Bold, Buff and Beautiful – Rugby Girls Rock

No one who knows me believes that my first love was not basketball, but football, American football (not what the rest of the world calls football, and we call soccer).  I longed to play the game reserved for boys only.

The greatest thrill of my athletic career was not breaking scoring records or winning basketball championships, but playing right offensive end in our powder puff football game the night before homecoming 1974.

In a tied ball game, with 58 seconds left on the clock, my BF Peggy “Super Crunch” Dietz and her defensive line stopped the ball at our 2-yard line.  Another good buddy, QB Chrissie “Iron Arm” hit me with a perfect spiral on the sideline. I ran 98 yards to victory, spiked the ball in the end zone and danced under the stars.

For one night I felt invincible in the glory of Friday Night Lights.

So naturally, thirty-five years later, no one cheered louder than me when my niece Hannah, started playing rugby.  Rugby?  Yup, you betcha. Cute blondes in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, getting down and dirty, hitting hard, laughing loud, locking arms, and building bonds.

Hannah joined the team her junior year, learned the rules on the fly and found out, oh yeah, girls hit hard, too. Long-legged Hannah became the girl they throw in the air as the Robbinsdale Armstrong defending state champions returned for a repeat.

jumping for the ball

jumping for the ball

As a grassroots club team, not yet recognized as a high school sport, the no-glory girls fought for recognition, raised their own money for red and blue uniforms, and traveled in family vans to compete in tournaments.

Rugby is the ultimate team sport. Last year’s team graduated 13 of 15 starters.  “Your bench has to be as good as what you have on the field,” Coach Hanson said.  And they were.  Last week, Armstrong girls rugby entered the tournament undefeated and claimed the crown.

Tim Nolan’s Robbinsdale girls’rugby club, started in 2004, was ahead of the game and like Sterling High School girls’ basketball in the 70’s, developed into a state powerhouse. In 1977, my sister, Karen, played for Sterling in first state girls high school championship. Now Mom and daughter can boast of being state champs in the infancy of their respective sports.

But what really tickled me pink was the fan club. Proud rugby dads with painted faces and red-tinted hair, cheered on daughters who loved to tackle.

proud parents

proud parents

Hannah bejeweled in a purple gown, gossamer slippers and hair coiffed in a French braid, was a Prom night princess one weekend and hit the dirt wearing a mouth guard and headgear the next.

It’s a win-win situation.  Bold, buff and beautiful! Today girls can paint nails, lead cheers and body slam.  Too cool!

First Doctor in the Family

I slouched through school feeling ashamed with three strikes against me: tall, smart and athletic.  Not cool.  In the 70’, girls pursuing advanced careers in sports or academics were scorned minorities. Fast-forward four decades. Our Franco-American daughter, Nathalie stood proud, set shot blocking records in college and aced medical boards, playing the game her way.

Ironically, I, who grew up with hospital phobia and feared white coats, gave birth to a doctor.  Yet in retrospect, I saw the makings of a medicine woman early on.  As a precocious child, Nat spoke two languages, read books at the dinner table and excelled in her studies.  As a youngster, she had an innate ability to sense others’ pain.  She held her great grandpa’s hand when his footsteps faltered from Parkinson disease and leaned her head into Great Grandma’s shoulder to make her feel special.  She distracted her little brother when he threw tantrums and settled squabbles between cousins.

Fascinated with body parts and blood cells, she insisted we read « The Way Your Body Works » over and over again in childhood.  While I cringed at the word science and the sight of blood, she loved chemistry and biology, mixing chemicals and dissecting animals.

She paved her own path sans doctors in the family on either side.  Born of blue collar and modest teachers’ families, she jumped social classes to become a doctor of medicine, following her dream 4,000 miles away from home.

I marveled at her persistence; the greater obstacle, the harder she grit her teeth. The night her college team got knocked out of the conference championship, she mourned the end of her basketball career.  Yet hours later, she cracked open books and crammed for the biochem exam scheduled for 8 am the next day. She survived four years of boot camp for doctor wannabees in the grueling med school program enduring thirty-hour shifts and studying every free second. Med school is intense from the get go. …First day meet body buddies, second day meet body – as in cadaver.

Nat's medical school graduation

Nat's medical school graduation

The afternoon of Nat’s graduation from the University of Minnesota Medical School, her dad and I stayed up late in Switzerland to watch live on webcam.  When they announced, « Doctor Nathalie Lechault » and she stepped forward to be hooded, my throat tightened. I blinked back bittersweet tears filled with awe.

In 2011, nearly half of the 238 students in Nathalie’s graduating class were female.  From the Susan B. Anthonys and suffragettes of the late 1800s, to the Rosa Parks of the civil rights, to the Gloria Steinems of the liberation movement – hats off to all the women, who dared to think outside the box, who dreamed big, who helped give birth to our alpha daughters of the 21st century.

