Happy Easter, Happy Spring
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In the so-tired-of-winter Midwest, spring is taking its own sweet time arriving, but over here Europe, we are ahead of the season. My family and friends in Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Minnesota are sick of seeing snow, so throw open those shutters, let the sunshine, enjoy a sneak peak of my neck of the woods, back home in Switzerland.

Out my back door, through the fields, step into that breathtaking view of the AlpsIMG_4382_copy

Traditional mountain chalet with geraniums on the balconyIMG_0012_copy 

Dandelions & primroses dance along mountain trails await for the hardy hikersIMG_3660_copy

A piece of paradise halfway to heavenIMG_3637 - Version 2_copy

Stop in at the local Auberge for the meal of the dayIMG_4399_copy

Even the cows are looking good, donning their Easter bonnets IMG_0035_copy

Hang in there. Spring will be tap dancing at your doorstep soon. Flowers will burst into a riot of color like fireworks reminding you to celebrate the survival of a rough winter. Sending love and laughter, chocolate and chutzpa, sweet vibes and sunshine from Switzerland. Happy Easter.

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Top 10 Highlights of my Final Four Basketball Tour
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2014-03-18 04.07.17_copyDuring media interviews and community speeches culminating with my keynote speech at the NCAA Final Four Banquet, I held center stage and had a chance to share the story of the pioneers. Here are my top ten memories riding the emotional roller coaster of my first Final Four.

1. My former Illinois State University coach, Jill Hutchison, whom I hadn’t seen in 35 years drove 10 hours to surprise me. From the front row at the banquet, she gave me the thumbs up and just like driving the baseline long ago, I nailed the performance under her benevolent eye.

2. My daughter, the first doctor in the family, illustrated the true evolution of women’s rights. “In 1970, less than 8% of physicians were women,” Nathalie said in her speech. “My med school class at the University of Minnesota was about 50% female. I’m privileged to have grown up at a time where my gender was not a major handicap to pursuing my dreams, and Title IX played a big part in changing things for the better.”

3. Young athletes, who never fathomed that there was day when girls had to sit on the sideline, sat up straight and listened when I talked about the trials pioneers endured to reach the pinnacle of our women’s NCAA Final Four.

4. The NCAA Chair, Dave Martin told me, “Awesome speech!” Better yet, he promised to pass my book, Home Sweet Hardwood, on to the next generation, his daughter

5. Beth Ball, the CEO of Women’s Basketball Coaching Association, echoed my words and gave a nod to Jill, cofounder and 1st President of the WBCA and to the late Betty Jayne, its first CEO. I felt the profound impact of being a part of history.

6. Shirley Egner, DIII Wisconsin’s winningest coach, a rival back in my college days, became an ally when my daughter played for her at UWSP. The Final Four cemented our friendship.

7. My book was displayed in a university bookstore right along with the Pointer T-shirts, baseball caps and college apparel.

8. I saw firsthand female basketball players dive for loose balls, bump under the boards, and knock down jumpers while fans applauded every action; male peers cheered the loudest.

9. I was interviewed on Wisconsin Public Radio Route 51 to the background beat of Sweet Georgia Brown. That was same song the jazz band played when I was a child watching the boy’s basketball team warm up, praying one day girls could play, too.

10. The people who hear me chat all the time on the phone and during holidays – my sisters, brother-in-law, and kids – traveled a combined 2200 miles to hear me speak. My son, a history major, nodded in approval and told me I got the facts right. Now how cool is that?

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A special shout out to UWSP’s director of general education and history professor, Nancy LoPatin-Lummis for making it happen. While watching her 12-year-old daughter’s basketball game, Nancy realized that had she wanted to play when she was child, her dad would have to court and fight for the right to participate. Nancy wanted her daughter to appreciate the opportunities available to girls today. Her epiphany inspired UWSP Title IX and Access to Opportunity lecture series celebrating the evolution of women’s rights leading up to their hosting of the DIII Final Four Basketball Tournament.

After a week of celebration where I felt like I had landed in basketball heaven, I flew back to Switzerland where no one had heard of March Madness. I went into withdrawal because I could no longer fill in brackets, follow teams, and watch games. But, hey, only another 300 some days until the next Big Dance.

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Rocking at my First NCAA Final Four
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2014-03-20 05.50.16-UWSPI finally made it to an NCAA Final Four, but not as a player or coach. I rocked as the keynote speaker addressing the athletes and coaches from Tufts University, Whitman College, Fairleigh Dickinson University and UW-Whitewater. For today’s athlete to appreciate how much it means, we have to travel back in time.

