Heather Dow didn’t pick up a lacrosse stick until her sophomore year of college.

Not long after, representing her country in a sport she quickly came to love became a mission.

“At Virginia, our coach, Linda Southworth, took us to a U.S. exhibition game against England,” Dow said. “That’s when the dream started. It was so cool watching the U.S. team march out onto the field. I set a goal right then and there.”

The goal became reality and much more. Dow played on two U.S. teams (1986 and 1989), served as an assistant coach for four more (1993, 1997, 2001 and 2005), was named the goalie of the century by Lacrosse Magazine in 1999, was inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2002 and was named as one of the top 50 female athletes in history by the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Her career yielded many special moments, nothing better than wearing a U.S. uniform while hearing the national anthem played.

“One of the things I find pretty extraordinary is that once you’ve listened to the national anthem with a gold medal around your neck, you just don’t hear the anthem again in the same way,” Dow said. “Decades later, when the Olympics roll around or our women’s World Cup soccer team is playing, we’ll have email chains from our teams just talking about how they get chills when listening to the anthem, how grateful they were to play for the U.S. and how remarkable the friendships are you develop through sports.”

Dow’s first gold medal meant a lot because of how hard it was to achieve.

In 1986, her first World Cup, the U.S. fell to Australia 10-7 in the gold medal game in Swarthmore, Pa.

Three years later, playing on the other side of the world in Australia, the U.S. squad lost to the host Aussies during pool play, but got a chance for redemption, advancing to the gold medal game against England. A nerve-wracking game stood tied 5-5 and went into sudden death overtime to decide the victor.

“Betsy Williams (Dougherty) just outreached the English player for the center draw, so much so that the English player broke the other way,” Dow said. “She took off and passed it to Margie Anderson who scored. We watched the tape later and the whole thing only took eight seconds. It was a feeling of accomplishment. It was a remarkable moment, everything I had dreamed of.”

Dow made a U.S. record 50 saves in the 1989 World Cup, allowing a mere 11 goals to set another U.S. record with an 82.0 save percentage.

Her next role came behind the bench. Dow earned three more gold medals and a silver medal as Sue Stahl’s assistant coach with the U.S. program and has remained close to the sport since her final stint with the U.S. team staff in 2005.

She was an assistant coach at Virginia through 2010, helping the Cavaliers win a national title in 2004, before taking a couple of years off to coach at a private school. She came back to her alma mater’s staff a few years ago and loves teaching, which has been a big part of her life.

“I’ve taught civics in middle school for the last 15-20 years and that’s kind of winding down,” Dow said. “I was a teaching assistant with an autism program this year and I’ll do that again next year and hopefully keep coaching. I love teaching and seeing the eyes of kids when they finally execute a skill they’ve been working on.”

That’s especially true on the lacrosse field.

“The collective effort when everyone comes together, standing back to watch their joy,” Dow said. “You have those experiences throughout the game. It doesn’t have to be when you win a championship. I think team sports are amazing for all of the lessons they teach.”

Lacrosse will always have a place in her sport above and beyond other team sports.

“I fell in love with the very first time I saw it,” Dow said. “It’s such a fun game to play and watch, both boys’ and girls’ lacrosse. There’s a spot on the field for anyone. In some sports you have to be a certain size or shape to be good. Lacrosse, if you work hard enough, you can find a spot on the field.”

She claims she made a deal with her orthopedic surgeon that she wouldn’t play again if she could just make it through the 1989 World Cup, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t miss the feeling of holding her stick, standing between the pipes.

“I’m very grateful for having the chance to play the game, play for the U.S. team and coach for the U.S. team,” Dow said. “God darn, I’d love to be out there again. I still miss it.”