondo Beach. We both went to South High in Torrance, and for whatever reason, I was a little better at softball, she was a little better at soccer, and we both just kind of went with that and ran. I managed to do very well in softball and she's obviously doing very well in soccer."

Shannon Boxx, 26, was a latecomer to the national team. She won an NCAA championship with Notre Dame in 1995, but it was not until last September that she made her national team debut. She has been a starter ever since. Even though she is primarily a defensive player, she has scored 11 goals in 31 games.

Having won a bronze medal at the fourth FIFA Women's World Cup last year, she is poised to possibly add a second gold medal to the family haul.

Gillian Boxx has told her to savor the Olympic experience.

"I think that the best advice I've given her is, 'Have fun. Have fun out there. Enjoy yourself,' " she said. "I think she has truly taken it to heart. None of this is worth anything if you're not having fun. I believe she's on a very skilled team, but also a team that enjoys playing together and having a good time. You can see it in the way they play.

"They have as good of a time off the field as they do on the field."

And when Shannon Boxx is up on the podium tonight, no matter whether she has a gold or a silver medal around her neck, the emotions will be very real.

"You grow up playing for different teams and for different reasons, but when you put on the red, white and blue of the United States of America it means something," Gillian Boxx said.

"And then when you get something such as a gold medal and you have the flag hanging behind you and you're wearing the colors of your country, it's really kind of hard to put it into words, but it's up there.

"It's one of those things that, 'I'm not going to cry on the podium, I'm not going to do any of this,' but definitely the emotion is there."

The firefighters at Willow Glen Fire Station No. 6 will surely understand.

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