As a child, I stood, hand on my heart, singing the national anthem, then watching the boys charge down court and praying someone would throw a bad pass, so that I could scoop up that loose ball and fire it back to the official. That was the only game action I saw unless I could convince the boys to let me in their pick up games. Oh, they’d finally let me play if I agreed to go on the “skins” team.

I never fathomed that one day girls would play on center court because when I was a growing up, the medical authorities at the time, believed that if girls played sports their hearts would burst or their ovaries would drop out their bodies.

After Title IX passed in 1972, mandating equal opportunity for girls in education, basketball took me around the globe. Every step of the way I met obstacles.

At Illinois State University, I played for Jill Hutchison, cofounder and1st President of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association. Hutchison was a part of every rule change in women’s game and her research proved that a woman’s heart wouldn’t explode by running up and down a full court.2014-03-20 04.46.51-UWSP

In the 1st Women’s Professional Basketball League (WBL), we played in empty arenas, and went on strike after months without pay. In the late 70s “a league of their own” was insane, but out of our crazy collective dream we gave birth to the WNBA.

In Europe, I washed my uniform in a bathtub and shopped daily because my refrigerator was the size of school lunch box. Before Internet, my only connection with home was letters that took weeks to arrive.

I battled back from injury to continue competing until a car accident 4,000 miles away from home ended my career. Forget playing ball, I wasn’t sure I’d ever walk again.

How do you deal with those life-changing setbacks? How do you keep your dreams alive after defeat? A championship title is not the only sign of victory.

Today every girl can participate. To my generation, this is our triumph. Our own women’s NCAA Final Four. Though work remains in our fight for equality in women’s sports, our first victory was the RIGHT to even compete.
NCAA final four UWSP-copyNCAA final four UWSP 1-copy

After college, I moved overseas and decades later saw my first college game when my daughter suited up for Coach Shirley Egner at UWSP. I knew we’d made it when I saw a young girl ask my daughter for her autograph.

I wish I could go back to that girl who sat on sidelines praying she could play with the boys, and tell her what it’s like now. That one day girls like her would be celebrated.
That one day women would be doctors, lawyers, and businesswomen. We fought for the right to play ball and in doing so opened doors for our daughters. Though it is unlikely DIII athletes will play professionally, they will have the opportunity to pursue careers in the field of their choice.

I am not famous, just a feisty tomboy who fell in love with basketball as a 5-year-old, and refused to take no for an answer. I spent the 1st half my life fighting for the right to play, the 2nd graciously cheering for others. I wrote Home Sweet Hardwood to bear witness, to give a voice to the silent generation who battled so hard for the rights we have today.

We cannot know who we are if we do not know where we came from. We stand on shoulders of the women who came before us. In women’s basketball, it’s women like Pat Summitt, Tara VanDerveer, C. Vivian Stringer, Sylvia Hatchell, Jill Hutchison, and Kay Yow who paved the way. In my own life, it was my mom and coach.

Today, thanks to Title IX, a girl never grows up questioning her right to be all she can be.

At the NCAA Final Four, I dared athletes to be the first, to refuse to take no for an answer, to stand tall, to be smart. Play hard. Play fair. Play as long as possible. Then pay it forward. Pass it on. Encourage another little girl to chase her dream.2014-03-22 06.52.39-UWSP

Four decades after the passage Title IX, the little girl who grew up on the sideline finally made it to the Big Dance. I kicked my heels up for all women. Raise the roof. Ladies, we have arrived!

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Opportunity to Honor Women Who Shaped Lives
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IMG_1387_copyThe worst part about living abroad is that I can never be two places at once. Due to the logistics of a 7-hour time difference and 4000 miles distance, I grieved alone the passing of my grandparents and celebrated solo the accolades that mean little to folks here in Europe. Of course, I know better than most that all of the hardware in the world can’t help you get up and walk again, but after growing up in the shadows, it is humbling to be in the limelight.

I wasn’t there for my induction into the Illinois State University Hall of Fame in 1984 for basketball because I was living in Paris at the time, still recovering from a car accident and caring for a new baby. Nor was I stateside for my induction into the Illinois Coaches Hall of Fame in 2005. But my favorite all time coach, my dad, stepped in for me.

