Sharing My Story at the International Women’s Day Celebration

2014-03-20 05.50.16As someone who grew up in a time period when women, like children, should be seen, not heard, I grew up without a voice. I wrote Home Sweet Hardwood, a Title IX Trailblazer Breaks Barriers Through Basketball to tell the story of the pioneers. Since its publication, I have been invited to speak at dozens of functions including ironically those hosted by organizations like the Rotary, Kiwanis and NCAA, who for years denied access to women. I never passed up a chance to share our story and felt especially privileged to be invited to speak to the next generation at the International School of Zurich (ZIS) for their International Women’s Day March 8th celebration.

International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.”

Coincidentally, the United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day (IWD) as part of the International Women’s Year 1975, which was the same year the groundbreaking Title IX (June 23, 1972) was to be in regulation. This year, the IWD theme “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step it Up For Gender Equality” focuses on women’s empowerment and women’s human rights.

As a misfit in an era when female athletes (especially in team sport) were ostracized from society, I grew up on the fringes of girl groups, hanging out as one of the boys. In adulthood, as a basketball coach in a field dominated by male coaches, officials, and athletic directors, I often felt like the odd “man” out. It has been a pleasure to see more women joining the ranks in sports and to offer a tribute to the women and men who contributed to women’s rights advancement in my homeland.

Gradually, Title IX revolutionized women’s lives in America by opening doors to education and athletics. Though we may be growing closer to gender parity in the West, women lag far behind in many parts of the world. Women are subject to sex abuse and domestic violence and continue to be denied access to health care, education and equal opportunity in the work place.

The need to celebrate women’s day remains crucial.

Step It Up Highlight“Everyone – men and women – can pledge to take a concrete step to help achieve gender parity more quickly and each of us can be a leader within our own spheres of influence and commit to take pragmatic action to help include and advance women.”

Change begins with one voice, one dream, one step.

On March 8th, I will be speaking in a room filled with girls from around the globe, movers and shakers of the next era, who will go on to become doctors, lawyers, diplomats, and leaders in their own countries. It dawned on me, maybe, my role all along was not to play ball, but to share my experience to inspire, to light the fire, and pass the torch to a younger generation who can use their talents to make this a better world.

I finally know who I am… an international woman.

Please join us in the party. Take time to celebrate the women in your life and make a pledge for parity.

Timeline: Women's Footprint in History

fascinating timeline – be patient, takes long to upload, but it is worth waiting

Basketball Blues and Brotherhood: Remembering Mike Maloy

Mike MaloyEvery February, I celebrate Black History month in the lessons I teach. I know what a travesty it is to be left out the history books by the powers that be. I owe a lot to my African American teammates who overlooked my skin color during our time together. Shared passions, common goals and interdependence out weigh prejudice. But nowhere was the bond greater than when I moved to Paris and joined the expats ball club.

It doesn’t matter if you are blue, green, orange, purple or female when you are flying solo in the Euro basketball league. Only a fellow American can appreciate our love for the game and understand the isolation of living in a foreign land 4,000 miles away from home.

When I first started coaching high school ball at international schools, women coaches were rare, but my male contemporaries – players recruited to play in Europe and who stayed on – accepted me with open arms. At the American School of Paris, Henry Fields, dubbed the Father of French Basketball, took me under his wing in the international coaching “brotherhood.” Another mentor, Mike Maloy, like Henry broke down racial barriers, and left his mark in Austria.

Mike, a tall lean guy with an endearing personality, winning grin and a raspy, heartbreaking bluesy voice, never belied the bitterness that a lifetime of discrimination could create.

He was so non judgmental and unassuming. You would never know by talking to him that he put Davidson College on the map of the NCAA basketball, dominated in the Austrian pro league and sang lead with Boring Blues Band in the Viennese music scene.

Under the leadership of the legendary Coach Lefty Driesell, Mike became the first African American to play at the small southern, predominately white Davidson College where the New Yorker worked as hard to fit in as he did to rebound. In 1967 Mike also became the first African American to pledge SIGMA CHI fraternity, an action that created scandal within a system that had a long-standing tradition of discrimination.

In 1970 Mike was drafted by the Boston Celtics. In 1976 he became the first African American in the Austrian league. He again overcame intolerance and went on to win four national titles with UBSC Wien Basketball team before becoming a successful coach in the league.

In Austria, Mike admitted the he started to enjoy the game again. “It wasn’t about money. It was about chillin out and getting my head straight. I kept staying another year.”

That line echoes the sentiments of dozens of former American players that have befriended me during my decades of living abroad.

