Illinois State University Celebrates Title IX 50th

As a girl, I was stuck on the sideline, watching boy’s basketball games, hoping that the ball would roll out of bounds so I could throw it back into play. I never fathomed girls would be allowed on center court one day.

50 years ago on June 23, 1972, Title IX passed. The federal civil rights law prohibited sex-based discrimination in any educational institution that received federal funding.

It opened doors to places I never knew existed.

Pillars of ISU Melinda Fischer, Linda Herman, Jill Hutchison

Illinois State University's legendary coaches, Linda Herman (30 plus years as esteemed volleyball coach and administrator) and Jill Hutchison (28 years at the helm of women’s basketball and also a successful international level coach) among others, played a major role in Title IX’s passage and assured its implementation for female athletes.

This June 25, 2022, ISU led the nation again by honoring the pioneers in its Title IX 50th Anniversary Celebration.

In 1976, I was one of the first females to be awarded an athletic scholarship to ISU. Back then, I didn’t even know what a scholarship was. No one realized the profound impact Title IX would have on our lives.

Today young female athletes grow up dreaming of being recruited and receiving athletic scholarships and all its perks just like their male counterparts.

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During my visit back to the ISU campus for the first time in decades, I was blown away by the accommodations for female Redbird athletes including the opportunity to prepare in the state of the art Jill Hutchison Women’s Basketball Locker Room and play in Redbird Arena, 10, 200 seat capacity.

Many athletes of the current generation never heard of Title IX nor appreciate how we got here. ISU reminded us of the sacrifices in our journey by honoring the pioneers who paved the way

Linda and Jill opened the event by narrating a video of outlining the development of women’s collegiate sport back from the days when women sewed their own uniforms and drove campus station wagons cross country to compete until present times.

We heard firsthand how Title IX shaped the lives of ISU alumni like basketball star Cathy Boswell, 1984 Olympic Gold Medalist, to Jaci McCormick, a Native American player from the Nez Perce Reservation. Jaci went on to co found Rise Above, an organization that uses basketball to promote wellness on reservations.

Speakers also included Melinda Fischer, a former 3 sport athlete, basketball and softball coach with the winningest record at ISU and in the Missouri Valley Conference and Angie Taylor, who after a record-setting career in track and field became an illustrious international and collegiate coach. She also developed programs for Nigerian track and field teams.

Still others on the panel shared how they took the foundation and philosophy built at ISU and passed it on as coaches and administrators.

I was humbled and honored to be invited to speak and the share the stage with these legends. Most of you who follow my column know my story.

Basketball took me from ISU, to the women’s first pro league (WBL), to France, Germany and Switzerland. In the late 70s, the Women’s Professional Basketball League (WBL) failed, but we helped give birth to the WNBA in 1996.

After my American pro team went bankrupt, I flew to Paris as one of the 1st American women in European Basketball League, playing first in France and then in Germany.

When my player’s career ended instantly in a car accident abroad, I became a teacher and coach at international schools. For the next 3 decades I served as an ambassador of the game in Europe, guiding athletes from around the globe, first in France, then in Switzerland.

“No person in the United States shall,

on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in,

be denied the benefits of, or be subjected

to discrimination under any education program

or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Many of the players I coached pursued higher degrees before returning to their homelands to fight for social justice.

When I was a kid, women were banned from the playing fields. I didn’t know any female doctors, lawyers or CEOs.

We fought for the right to play ball and paved the way for our high-flying daughters today.

My own daughter, who I coached in Switzerland, came to USA where she played in a DIII Final 4 for UWSP, studied 11 years and reached her dream to become a pediatrician.

Many of our present day contemporaries never heard our history. I wrote Home Sweet Hardwood, A Title IX Trailblazer Breaks Barriers Through Basketball, to give a voice to the silent generation of women who battled so hard for the rights we have today.

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Jill and Linda and other dedicated pioneers put together an amazing weekend to celebrate our past, to educate, and to inspire the next generation.

We can’t know who we are if we don’t know where we came from.

We are indebted to women who came before us .

From the sideline to Showtime! Thanks to Title IX, a girl grows up never questioning her right to be all she can be.

Rise Again An Inspiration

rise again in the Jury mountainsThis is the second year anniversary of my death. Only I lived. How do you process a near death experience, when you realized you could have, should have, would have died? Without the miracle of emergency helicopter transport, highly skilled neurosurgeons and endless encouragement of therapists, family and friends, I wouldn’t be here.

I feel guilty. Why am I still here when so many other younger, brighter, better people have died so senselessly in accidents, illness, war, COVID and other catastrophes?

