Maria Yatrakis ’02 (SFA) was recruited for the Greek Olympic team while she was playing soccer for UConn. As a host nation for the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece was automatically qualified to have an Olympic women’s soccer team even though the country didn’t have a particularly strong women’s soccer program at the time, she explains. As a result, the team was recruiting Greek Americans to help fortify the team. Her Husky coach, Len Tsantiris, recommended her for a spot. So Yatrakis, whose parents are of Greek descent, applied for dual citizenship, trained with the team, and headed to Athens.
“It was really exciting, and it was also a culture shock for me,” she says. “Being Greek, you grow up with all the cultural aspects of Greeks in America. But then, when you’re actually there, it definitely had a different cultural environment. Women’s sports in general in Greece weren’t really looked at as something women should be doing. It wasn’t encouraged,” she says, adding that the attitude has changed since then.
Speaking on a Zoom call from Sweden, Yatrakis, 41, is perched on her bed and wearing a navy soccer jacket with her hair pulled back into a ponytail. She says soccer is still a big part of her life and is the reason she now lives in Sweden. “I was playing soccer professionally and then I met my wife and I got stuck here,” she says, laughing. “Call it happenstance, call it luck, it was meant to be.”