After his untimely passing, American International School of Vienna (AIS) named the high school basketball gym in his honor. And it was on his court that I remembered him best.

My fondest memories of Mike were seeing him at international tournaments, sitting at the bar sipping beer after a game, ever ready with a pep talk.

Once while lamenting getting beat out of the final, I asked, “What am I doing wrong?

“Wrong? With your tiny, lil’, raggedy team you got no business being in the same gym with goliath – I saw you coach your skinny butt off to get into the semis.”

When many seasons later, my lil’ raggedy team from Geneva snatched the Sport Council International School (SCIS) championship from the 7-time champion AIS on their home court, I thought I heard my old buddy laughing from the rafters.

“I told you so, girl.”

Thanks for believing in me, bro.

This one is for you.

Ten Tips for Survival When Sidelined by Back Pain

DSC00183I am back. I missed my friends out in the global blogosphere. When I logged out before the holidays, I did not intend to be away so long, but s*** happens.

Especially when you have a bad back. I am only a sneeze away from a catastrophe. Some people who have never suffered from back pain, poo poo the idea that back pain can be so incapacitating, but once it happens to you, you know.

Was it one too many cross Atlantic flights, too many basketball road trips, too many holiday cookies, who knows? But due to a major flare up, I was out of commission. I struggled to endure my school day. Every free minute I wasn’t preparing lesson plans or school reports, I spent lying flat or in therapy – deep tissue massage, spinal adjustments, thermal baths.

Stretch, walk, teach, rest, repeat.

Take one crooked old spine and an arthritic neck, add two herniated lumbar disks, three compressed dorsal vertebrae, and what do you get? One heck of a backache! My body has undergone a lifetime of trauma. Bad back is an understatement. Yet if you look at me, except for the basketball player slouch, from ducking through too many low French doorways, you’d never know, how I struggle to remain upright and shuffling forward. For any of you who suffer from chronic back pain or an occasional flare up, I put together a few tried and true tips.

  1. Never jump out of bed – flop on the floor first and roll like a ball
  1. Stretch – at regular intervals. Legs against wall, arms stretched overhead in L shape for a full body stretch.
  1. Exercise – walk, swim, bike but avoid high impact sports.
  1. Avoid sitting
  1. Limit computer time – strains your neck, shoulders, and wristsDSC00182_copy
  1. Take rest breaks flat out – stash a yoga matt under the couch, in the kitchen, at the office
  1. When it hurts too much to stand upright, crawl (preferably on carpet,) to loosen the SI joint and hips
  1. Use heating pads, thermal baths, body pillows, heat lamps, cold packs
  1. Do whatever you can to keep mobile
  1. Then ice baby ice!

A lifetime of hard hits, accidents, and high intensity competitive sports has left me fragile, but I am not broken. As long as this ol’ heart keeps ticking, I will fight to put one foot in front of other. I have tried every alternate therapy out there to avoid undergoing the knife.

Why not opt for surgery? I have too many weak links. Do you know anyone moving around with a total spinal fusion?

Nooo, give me my chiropractors, masseurs, physical therapists. From all my research and experience this is one area where integrative medicine and non-surgical intervention have the best long-term results.DSC00178_copy

That said I am always looking for the newest, non-invasive cure all. Next summer, if I can save enough money, I may head back to Wisconsin to my all time favorite chiropractor to try deep tissue, heat laser therapy. He and his brother use this to treat elite athletes including those giant cheese heads in the green and yellow jerseys. Hey, if it is good enough for the Greenbay Packers, it may work for this crazy, headstrong gal who got sacked one too many times in the game of life.

What is your best trick for coping with a bad back?

Terrorism and Refugee Crisis Separate Issues

3200As part of a French-American family living in Switzerland, I recently wrote about the impact deadly attacks in Paris had on my family and friends. My heart was equally shattered after the latest assault on my homeland, the San Bernardino massacre.

Each day new stories evolved about terror in the streets. As France entered a state of emergency and Brussels shut down, our worries escalated. In Europe where everything is a stone’s throw away, we fear for families and friends living in the nations’ capitals.

After the recent attacks, the backlash against the refugees is alarming. European countries build higher fences. American governors refuse Syrian refugees in their states. Do they even know a Syrian? Do they understand that the basic tenets of the Muslim religion, are based on the same beliefs as those of Christianity or Judaism?

Muslim does not mean radical. Syrian is not synonymous with terror.

