Basketball Lessons Transfer to Medical Career

When my daughter was born in Paris on a cool October day nearly three decades ago, I prayed for the strength to help make her resilient. No easy task as I was still enduring chronic pain from a car accident and I would be raising her in France in a cross-cultural marriage. As she grew, I dreamed of watching her run, jump and play. Like my dad once taught me, I showed her how to shoot baskets in the driveway and before long I was following her to games in the French and then later Swiss club leagues.

playing ball in apartment in Paris

playing ball in apartment in Paris

When Nat entered the international school, I coached her and her friends. Every time she came out of a game pouting about an elbow to the face or knee in the back I encouraged her to brush it off and get back in the action.

Was I pushing her too hard or not enough?

When I had her play one-on-one against a boy and he accidentally broke her ankle, I could’ve kicked myself. I always pressed the limits. Nat played with exercised induced asthma, so I subbed her out of games, insisting, “Breath, Nat, breath. But tell me as soon as you can go back in.”

In all fairness, what coach likes their 6’2” center to sit out? After all, I had been raised by get-up-and-walk-it-off father and grandfather coaches.

I never knew if what I said made sense to a girl growing up in Europe where the emphasis is less about winning and more about participating. What good were my lessons?

However after shining in the Swiss basketball league, as a freshman Nathalie moved to the States and as a college freshman played in the DIII Final Four tournament for University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point under Shirley Egner, who became the most decorated coach in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC).

mom & daughter share triumph & defeat

mom & daughter share triumph & defeat

The final game of Nat’s career ended in an upset. The athlete in her collapsed, but her fighting spirit will remain in the gym, another brick in the wall, forming the foundation of UWSP Pointer’s tradition. That athlete kicked the bleachers and cried in the shower, but the scholar in her rose early the next morning to ace the biochemistry exam.

I who once majored in “basketball,” floundered, searching for a career. So driven by my obsession with the game, I was lost when I could no longer play. My daughter knew instinctively that brains would outlast the body. Four days, after the disappointing end to her basketball career, Nat nailed her interview gaining admittance to the University of Minnesota Medical School.

But I will always remember that night when we stumbled off the purple and gold court at UWSP. I slipped my right arm around her waist as she draped her left arm over my shoulders. She leaned on me for support and I clung to her waist for balance; where my strength ended, her courage began. I drew on her calm, logical ability to see the big picture; she relied on my humor and spunk to make it through the moment. I marveled at her ability to memorize the chemical compositions of molecules, she admired my tenacity to keep fighting each day faced with debilitating pain. We are tougher, more resilient, and more compassionate because of each other.

When I was a child, women had no more chance of playing pro basketball than being CEOs, neurosurgeons or college professors. Yet during her college career, Nat guarded the superstar of Milwaukee School of Engineering, a woman whose job at NASA awaited her graduation. Nathalie became the first international player in the WIAC to receive the Scholar Athlete Award (2006-2007). She juggled the demands of academics, college basketball, and dual nationality, crossing between cultures. And in 2011 she took the Hippocratic Oath at University of Minnesota Medical School to become the first doctor in the family.

Today Dr. Lechault uses that same tenacity she learned on the basketball court to work incredibly long hours teaching adolescents good health habits, answering a pager in the middle of the night, calming distraught parents, and making tough, split second decisions in her work as a pediatrician. Happy Birthday, Nat, and hey, thanks for listening!

Med school grad

Med school grad

Posted in education, family, inspiration, sport.

24 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing this Tom. I greatly appreciate all the support you have given me throughout the years.Congratulations to your wife and daughter! I am sure that your wife faced obstacles in her journey in academia. What branch of medicine did your daughter go into?

  2. Congratulations to Daughter and to Mother…… I have been so thrilled at the accomplishments of God driven Doctors and what together they can accomplish…. I am at present praying that a friend will have comfort of released pain after surgery. She has endured pain the most of her life with the affliction of a diseased bladder and now is submitting to surgery for a bladder pacemaker……..New Miracles….. Go Doctor Go…
    Mary Helen

    • Thanks Mary Helen..yes it is truly amazing what doctors and modern medicine can do. I have never heard of a bladder pacemaker. Here’s to new miracles and the dedicated professionals that help make them happen!

  3. This one made me cry. It’s so true how good coaches in any sport help our children learn life-long lessons that help create not only resilience but also the ability to believe in oneself and keep trying hard despite the obstacles. Thanks for being one of those coaches, Pat, to my daughters. They and I have learned many lessons from you on and off the court.

    • Tinie, Never forget that WE were a team and you were an integral part of shaping those lives too…so kudos back at ya, Coach! It brings me great joy to see how successful our “daughters” have become as young career women!

  4. This one made me cry. It’s so true how good coaches in any sport help our children learn life-long lessons that help create not only resilience but also the ability to believe in oneself and keep trying hard despite the obstacles. Thanks for being one of those coaches, Pat, to my daughters. They and I have learned many lessons from you on and off the court.

    • Tinie, Never forget that WE were a team and you were an integral part of shaping those lives too…so kudos back at ya, Coach! It brings me great joy to see how successful our “daughters” have become as young career women!