Happy Mother’s Day – Honoring all kinds of moms any day of the year

Moms come in all sizes, shapes, and colors. There are biological moms, adoptive moms, teacher moms, coach moms, mentor moms even Mr. Moms.

Women, like my sister, born with an extra kindness gene, guide special needs kids through high school and spoil nieces, nephews and grandkids with perfect gifts and favorite baked goods.  Others like my roomie, who still looks after us today, became a surrogate Mom to a “family” of friends in college.  Some moms like mine, embrace each day with the joy of a kindergartener and invent fun, like painting sidewalks with water, reading books by candlelight and sewing matching outfits for grandkids.

4 generations Olson & McKinzie

4 generations Olson & McKinzie

Moms put Band-Aids on skinned knees, make cookies for bake sales, send cards to shut ins, and give pep talks via iPhone and internet.  They remember anniversaries, birthdays, and graduations, and never miss ball games, band performances and school plays.  They also play catch, rebound basketballs and run marathons. Moms are the first to take the sting out of life’s hurts and the last to criticize mistakes. Moms, first up and the last to bed, stay up late, work overtime without pay and never go on strike.  They put their own lives on hold to jump-start someone else’s.  Moms keep the world spinning in a zillions small ways that we overlook everyday.

We think of moms’ most in May. Over fifty countries honor moms on the second Sunday of May. Others, such as England celebrate Mother’s Day on the first Sunday of the month. France and francophone countries, celebrate it the last Sunday of May.  Elsewhere the tradition is commemorated during eight different months of the year. In Norway, moms are honored on February 11th. The Thai celebrate August 12th, Queen Sirikit Kitiyakara’s birthday. In Indonesia, it’s on Dec 22.

Since I live cross culturally, I milk mom’s day for all its worth and celebrate several times a year. I gave birth to two children, but helped raised dozens of others on the teams I coached and in the classrooms where I taught. I always stop to remember the children who’s lives I touched and to honor the women who guided me over the years especially the moms who are no longer with us.

Traditions, like Mothers’ Days are nice reminders, but there is no right way or day to honor special women in our lives.  Whether you are sending chocolates, giving flowers, or wrapping gifts in October, May or August, any day is a good day to show appreciation for the moms in our lives.

Give a shout out to the moms in your world!  0ld moms, young moms, grand moms, friend moms, sister moms, teacher moms, team moms.

“Hey Mom, merci, gracias, danke!  I love you.”

How do you honor the moms in your life?

 

 

 

 

 

Senseless Racism, a songwriter’s opinion

 

The inspiration of children from around the world challenges each of us to work together to create a better world.

Etre né quelque part, a song by French  singer, poet and guitarist, Maxime Leforestier, loosely translated in English shows the nonsense of racism.

 

On choisit pas ses parents,                                    We don’t choose our parents
on choisit pas sa famille                                         We don’t choose our family
On choisit pas non plus                                         We don’t choose
les trottoirs de Manille                                          the sidewalks of Manila,
De Paris ou d’Alger                                                or Paris, or Algiers either,
Pour apprendre à marcher                                   To learn to walk
Etre né quelque part                                              The place where one is born
Etre né quelque part                                             The place where one is born
Pour celui qui est né                                              For whoever is born
C’est toujours un hazard                                       is always random chance
Nom’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa
Nom’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa

 

Y a des oiseaux de basse cour et                         There are domesticated birds and

des oiseaux de passage                                          migratory birds
Ils savent où sont leur nids,                                  they always find their nests

quand ils rentrent de voyage                                 whether they return from travel
Ou qu’ils restent chez eux                                      Or they stay home
Ils savent où sont leurs œufs                                 they know where their eggs lay

Etre né quelque part                                                The place where one is born
Etre né quelque part                                                The place where one is born
C’est partir quand on veut,                                     Means leaving when we choose
Revenir quand on part                                             Coming back after leaving

Est-ce que les gens naissent                                   Are people born equal
Egaux en droits
A l’endroit                                                                  Wherever they were born
Où ils naissent

Nom’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa
Nom’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa

Est-ce que les gens naissent                                    Are people born equal
Egaux en droits
A l’endroit                                                                 Wherever they were born

Est-ce que les gens naissent                                   Are people born
Pareils ou pas                                                            The same or not

On choisit pas ses parents,                                    We don’t choose our parents
on choisit pas sa famille                                        We don’t choose our family
On choisit pas non plus                                        We don’t choose
les trottoirs de Manille                                         the sidewalks of Manila,
De Paris ou d’Alger                                               or Paris, or Algiers either,
Pour apprendre à marcher                                  To learn to walk

Je suis né quelque part                                        I was born somewhere
Je suis né quelque part                                        I was born somewhere
Laissez moi ce repère                                          Leave me that reference point
Ou je perds la mémoire                                      Or I will lose my identity
Nom’inqwando yes qxag iqwaha.sa

 

 

 

Education, Racism, Football, and Mama

If you want to capture boys’ attention, talk football (at least in Europe).  Paul Canoville, who helped break the color barrier in British soccer spoke at the International School of Geneva about racism in sport to tie in with United Nations Day of Tolerance Nov. 17, 2010 and March 21st International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

« Mama said, ‘get an education ! »   Canoville said in a high pitched voice with a Caribbean accident, wiggling his hips imitating his mama.