I must use my time to do something meaningful for others. Why else are we here on earth if not help our fellow mankind? On April 10, 2020, I had an accident from which I am still recovering; but I had already lived over 6 decades.

A former student’s battle back from brain injury was eerily similar, but so much worse. Gordon was only 13 years old when he hit his head in a tragic ski accident. He spent months in a coma in Grenoble, France and then many more recovering in a children’s rehabilitation hospital in Zurich, Switzerland. He eventually returned to school. Now he is turning his tragedy into inspiration for other kids.

I can relate to every scene of Gordon’s honestly raw documentary as I relived memories of my hours of therapy. I stumbled down the hallways of my rehab center gripping wall bars, I repeated numbers and letters on flash cards and molded lumps of clay to regain dexterity in my fingers. I learned to lift my foot, swing my arm, hold utensils.

hiking the Jury

I scowled at my occupational therapist when she tried to reteach me things I’d learned as a two-year-old like wash my face, brush my teeth, wipe my butt.

In the basement hallway of the hospital I paced, stopping in front of the door labeled “Morgue,” giving thanks for my great fortune. I could be dead. I pushed through exhaustion, humiliation and hopelessness to heal.

In the aftermath of a brain injury, I raced against time to maximize a phenomena known as neuroplasticity. One can retrain the brain using different neurons to compensate for those severed in the brain from trauma.

After hours of occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy and neuropsychology, I collapsed in bed falling asleep only to be woken minutes later by another therapist to take me to my afternoon sessions. I wanted to scream, “Go away!”

Instead I set goals - get outside the hospital, outside my broken body, outside the prison in my mind.

rise again in the Jury mountainsTwo years later, I can walk for miles, talk for hours and swim again. I must appreciate how far I have come and accept that my rehabilitation journey is ongoing with therapy, treatment, and exercise until recovery becomes my way of life.

Gordon, an inspiring teenage boy, who came back from the brink summed it up when he recounts what he learned on his unexpected journey.

“There is always something to be grateful for no matter how unlikely. Beauty surrounds us, but we have to CHOSE to want to see it.”

“Never compare yourself to others. Each person has their own journey.”

“Life is full of challenges; it is not always meant to be easy. It is not what happens to us; it is how we chose to respond to it. Goals happen only when we are challenged and this is opportunity.”

Before he even took his first steps, Gordon set a new goal - walk over 2000 meters up the Schilthorn Mountain in Switzerland.

He did it.

Here is his story.

Cancer Stole My Friend Too Soon

My friend died last weekend. My heart is heavy. Christine was such a beautiful soul. Thoughtful, kind, warmhearted. Far too young to part already. She leaves behind 3 children - beautiful reflections of herself -whom I had the privilege of teaching.

Cancer crept up insidiously. She had shortness of breath. She felt run down.

Aren’t all dedicated teachers?

She left school one day for a doctor’s appointment; she never came back to class. Instead she went to war in the cancer ward. The diagnosis. The deception. The despair. The carnage. The crusade.

She fought her battle against leukemia so gallantly. After the first rounds of hospitalizations and chemotherapy, she went into remission. When cancer reared its ugly head again, she returned to battle. Her sister selflessly donated her bone marrow for a replacement. More hospitalizations. More isolation. More pain. More anxiety. More anguish.

How hard to believe you are getting better when your body weakens from the endless fight?

All that effort bought her a little more time before she succumbed to an infection that attacked her heart. Her heart. Her generous, loving heart.

Who among us has never lost a loved one to disease?

Cancer is especially cruel. It attacks the self. It can only be beat-sometimes just temporarily - by knocking out the immune system leaving the victim vulnerable to the very air breathed.

She left us with a bittersweet reminder we only have today. And treasured memories.

I have so many. She once baked my favorite carrot cake and brought it to our department meeting for my birthday. When I couldn’t drive, she picked me and took me to one of my retirement parties. Years later, wearing a knitted cap to hide her bald head, she swooped in to carry me off for coffee where we lamented our fight to survive.

After my brain surgery, I looked to her for inspiration. I saw how hard she fought with so much grace and dignity. I thought if she can prevail, so can I. And so we faced another day.

Until we didn’t.

Now she is no longer here. A good person gone too soon. I never had the chance to say goodbye.

She lent me books and lesson plans, shared smiles and stories, offered rides and meals. She gave me laughter and joy.

She brightened my days.

Now I mourn for her children, her husband, her sister, her parents, her colleagues and friends, all who feel her passing as an ache that will not subside.

I miss her already.

Rest in peace dear friend.

You left behind the best kind of legacy.

You were greatly loved.

