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2023 Women's World Cup

Marta Cox talks dealing with loss of mother, handling grief during the World Cup, on NBC Podcast

At the age of 25, Marta Cox has already become a well-known name in Panama. The first player from the country to play professionally in Mexico with Liga MX Femenil, Cox only has 19 caps to her name for the national team, but her presence is immense.

She’s a leading midfielder, and her nine goals in 19 appearances tout her attacking abilities. It was her assist that led to Panama’s clinching of a FIFA Women’s World Cup berth for the first time. Panama will compete in this summer’s tournament, being slotted in Group F.

On a recent episode of “My Favorite Futbolista,” Cox revealed that, despite an incredible year for club and country, her personal life has provided plenty of struggle and resilience.

Cox lost her mother last year right before the 2022 Concacaf Women’s Championship, which served as World Cup qualifiers. About two months before the tournament kicked off, Cox’s mother passed away after an aggressive form of cancer was found in her stomach.

“We had been in training because we were preparing for World Cup qualifiers,” Raiza Guitérrez, Cox’s longtime coach, said, via a Spanish translator. “Marta’s mom was with us. I had the opportunity to be with Marta. When Marta’s mom left that day, she said, ‘Something is wrong with my mom, she looks bad.’”

While in Panama for a friendly, Cox was able to see her mother while the team prepared for their match. “Marta wanted to be by her mother’s side. She could see that her mother was not doing well,” Guitérrez stated.

In May 2022, her mother passed away. Cox called her a “beautiful woman” and a great mother.

“She was courageous, brave,” Cox explained, through a Spanish translator. “She faced things and wasn’t afraid. I watched my mom die. Before she died, she was very brave. She put up with a lot… “I swear, I never saw my mom cry in the hospital. In the hospital, she would be frustrated, tossing in the bed or yelling, but I never saw her cry.” 

Suddenly, World Cup qualifying dawned on the young midfielder and her national team. Panama had never qualified for a World Cup. With four spots up for grabs — and two inter-confederation spots, too — there was immense pressure on Panama.

“It wasn’t easy. I cried about everything. I would cry all the time,” Cox explained. “I was distracted during the matches because everything was so raw. I would try. In my mind, I was like, ‘I need help.’ I want to play in these games and I want to play well. I would talk to my mom and say, ‘Mom, give me strength, give me strength, which is what I think you want. This is what you loved, watching me play soccer. Do you want me to go to the World Cup? Give me strength, give me strength.’” 

However, her teammates and coaches gave her a shoulder to lean on, offering support in any way that they could.

“My coaches and my teammates helped a lot,” she said. “That voice of encouragement, and the desire they gave me to never give up. They would tell me that they needed me. That filled me with strength to go out on the field and be me.” 

Panama started off the tournament with losses against Costa Rica and Canada, but quickly bounced back against Trinidad and Tobago. Cox scored Panama’s lone goal of the tournament to give Panama the third place spot in the group, and go to the inter-confederation tournament.

“I remember when Marta scored the goal,” Guitérrez recalled. “I didn’t even think of celebrating with the head coach or the coaching staff. I grabbed the shirt with the photo of her mom, ran to her and gave it to her. It made me emotional to see her, see how she cried clutching her mom’s shirt.”

“That goal was for my mother and for all of Panama,” Cox said.

A few months later, Cox and Panama found themselves in another highly contested match. In the inter-confederation playoffs, there were three spots for the World Cup up for grabs, with 11 teams vying for them. In the opening match against Papua New Guinea, Cox scored the opening goal. Then, Panama faced off with Paraguay for one of the three World Cup spots — and Cox assisted Lineth Cedeño’s game-winning goal in the 75th minute.

“When we heard the final whistle, Marta broke down in tears,” Guitérrez said. “Marta broke down in tears embracing the flag of our country. She was crying of happiness because we managed to get into the World Cup, but at the same time crying of sadness, because she couldn’t share that joy with her mother.”

Now, with the World Cup around the corner — Panama will face Brazil, France and Concacaf foe Haiti in Group F — Cox is remembering her mother and knows she will be with her in spirit, and on her shirt, too.

“I’ll always wear it. Sometimes there’s moments where it’s like, sure, I have her in my heart, but it helps me know that she’s present… Sometimes I’ll tell our coach [Jorge], to put the shirt on the bench so she can see me,” she said. “Spiritually, my mother is seeing me, and I feel it. I’ve dreamed of her. I dream of nice things. I feel that I always have her present, even if her physical form isn’t here.

“I will always carry her with me… I will always be with her, whether she’s on my shirt, in my heart, in my thoughts. She will always be with me.” 

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