Jonathan Pushnik (photographer),
Tiffany Frasier (writer)
Soccer players blur together on the pitch. Forget trying to read their numbers; they are reduced to a trail of their kit’s color. Maybe this is why soccer stars of renown (at least in the American consciousness) have had distinctive haircuts: Cobi Jones had dreadlocks; Alexi Lalas has a plume of red hair. Natasha Kai doesn’t go wild at the salon—it’s her time spent in tattoo parlors, along with a beautiful game, that makes her stand out.
After getting her first tattoo as the result of a dare at age 19, Kai fell in love with the artwork and freedom of expression that tattoos allow. She now has plenty of tattoos, one drawing inspiration from soccer. “It’s the word believe in Chinese with God’s hands around it,” Kai says. “At the Beijing Olympics we knew that if we believed in each other and played hard, we would win.” They took home the gold over the vaunted Brazilian squadron.
Kai has become one of the most recognized female soccer players in the world since making her United States Women’s National Team debut at the Algarve Cup in Portugal in 2006. Two years later, Kai scored the game-winning goal against Canada in extra time during the quarterfinals of the Olympics, advancing her team into the medal round. In Women’s Professional Soccer Kai helped Sky Blue FC win the 2009 Championship, and this season she is suiting up for the Philadelphia Independence. She was also the first athlete in Western Athletic Conference history to earn three Player of the Year awards while playing soccer at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
Most of Kai’s art was done by artists in her native Hawaii. She has two turtles indigenous to the island on her back, a Polynesian tattoo sleeve on her right arm, and the state flower, the hibiscus, on her right shoulder.
With plenty of tattoo work already done, she’s now working to make pro soccer a popular sport in the United States, just as it is in South America and Europe. She also wants American players to be more visible in the soccer world. “It doesn’t matter where you come from. I’m from a small island but I feel free on the field,” Kai says. “When I’m out there [on the field] it’s my domain, I have no worries, and I play hard. Play with your heart and you’ll be unstoppable.”