I wasn’t back on campus to receive the highly coveted “I” letter for participating in varsity sports. Prior to 1989, female athletes were not awarded Varsity Letters at ISU. Legendary basketball coach, Jill Hutchison, women’s advocate extraordinaire, righted that wrong. She initiated the Letterwinners’ Recognition Banquet February 8, 2003 to honor female athletes who in early and pre Title IX years never received that honor. Though I wasn’t physically present, my words – a column I wrote about the event -circulated to all the alumni. At the time, I was in my own gym at the International School of Geneva coaching my daughter’s team to their 5th consecutive European International Schools Sport championship.

A part of me feels undeserving of the honor to speak for my generation at an NCAA Final Four. Why me? For years, I stuffed down the ridicule, the snide remarks, the insults and kept dreaming. That little girl scorned is afraid to stand tall and shine. Yet, I will rise to the occasion.IMG_0767_copy

Because ultimately, I wrote Home Sweet Hardwood, not for my own bragging rights, but to pay tribute to the silent generation of women who fought so hard for the privileges we are have today.

Countless times when my spirit was broken, when I felt like giving up, when my legs no longer held me upright, my sisters lifted me to battle on and off the court. If I am triumphant today, it is because of the efforts of the mothers and grandmothers of yesterday. If my daughter rises in glory tomorrow, it will be due to the generations of women who have risen before her in pursuit of their dreams.

Historically, women have taken a back seat. Yet, it is women who have worked so hard behind the scenes to help us reach our goals, beginning with the mothers who believed in us from the day we were born. Pause and pay tribute to the women who guided you. Repeat their names out loud. Make a call, write a letter, send a prayer. Then continue doing what we do best, extending a helping hand, supporting one another, passing it on, and paying it forward.

When I step up to the podium at UWSP, I will speak in the “mother tongue” of our ancestors, representing those who came before us, honoring those who sacrificed in the past to create the opportunities we enjoy today.

Coach Hutchinson, coach Egner & Nat_copy

Jill Hutchison, Shirley Egner, Nathalie Lechault
3 generations of fighting women

Thank you: Sue Westphal, Karen Carlson, Betty McKinzie, Martha Olson, Lenore McKinzie, Jill Hutchison, Linda Herman, Shirley Egner, Nancy Lo Patin, Pat Summitt, Vivian Stringer, Kay Yow…

 

 

 

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Celebrating International Women’s Day and an NCAA Final Four
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we all can do itEvery March 8 we celebrate International Women’s Day to raise awareness of women’s rights and their battle to achieve equal status. It also reminds us of the challenges, struggles and inequality faced by women worldwide. This year the UN’s theme -Equality for Women is Progress for All – echoes my life story.

Growing up in the infancy of Title IX, I sat on the sideline longing for the right to participate in sports like the boys. I had a dream. That one day, I too, would be allowed on center court. In 1972, Title IX mandated gender equity in all schools, which opened doors in education and sport. I was off and running, blazing a trail as a pioneer in women’s basketball.

International Women’s Day holds special significance this year as I have been given a platform to share my voice, a voice representing the silent generation of American women who fought so hard in the past to earn the rights we enjoy today.

I slouched through adolescence, feeling ashamed for my talents, ridiculed for my love of sports. But I am standing tall today. After the publication of my memoir, Home Sweet Hardwood, A Title IX Trailblazer Breaks Barriers Through Basketball, I have been invited to share my story all over including at the very men’s clubs that banned women when I was growing up.

When I was a kid even in America, the world’s greatest democracy, the basketball court was not the only arena where women were conspicuously absent. I didn’t know any female doctors or lawyers or businesswomen. It was unheard of. We fought for the right to play ball and in doing so, paved the wave for our high-flying daughters of today including my own biological daughter, a pediatrician, who went onto to become the first doctor in our family.

As part of University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point educational program, Title IX and Access to Opportunity, I have been given a spot in the limelight. I’ve been invited to speak to the community and as keynote speaker at the NCAA DIII Final Four banquet. Forty-two years after the passage of the groundbreaking Title IX legislation, this international woman is stepping out, heading to the Big Dance.

March will be a month of celebration, but come April it will be back to work. Great gains have been made in some parts of the planet, but there is still work to be done around the globe to improve women’s health care, to protect reproductive rights, to guarantee equal pay, to curb the epidemic of violence against females, and to allow the voices of other women to be heard worldwide.

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