Chelsea's player Paul Canoville

Chelsea's player Paul Canoville

« Don’t worry Mama, football gonna take care of me. » said the first black man to play for Chelsea in 1981, who still remembers that pain of racial abuse when even his own fans called him animal names.

« My Mama, from a poor Caribbean family, came to England alone and dreamed of becoming a nurse, but never had the chance to become educated.  She worked hard all her life.  She didn’t care about football ; she wanted me to go to school.»

When Canoville’s career ended to a knee injury at age 25, no one took care of him, especially not football.  After a downward spiral of drug addiction, street life and jail time, he turned his life around.  His autobiography, Black and Blue received  the best British sport book award in 2009.

After Canoville’s visit to our campus, three of my freshman students, a a tall dark-haired Italian basketball player, a blond blue-eyed Austrian footballer, and a young Swiss tennis man wrote him this letter.

Dear Mr. Canoville

Thank you for coming to tell us a story that has the power to make people change their way of thinking  about racism. In school we always learn about the history of racism, what it is about, what it provokes, but we have never had a witness talk to us about his experiences. It is a privilege that students will cherish. Most kids are sports fans, and many would love to play professional football later in life.  The opportunity to hear a famous footballer sharing important views so freely is fantastic. It has even more of an impact when you are funny.  When you tell your life altering stories and describe the appalling behavior you confronted, you showcased your great sense of humor and positive way of seeing things. A person will always face challenging times, but if you fight for what you believe in, no matter how unfair things seem to be, you can do just about anything. You taught us this. We would love for you to come back and pass your experiences and knowledge on to other generations of students.

Canoville’s final words to our students were “Always have a back up plan.  Get an education. And listen to mama.  Mama knows best!”

Here’s to all the mamas around the world, making sacrifices everyday, giving children a better chance through the opportunity of education.

 

 

Anne Frank, Miep Gies, Erin Gruwell –Solitary Voices Speak Out To Make a Difference

We hear the stories of great male leaders discovering new lands, leading nations to battle, defending human rights, but what about everyday valiant acts by ordinary women. “Courage doesn’t always roar. “

“You are not defined by this moment in time
You are not defined by what has happened to you
It is the way that your choose to respond
That matters what you do
And what you decide to do
Courage is not the absence of fear
But a powerful choice we make…”
From Courage Doesn’t Always Roar By Paula Fox

During WWII, a soft-spoken, young secretary helped hide her boss’s Jewish family in an attic in Amsterdam.  When the Gestapo discovered the Frank family, Miep Gies risked her life again, by hiding Anne’s diary (written between June 12, 1942 – August 1, 1944) from authorities. In 1947, Otto Frank, the only family member who survived the concentration camp, published Anne Frank Diary of A Young Girl, which sold 31 million copies, was translated into 67 languages, and has been studied worldwide including my English class at the International School of Geneva.

Miep Gies Feb. 15, 1909 – Jan. 11, 2010

 

In my class, I continued my lesson about Dr. Boswell’s pre Civil War quilt codes guiding slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad with another exercise to show the bravery and ingenuity of everyday people.

Franco-Suisse Hotel Arbez

A half hour from our campus, the Franco- Swiss Hotel Arbez at La Cure sits on the borderline dividing the two countries. During WWII, the owners hid British and American soldiers and Jewish civilians from the Nazis. The bottom of the staircase lies in German Occupied France; the top of the stairs “the Hideaway,” a second floor room, is on Swiss territory. Refugees disappeared into the mountains on the neutral Swiss side.

After showing examples messages stitched in quilts, I asked my students to sketch symbols that could help map the route for imaginary refugees escaping from our school to the French border at La Cure.

Over a half-century later, another daring woman, Erin Gruwell, inspired 150 disillusioned tough kids from broken homes and street gangs, to use writing to bring about change.  The Freedom Writer’s Diary, published in 1999, was the true story her freshman English class at Wilson High School in Long Beach, California.  In 2007 the movie Freedom Writers was released, and the Freedom Writer’s Foundation website was established.  http://www.freedomwritersfoundation.org/site/

After reading Anne Frank, Miss Gruwell’s class then raised funds to fly Miep Gies over from the Netherlands to speak at their school.  After Miep speech,

Marcus, a husky, former gang member, once living in the street, raised his hand and stated, “You are my hero!”

“Oh no, young man, I am not a hero,” she said.  “You are the heroes in your own life story – I just did the right thing at the right time.”

Single voices. Small steps. Soft whispers. Subtle strength. Simple women of courage stand out.