The FBI insists the biggest threat is not immigrants: it is homegrown extremists. The majority of terrorist’s attacks are not conducted by “refugees from afar,” but by disillusioned youth from within our cities who fall prey to malevolent manipulations of jihadist leaders.

Europeans wonder why American states would forbid “foreign” refugees, yet support the right of any US citizen to carry weapons purchased at the nearest corner shop. Are our fears rational? Why would Americans worry more about being blown up by radical suicide bombers, when they are more likely to be gunned down in the crossfire of gangs, or murdered by deranged lone wolves? We no longer live in the Wild West. Do we really need AR-15 semi automatic assault weapons in our daily lives? And if so, what does that say about our society?

As we gathered in cozy homes, around the soft lights of our Thanksgiving table filled with enough food to feed an army, did we stop to think what it would mean to flee for our lives? Exhausted, starving, hopeless, and helpless.

We all live in fear knowing that somewhere, at any time, another attack will happen. But we must NOT let our fears override compassion and supersede tolerance.

In a blind attempt to thwart the next attack, we beef up security in public places. In this invisible war, we feel vulnerable. We are vulnerable. But in our vulnerability, should we fall prey to prejudging people?

Our daughter, who grew up in an international environment, said it best:

“Like everyone, I was shocked and horrified by the Paris attacks. I am French, I was born in Paris and we lived there till I was 9. My dad’s side of the family is all still living in France, so I will admit that the news hit me differently than reports of other disasters; it felt more personal. But the suicide bombings in Beirut, Baghdad, Nigeria (and so many other before these) were no less evil, the loss of lives no less tragic.The suffering of hundreds of thousands of people, forced to flee their country and finding they have nowhere to go, is no less real and no less deserving of our attention, just because they have brown skin or wear a hijab. When we cannot show compassion across borders, be they national, religious or racial, then we are letting the terrorists win.”

My prayers go out to the families of the victims of the attacks in Paris, San Bernardino, and other places, from the streets of Chicago to the cafes in Cairo, to the hotels in Mali or the villages in Nigeria where lives have been shattered by violence.

Yet I plead for peace. Our biggest challenge today is to remain openhearted. Most refugees are victims, not perpetrators. They are often the first victims of terrorism.

Centuries ago when our ancestors, fleeing for freedom from persecution, settled in the New World, the Natives Americans saved us from starvation by sharing the first Thanksgiving feast.

RegugeesWe are all immigrants.

Sneaker Chic Fashion Finally Catches On

thumb_IMG_0322_1024When you stand nearly 6 feet tall, and suffer from sciatica, jumpers knee, and hammertoes, sneakers are your best friends. I wore high heels once in my life- at my wedding. Big mistake! At the aisle just before exchanging vows, the Frenchman hissed, “If you complain about your aching back once more, I am out of here.”

I’ve always been a trend setting, do-it-myself, kick butt kind of girl marching to my own beat.

Fashion finally caught up with me. Sneakers made a comeback and top models, movie stars and celebrities are wearing them down the red carpet.

Sneakers aka athletic shoes, trainers, kicks, tackies come in umpteen designs – low top, high top, slip-ons, wedges, air soled – and are made out of every kind of fabric: synthetic, leather, and textile like canvas.

In a mind-boggling selection, you can pick from Vans perforated black, Steve Madden leopard print, or retro look Nike Vintage Waffles, platforms and wedges. Big heels stuck on sneakers? Not for me, but then I never needed that extra leg length.

In the sixties, we had two choices – black or white, canvas Converse All-Star Hi-Tops, or those flimsy PFlyers. Now Converse All Stars come in every color of the rainbow.

Today you can pick from the top-selling classic brand names to every kind of cool from Vans slip-ons to Nike florals. All are guaranteed to make you jump higher, run faster, and hike longer. A sneaker design exists for every activity under the sun: biking, boating, walking, cross training, skate boarding, basketball, football, volleyball, soccer, tennis, aerobics, and others. One day I bet a weight loss shoe will help you drop pounds by just tying up the laces.

I don’t own a pair of dress shoes; I have kicks for every occasion. My collection consists of twenty some pairs spread across two continents. Most of which I never wear because they make my back hurt due to tender toes and high arches. On a whim when I tried to switch brands, I bought purple trimmed Nike’s, turquoise Adidas, and fuchsia Reeboks. They always ended up at the back of the closet. I am most at home in ASICS.

