There is no place like home

The warm reception that I received from my hometown after the release of my book, Home Sweet Hardwood, was magical and filled with surprises.

My old college roommate planned to drive out from Chicago, but her  job interview ran late and she knew she would miss my talk at the library. Amy drove out anyway and came to the house after my speaking engagement. We picked up right where we left off 25 years ago.Image 2

Rocky, a Native American, was the first journalist to write about the first sanctioned girls’ basketball games in Illinois in the early 1970s, at a time when media coverage was nonexistent. He read the book and rated it right up there with his favorite book,  To Kill A Mockingbird

My friend, Phil, told me that he stayed up all night to read it. « The Willie Mayes story and the Pat McKinzie story were the only books I ever finished. » He ranked me right up there with the greatest.

Ray Torres saw the write up about me in the paper, called the house, and asked if he could bring his 12-year-old granddaughter, a talented softball player, out to meet me and sign a book. He brought the whole family. Madison told me about how she trained year round for her sport and  I got to shake hands with an AAU champion, who reminded me of me at that age.

At a lunch date at Angelos with the friends I made in gradeschool – and still keep in contact with today – my oldest, most loyal supporters cheered for the success of my book in the same way that they once applauded my efforts on the court.

the Home Team

the Home Team

My family attended every function with me. One sister drove out from Chicago, another from Minneapolis. My parents, in their 80s, beamed from the front row as I spoke. Sue ran the powerpoint, Karen sat at the back of the room and waved if my voice faded. They made cookies for the library social, carted books to events, picked out my wardrobe, listened to me stumble through my speech umpteen times and shared in the joy and celebration of my life long dream.

The members of the Rotary Club and Kiwanis Club honored me by inviting me to speak at their organizations. It tickled my funny bones to think that the very groups that had denied women access  until the 80s gave me center stage to recount my history of growing up in the 1970s and being excluded from America’s playing fields, but today’s members were welcoming and supportive.

Readers of all ages and walks of life told me how they laughed and cried as they turned the pages and felt inspired by my fighting spirit.

“You can’t know where you are going until you understand where you have been.”  I said in my speeches. “In all my wanderings I have always known that I am a McKinzie, a Sterling Golden Warrior, a product of the Land of Lincoln.

After hearing me speak, reporter Ty Reynolds wrote in the Sterling Gazette, “Meet the woman. Read her story. Tell me she wasn’t as good a storyteller as she was basketball player. I dare you.”

All these touching tributes reminded me that the real reward in writing a book is not the fleeting fame or  any financial success, it is about connecting with people one word at time.

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How Title IX Changed my Life

Celebrate the 41st anniversary of Title IX today.

First posted March 4, 2013 by Generation Fabulous, women writing about women’s issues, as part of the launch for their new site.

Illinois State University lead nation in promoting women's sports

Illinois State University lead nation in promoting women’s sports

For the last fifty some years, I have been listening to people tell me NO!

I ain’t listening no more!

I grew up on the sideline begging to play ball like the boys. The first half of my life, I fought to be allowed on America’s playing fields. In 1972, when Title IX passed mandating equal opportunities for girls, I set the standard for the first girl’s basketball team in my high school. In 1978, I received the first athletic scholarship in Illinois to play basketball for Jill Hutchinson at Illinois State University. Jill, co-founder and first president of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, was a pioneer, who helped raise women’s college basketball to its current level of popularity.

I co-founded the first girl’s summer basketball camp in the Sauk Valley Region of Northern Illinois, so other girls in my area wouldn’t have to go to a boy’s camp like I did.

In 1979, I was drafted into the first Women’s Professional Basketball League (WBL.)  The general public pooh-poohed the notion and unfortunately the league folded due to lack of funds and interest

Then I was recruited to play overseas, but after a year in Paris, non-European women were banned from the professional French league.

So I crossed the border and found my dream team in Marburg Germany.

Kabooom!

A car accident in France ended my career. Instantly.

I started over. Again. But first I had to learn to walk. Eventually, I taught at international high schools and coached girl’s and sometimes boy’s basketball teams. But what I really coveted was a writing career. In my free time, I wrote a newspaper column, and sports, and travel pieces, but traditional papers were dying. I should know. I married a French printer. He suggested that I start a blog.