Sold Our House in Two Days

A year ago, after our realtor sent photos of our place to his client list, we sold our house in two days, before it even went on the market. Of course, it sold immediately! It is the perfect house, which makes me wonder why we decided to leave it.

We found another place just as fast. After visiting only three houses and talking to two builders, my husband announced, “We must decide. I hate shopping! I don’t like dithering around.”

“Gerald we aren’t talking about buying a pair of shoes! This is a house. We need to be sure what we are doing?”

But when was I ever sure what I was doing? Our reasons for moving from our old house… too big, too many stairs, too much yard. So what do we do? Build as big of house, with as many stairs, in the middle of a mountain.

We signed on a new place, not yet built in St. Cergue, Switzerland in the Jura mountains. Since our new house, a triplex like apartment, will not be ready until July 2022, we are living like vagabonds.

To make thing more complicated, we are guests in this country. I am American, Gerald French. We scramble to figure out details like how many days we could spend in the states without losing our C residency permit allowing us to live in Switzerland. Even harder to negotiate was how long we could hang out in America, especially since Gerald as a “foreigner” is required to leave the US within 90 days of entering.

What started almost as a whim, snowballed into a major life change and my head is spinning, still unstable from my brain surgery almost 2 years ago.

Is it from brain injury or circumstantial, from trying to pack 23 years of living into a dozen boxes and start over again on a mountaintop in my mid 60’s?

Where has my common sense gone? How did I get so caught up in my husband’s middle life crisis? Does everyone my age feel this urgency that time is running out that we must rush to do all the things we dreamed in our youth.

Nothing is working out as planned.

What can I be thinking moving into the mountains with my bad back and worn out knees, where every step out the door requires going up or down? There’s no pain-free level ground here.

Fortunately my husband, like a little kid with a new project, is in his element dealing with the architecs, builders, bankers, realtors and notaries. His enthusiasm and expertise keeps me going, because I am lost.

Our biggest mistake was buying a “virtual” home, which builders promised would be ready by June 2022. Last fall, the project manager met with my husband and told him that our house would be finished earlier, by April or May 2022. Then in December, we received an alarming email saying that we wouldn’t get the key until probably the end of December 2022 but June 2023 at the latest. Or if you read the contract’s fine print, it “clearly” states that the very latest deadline would be 14 months from finishing the foundations date, which could mean June 2023 as they started several month later than expected. Anyone following here ???

What went wrong?

In the meantime, we stack another load of wood to heat our “temporary” rental place, a medieval chalet the size of a trailer. To keep from going crazy, we go out everyday. We wander our around our new village, walk by our “plot” and worry.

Why haven’t they broke ground the foundation of our building yet?

I am turning 65, still alive and skiing again

After my car accident at age 25 doctors feared I’d never walk again, after brain surgery nearly 40 years later, they thought I would be lucky to use my limbs properly.

After countless hours of medical treatments, therapy and hard work, I cross-country skied again. I fell in love with the sport, inspired by my Scandinavians ancestors, who invented cross-country skiing centuries ago to circulate across mountains in winter. It reminds me of my forefathers born on the fjords in Northern Norway where reindeer run wild and Laplanders reign, where nature and its preservation is a God given right and obligation.

I was never an adept skier. I am even worse now. From a distance I look more like a wobbly stork than a Scandinavian savant. I huff and puff around each bend. I remove my skis when I can non longer duck waddle up the steep incline. My fear of falling defeats the fun of gliding downhill. I also take my skiis off to walk down any incline. At sharp bends at the end of slopes, I collapse sideways halfway down the slope. Better to fall gently, but awkwardly on my own terms, then crashing out of control.

I spend a lot of time putting on and taking off skiis. But that is the beauty of cross country. Everyone can go at their own pace.

When I moved to Switzerland, the land of ski, no one believed me when I told them, I don’t know how to ski. I have reached an age where I am afraid to try downhill, not so much due to my numerical age, but to my spinal age from years of abusing my body on a basketball court, a bike accident, a car accident left me ever feisty, yet fragile.

I can still remember the first time I went skiing with a teammate on the golf course of Illinois State University. I’ll never forget the wrath of my coach when I came to practice with a twisted knee after tumbling down the slope on the 9th hole.

Skiing for a DI basketball players may be taboo in Illinois, but not in Switzerland. The basketball season takes a back seat to ski season. When my star Swedish center insisted on hitting the slopes a week before our European championship, I went ballistic.

“Don’t worry Coach, “ she assured, patting me on the back, “I never get hurt. I was born on skiis. To me it is as natural as breathing.”

That maybe true for some Scandinavians, but to those ancestors of immigrants, it is still a challenge.