At last, fashionable footwear made for comfort can be paired with leggings, jeans and even skirts. Black and white Adidas, Sketchers Sweet Spots, Forever 21 Floral Slip On and Converse All Star Plaids are the rage. Top independent shoes companies with names like IPath, SeaVees, Pointer Footwear, Newton, Scora, Supra, Black Spot, Under Armour, Etnies, Superga, Visvim, and Clae are in vogue. Don’t feel bad, the only ones I’ve heard of are New Balance and Under Armour.final four

Since Michael Jordan’s signature epic Air Jordan, elite athletes have elevated the tennis shoes to lofty levels. Finally in 1996, much to my joy, Nike launched Air Swoopes, named after the female basketball star Sheryl Swoopes. National sports heroes in every country have their signature shoe. Switzerland’s Roger Federer’s Zoom Vapor has long been a favorite of tennis players. For a retro look, designers also brought back tennis shoe models from Arthur Ash and Yannick Noah’s (French father of Chicago Bulls star center, Joakim Noah) playing days.

Countless brands lead the global scene. ETQ Amsterdam, the Netherlands footwear, is at the peak of the luxury sneaker culture. Kahru, which means bear in Finnish, makes original and running shoes. Fred Perry, an English menswear brand, turns the sneaker into high fashion. Norman Walsh Made in England has the British flag as a logo. Le Coq Sportif, founded 1888, is one of the oldest brands. It’s named for the French national team symbol, a rooster. Diadora’s Italian brand and Etonic’s, founded in 1876, are also making a comeback.

But I am a simple gal, my go to shoe – ASICS 180 gel cross trainers. With my funky feet finding a shoe to fit is as likely as seeing an elephant hanging out in the North Woods.

High heels take a hike. Give me my tennie kicks any day.

Freedom to Read How to Get Kids On Board

kids reading-2_copyThe right to read is often taken for granted. Not everyone grows up having free access to information. Not every child will have the chance be educated. Just ask Malalia Yousafzai what it cost her. When the Taliban took over part of Pakistan, forbidding girls from getting an education, Malalia fought for the right to attend school. When she was shot on the bus, no one expected her to survive. Yet, she recovered and wrote her memoir, I am Malalia, How One Girl Stood Up For Education and Changed the World inspiring others to take a stand, too.

Even in the United States where education is valued, books can be challenged. At the end of September, The American Library Association promotes Banned Books Week to foster the freedom to express one’s opinion and help make students aware that opportunity to read is not a given. Find out more about it in my previous post Celebrate Books the Memory of Mankind.

At my international school, we line the halls of our English floor with bookshelves filled with paperbacks, so our students can “grab and go.” We also celebrate the Reading Challenge during winter and summer term using every effort to promote reading.IMG_0272

I love that Free Little Reading Libraries movement has gone global. I found one in front of the fitness center in Divonnes-les-Bains,France where I swim. To promote the initiative, students painted old dressers and filled the drawers with free books. These bright-colored chests were placed around town where kids hang out: beside the lake, on the village square, in front the skate park and by public schools.

For someone raised in a family where the love of reading was passed down through the generations, I find it hard to fathom why anyone would not want to read. But not everyone grows up surrounded by tomes in a houseful of educators.

With all the other distractions today, it is becoming more difficult to interest kids in reading. Consequently, the number one question parents ask me at our teacher conferences is, “What can I do to get my child to read?”

“Do you read?” I ask.

When they tell me, “No,” I am not surprised that books are not their children’s priority either.

Here are few suggestions I offer parents to entice kids to crack open books.

  1. Take time out of your own busy schedule to read. Kids model adult behaviors.
  1. Make reading material readily available. Buy one of those old-fashioned bookshelves and fill it.
  1. Newsprint may be dying, but until then, let magazines and newspapers lounge around the house.
  1. Read to young children. No time? Too tired? Enlist the help of older siblings and other family members. Ask a grandparent if there is any greater joy than reading a favorite tale to that little body curled up in their lap?kids reading_copy
  1. Connect with kids on their turf. If they hate the schools’ recommended reading list, create a new one. Taper it to tap into their interests. For example, if they love sports, pick up an autobiography penned by one of their favorite athletes.
  1. If your child has difficulty reading, give them audio books. Or have them read stories at a lower grade level.
  1. Get a library card. And use it. Going to the library is a great, fat-free, low cost, healthy habit.

Of course, reading off Kindles, iPads and other devices is okay; however, in our hyper fast-paced, electronic-laden lifestyles, is there any better way to escape the rat race than by losing oneself in the pages of a good book?kids reading-3_copy

Be a rebel. Buy a book. Log off and read.

What are you reading today? Do you have any recommendations for a read-a-maniac like me or for any of the young adult readers that I teach?