  5. Pat, I have learned to have the Kleenex box handy when I read your posts! What a beautiful mother-daughter tribute. I love how you have found strength in one another. It reminds me of the saying,”What goes around ,comes around” and your influence has come around to Nat ten-fold. Congratulations, Nat for all the basketball skills that helped you become who you are today-the first MD in the family. Wishing you a long and satisfying career and a Happy Birthday. You have an amazing Mom 🙂

    • Thanks Kath. I am sure you can relate to this as you raised your own fine basketball playing, turned teacher daughter. And if girls were allowed to play basketball when you were younger, I am sure you would have led the team…you are catalyst… with a gift for bringing people together.

  6. Pat, I have learned to have the Kleenex box handy when I read your posts! What a beautiful mother-daughter tribute. I love how you have found strength in one another. It reminds me of the saying,”What goes around ,comes around” and your influence has come around to Nat ten-fold. Congratulations, Nat for all the basketball skills that helped you become who you are today-the first MD in the family. Wishing you a long and satisfying career and a Happy Birthday. You have an amazing Mom 🙂

    • Thanks Kath. I am sure you can relate to this as you raised your own fine basketball playing, turned teacher daughter. And if girls were allowed to play basketball when you were younger, I am sure you would have led the team…you are catalyst… with a gift for bringing people together.

  7. Pat, I appreciated today’s post immensely. The work done by pioneering female coaches like the ones you knew at Illinois State, and the relentless spirit of “first generation” female college athletes like you, has changed the world. I can relate to some of what you say (from a spectator’s standpoint, of course) because my wife is a 3rd-generation college professor (but the first first female) and my daughter–a former volleyball athlete–is the first doctor in my family (3 generations in the USA).

    • Thanks for sharing this Tom. I greatly appreciate all the support you have given me throughout the years.Congratulations to your wife and daughter! I am sure that your wife faced obstacles in her journey in academia. What branch of medicine did your daughter go into?

  8. Pat, your commentors have said everything I was feeling, and I also posted this on my FB page because you are a source of strength to me. I get many weird ailments that doctors can’t explain and cause me sleepless nights and fear, but now that I know you, I think of you when I need to feel calmer. Congratulations on raising a superb daughter, too!

    • Thanks Lynne…funny you should think of me, I always think of you whenever I am facing my middle age angst & then I turn to your blog for support! So guess we’ll just have to keep on keeping on to keep one another going!

  9. Pat, your commentors have said everything I was feeling, and I also posted this on my FB page because you are a source of strength to me. I get many weird ailments that doctors can’t explain and cause me sleepless nights and fear, but now that I know you, I think of you when I need to feel calmer. Congratulations on raising a superb daughter, too!

    • Thanks Lynne…funny you should think of me, I always think of you whenever I am facing my middle age angst & then I turn to your blog for support! So guess we’ll just have to keep on keeping on to keep one another going!

  10. It’s hard to believe our little Nat-a-bug is another year older, but not hard to believe that she is so successful in all she endeavors. She has had wonderful role models in her parents and has had the tenacity and drive to accomplish all she has set out to do. I know Nat is a compassionate, committed doctor. The medical profession is lucky to have her.

    Happy Birthday,Nat.

  11. Ohhhh sister! along with Tina, I have tears in my eyes while reading this one!
    Seems like only yesterday Natty-no-nap was taking care of her stuffed animals, mending the pretend wound on Gege, gently playing with her younger cousins! What a fine Doctor Lechault she has become thanks to your “just right” amount of high expectations, loving support and listening ear, and strong belief that Nat could achieve ANYTHING she wanted to as a woman! As a loving parent, that “right amount” is one of our biggest concerns. Happy Happy Birthday to our sweet Niece and my “other Daughter!”

  12. Ohhhh sister! along with Tina, I have tears in my eyes while reading this one!
    Seems like only yesterday Natty-no-nap was taking care of her stuffed animals, mending the pretend wound on Gege, gently playing with her younger cousins! What a fine Doctor Lechault she has become thanks to your “just right” amount of high expectations, loving support and listening ear, and strong belief that Nat could achieve ANYTHING she wanted to as a woman! As a loving parent, that “right amount” is one of our biggest concerns. Happy Happy Birthday to our sweet Niece and my “other Daughter!”

  13. Hi Pat! Just got caught up on your writings! I love to read them! I just read the one about your daughter becoming a Dr.! Congrats to her and you! I know how much effort it takes for everyone to get through a medical career. My daughter is getting ready to graduate under grad and had been accepted to Med. school to become a P.A.( Physician Assistant) thank God for all the opportunities for this generation of amazing girls! Take care!

    • Thanks, Marilyn! That is fantastic that your daughter has been accepted into Med school. Where will she be going for her studies? Yes, it truly is incredible to see the opportunities available for girls today. And never under estimate the importance of all you have done to help make your daughter’s dream become a reality! Moms rock!

  14. Hi Pat! Just got caught up on your writings! I love to read them! I just read the one about your daughter becoming a Dr.! Congrats to her and you! I know how much effort it takes for everyone to get through a medical career. My daughter is getting ready to graduate under grad and had been accepted to Med. school to become a P.A.( Physician Assistant) thank God for all the opportunities for this generation of amazing girls! Take care!

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