Yet, when I glide around another hairpin turn, my shoulders pull on poles propelling me forward, mountains whiz past in my peripheral vision, and I feel euphoric. As I weave through the fresh powder in forests full of snow sprinkled evergreen, I hear the call of a coyote and inhale the crisp, clear mountain air.

And I feel lucky to be alive.

Never mind that an hour later, my muscles will lock up from the pain of fibromyalgia. Knots will form in shoulders. My neck, hips and low back will ache. Knifes will stab my knees every step I take. I will lie flat - a hot water bottle on my upper back and ice packs on my knees - and close my eyes. I see a sheer, jagged mountain peek pointing toward turquoise skies, icicles hanging from the rooftops of red shuttered wooden chalets in an incredibly beautiful tableau of whiteness. I am blessed to be here in the land of mountains and water where the skies meet the heavens in Switzerland.

Fixing A Crooked Spine, Fighting Chronic Pain

After a 5 hour brain surgery, 6 weeks of hopitalization and 15 months of therapy, I started over again retraining my muscle memory to better spine aligment. Swiss neurosurgeons successfully treated my major brain injury, but had no clue how to help me with my back. Fifteen months later, due to COVID constraints, I was finally allowed to enter the USA. I began intensive therapy to treat injury my body incurred in that bad, bad fall that cracked my skull.

I began treatment with Dr. David Draeger, my guru, a gifted chiropractor in northern Wisconsin. A full set of back x-ray revealed what could not be seen with naked eye, but helped clarify why I couldn’t walk without pain between my shoulder blades, low back, right hip, knee, and heel.

Dr. Dave worked with me to ameliorate bilateral shoulder impingement, scapula dysfunction, rib dislocation, compressed thoracic disks on top of a longstanding chronic low back pain. Chiropractic adjustments included a half dozen on the wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips, knees, ankles and heels. The physical manipulation helped restore mobility to joints whose motion was restricted by tissue injury caused by a traumatic event.

“I feel awful,” I complained to him.

“No wonder,” Dr. Dave said. “We are restructuring your skeletal system.”

To move forward, I had to go backwards, and forgo any swimming, guitar playing, blog writing, and movements with my arms. Then step by step, I retrained my muscle memory by walking.

Determined to keep moving, I resorted to water walking. I’d wade out above my waist up to neck in the cold lake and pace back and forth out beyond our raft. While the water iced my muscles, the tranquil view of the lake and woods inspired me and an eagle soaring overhead rooted me on.

Additional therapy with Dr. D, included a combination of intense treatments; electrical impulse therapy to help break up scar tissue, high intensity heat therapy and AtlasPROfilax therapy to improve posture and shoulder alignment and help alleviate chronic pain.

AtlasPROfilax, a neuromuscular massage technique, which applies vibro pressure and massages the short neck muscles, remains an effective way to treat C1 (atlas) cervical vertebra. Unfortunately, although developed in 1995 by a Swiss Doctor, René C. Schümperli, I am unable to find a practitioner in the part of Switzerland where we live.

High Intensity Laser Therapy (HILT) delivers healing light energy to the cells of the body that penetrates through bone, soft tissue, and muscle. HILT can reduce pain, minimize swelling, soften scar tissue, and reset the chronic pain cycle – all while healing damaged tissues at the cellular level.

None of this is a quick fix. It requires a long term commitment and a dedicated doctor. Willingness to accept pain as part of the healing process and acknowledging my own role in recovery is paramount.

Recovery became a team effort. I followed Dr. D’s orders to the letter and did whatever was possible to build strength within parameters he set. Restoring good posture required retraining muscle memory one step at a time.

Dr. Dave credits his older brother, Curt, with encouraging him to enter the chiropractor profession and with teaching him new techniques. Known for working with elite Olympian athletes and Greenbay Packer football stars, Dr. Curt also worked with physicists to develop the latest generation of high intensity lasers that are much stronger and penetrate tissue at deeper levels.

Dr. Dave’s clinic is tucked away deep in the Northwoods of Wisconsin at Eagle River. There he is surrounded by a loyal, hardworking staff and technicians creating a formidable team who exemplify his belief in helping people by trying to accommodate every patient in his overbooked schedule.

Dr. Dave is not only a gifted healer with a warm, engaging, positive personality, but his genuine desire to help people is second to none. I know of no other doctor who makes house calls. Once, he showed up at our summer cabin in the woods, popped out his portable table and adjusted the entire family. For free.

To Dr. Dave, chiropractic care in not just a career, it’s a calling. He makes the world a better place by helping alleviate pain and inspiring hope one spine at a time.