OXFORD, Ohio - With the London Olympics beginning in less than one week, excitement is building throughout the country. One Miami connection to Team USA is field hockey striker Keli Smith-Puzo. The two-time Olympian and former All-American at Maryland is the wife of Miami field hockey head coach Iñako Puzo and currently lives in Oxford. The Oxford Press and reporter Win Braswell wrote a nice feature article about the Puzo family last Friday. It is reprinted here with permission.
Both Puzo's will be tweeting from the London Olympic games. While he owns his own twitter account, Iñako admits he will most likely send his own tweets from his wife's account. Click on the links above to follow along and continue to check with MURedHawks.com from some exclusive pictures from London.
Local Woman on US Field Hockey Team
By Win Braswell, Oxford Press
A garden hose, dug-up soil, flowers, bags of Miracle-Gro and a rake all were randomly assorted in the front yard, as is the case with many homes in the summertime. The difference here is that not many people are balancing the daunting task of raising a family, remodeling their yards and staying in peak shape to prepare for the London 2012 Olympic games.
An exception is Keli Smith-Puzo who is a mother of two, wife, Oxford resident and member of the United States Women's National Field Hockey team.
Smith, 33 years old and a 10-year veteran striker for the national team, will compete in her second consecutive Olympics in the next few weeks.
Within the last four years, so much has changed in Smith's life.
Since the team's eighth-place finish in Beijing, Smith and her husband, Iñako Puzo, moved to Oxford nearly two years ago with their eldest son, Xavi, and gave birth to her second son, Ian, in August of 2011.
But Smith's journey to this point in her life began many years ago.
"I played basketball and ran track in high school, and to be honest, I loved all three sports," she said. "I just felt I was far more successful at field hockey, so I stuck with it, and it has paid off."
Her husband, the head coach of Miami University's field hockey team, also has a field hockey background. Puzo, born in Spain and raised in Venezuela, was involved in field hockey from childhood, eventually playing for the Venezuelan junior national team while at Venezuela Central University. In 1998, he began his 10-year career for the Venezuelan national team.
"Field hockey is the only sport I played my entire life," Puzo said. "It's the only thing I am good at, though it took years of practice. I knew it would be my sport because it runs in my family.
"It's a big sport in Spain; and once my family moved to Venezuela we looked for a place for me to play, and with 20 years of playing for national teams, it was worth it."
Once Smith cemented her decision to stick with field hockey, she landed at the University of Maryland, where she started every game of her career. Smith finished her collegiate play ranked 10th all-time in school history in goals and seventh in assists and points. Her college career culminated with a national championship in her senior season.
"After we won the national title, I thought at that very moment that it was the peak of my athletic career," Smith-Puzo said. "If we make the podium in London, it'll be like winning the national title, but times 10. Everything is bigger and there is much more at stake, so although my experience at Maryland was amazing, I'm looking forward to success in London."
Both bounced around the coaching carousel among American University, Georgetown, Ohio State and even a top team in Spain before meeting each other while both coaching summer camps and serving as assistant coaches at the University of Virginia. Coming from field hockey backgrounds and meeting while coaching the sport they love seemed appropriate for the two of them.
"It was a little bit of luck and fate that brought us together," Smith-Puzo said. "Had it not been for Team USA's missing the 2004 Olympics, we may have never met (at the summer camp)."
The couple eventually married while in Charlottesville, Va., but with Puzo's hiring at Miami, they quickly found themselves moving to a Midwest college town. The transition was surprisingly seamless for Keli, who noted that her childhood was the reason she has been able to make such a life change with such ease.
"I grew up in a small town very similar to Oxford," Smith-Puzo said. "We had a university, but it was much smaller than Miami. It was the kind of place where you knew all our neighbors and (it) was comfortable. After being in a lot of big cities, it was refreshing to be back in a small town, with a new family. So, for me, it was easy."
Puzo's sentiments were a polar opposite. He found a higher degree of difficulty in making the move to Oxford.
"This is by far the smallest place I have ever lived," he said. "I'm originally from Barcelona, then moved to Caracas (Venezuela), where there are 8 million people. The first American city I lived in was Washington, D.C., another big city. Then, each place got smaller and smaller.
"Moving to Columbus was my first real culture shock, being in a city of 1 million people after coming from one with 4 million," Puzo said. "Here, I think it's the right place for this moment in our lives. It's small and family-oriented, which is what we like."
Despite Smith-Puzo's age, one of the big story lines with her and the national team is that she had two children in a very short time span, got back in shape each time and still will compete on the sports world's biggest stage.
"I had gotten back into my top shape after my first pregnancy, so I think that helped me physically and mentally to do it again after the second," Smith said. "I got used to not sleeping at night and all the added responsibilities, but the stress of having my two boys, Iñako getting a new job and the team training in San Diego was the real difficult part of it all.
"The great thing about being a family is that we support each other, in this case, Keli, 100 percent," Puzo said. "We know that it's not just Keli Smith competing, traveling or anything else. It's our family, and that has helped ease a lot of stress and make things more comfortable for us all."
With Olympic athletes, their sports typically take priority in their lives, with rigorous, yearlong training, traveling, interviewing and endorsement deals. Throw in the curveball of having a young family and things quickly change as priorities are realigned.
"It's going to be a different experience this time around," Smith-Puzo said. "Before, all I had was field hockey and it was ... my main focus. Now, with my two kids, things have been put into perspective for me. Field hockey just can't be my primary concern.
"But on the flip side, I look at my boys and my husband and I kind of feel guilty for feeling that way back then," she said. "Going into these Olympics, I'm going to enjoy the experience of going to London, but I'll be excited to be returning to my life here and being with my family on a regular basis."
This will be the final Olympics for Smith-Puzo. "Just getting a taste of the Olympics in 2008 was an amazing experience," Smith said. "I left Beijing thinking that if I could do it one more time, I would. I know for sure this is it, but I feel like I still have a lot to contribute to the team, not just from an experience standpoint, but physically as well. I feel as good as I did four years ago."
With the London Olympics beginning July 27, the U.S. National field hockey team is looking to build on the successes they earned since an eighth-place finish in the 2008 games. The competition will be tough with the Netherlands and Argentina potentially being Team USA's biggest challengers. Smith said she is confident about the team and feels a top-five finish is very attainable.
After the games, the family will return to Oxford and Iñako will continue to coach the RedHawk field hockey team, hoping to improve upon their past performances. He said that his ultimate goal is to make Miami a national powerhouse.