Decades ago, I wrote my first book and signed with a big name agent, but publishers said that no one was interested in women’s basketball. Another half a dozen years passed, I worked up my courage, wrote another book and finally landed another high-flying agent. Once again, publishers said no thanks; I was not a not big enough name. Undaunted, I wrote yet another draft, interested a third agent, but it was still no go.

I felt like a loser. I moped. I swore. I cried. I kicked the wall. Then I picked up the pen again.

I do not take no for answer.

Damn it! You want something done, do it yourself!

Persistence pays off. A decade later, after another couple dozen drafts, I present to you, Home Sweet Hardwood: A Title IX Trailblazer Breaks Barriers Through Basketball.

Illinois State University - 1978

Illinois State University – 1978

With a firsthand account of the monumental Title IX ruling, my book serves as an inspiring lesson in women’s history, but it is more than just a sports story. From expatriate life to cross cultural marriage to motherhood, Home Sweet Hardwood touches on the transitions every woman makes as she bridges the gaps between genders, generations and cultures.

Now you tell me, where would I be now if I gave up a half century ago when the powers that be, said, No!

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SOS Chiropractor to the Rescue

I have been to dozens of doctors for a lifetime of injuries and ailments, but there are certain ones I never forget. Chiropractors saved me from surgery back in July 1979 during my first hospitalization for a herniated lumbar disk L4, L5. I ran from the knife and saw my first chiro, who help me rehabilitate in time to play in the first women’s professional league that fall. I have been addicted ever since. Long gone are the days that chiropractors were called quacks, now most insurance companies recognize them.

I drove hundreds of miles between different states and countries in pursuit of competent doctors because a good chiro was worth his weight in gold. When I lived in Germany, there were no chiropractors, so I would return to Paris. For a decade when living in France, I took the metro to see Dr. Tanqueray at the Trocadero. In Switzerland, my husband drives me to Geneva for the early bird special at 7 am. which means no waiting. I ride the old caged elevator up to the 3rd floor to Dr. Girod’s office on Rue Voltaire.

But my favorite chiropractor of all times is Dr. Draeger in Eagle River, my summer time muscle and bone spine caretaker in Wisconsin.

Chiro in the woods

Chiro in the woods

Tall and wiry, I have always been difficult to adjust, but Dr. D can pop me back in place every time.  I have witnessed chiros work miracles. After my son was born in Paris, I was so dizzy I couldn’t stand up right. I saw my chiro and after a neck adjustment, I was back on track. I have lurched into my doc’s office, limping from low back pain, looking like the leaning tower of Pisa and walked out standing tall like the Eiffel Tower.

Anytime I have any back or joint pain, I go to the chiro first. Chiropractic medicine emphasizes the self and advocates exercise, a healthy diet, and a balanced lifestyle.

After my sister underwent a battery of tests for a “heart” problem, Dr. D adjusted her dislocated rib with a manipulation that his brother, also a chiropractor, devised and her chest pain disappeared. Dr. D also adjusted my son’s dislocated wrists. My dad swears by him.

Dr. D has the extra special touch. He welcomes you like a long-lost friend, every time you step into his office. How many doctors do you know who give you hugs and make cabin calls? In the summer, if he drives by route 45, he will swing off the highway on the back road, winding around the lake, and ring your doorbell. He will drag his portable table out of the trunk and click-clack treat the entire family. For free!

Under chiropractic care, I recovered from athletic injuries, bike crashes, car accidents, and the trauma of giving birth. They have helped me recoup from flying soccer balls, hitting walls, and bad falls.

With the assistance of skilled chiropractors, I have healed from 3 whiplashes, 2 child births, and one too many re-locations. I recovered from herniated lumber disks, compressed dorsal vertebrae and pinched nerves and the bone crushing wear and tear incurred over hundreds of thousands of miles of road trips and air travel between states and across continents.

If I am still upright, it is because of chiros! Thanks to chiropractors for keeping me mobile, especially to my favorite magic hands, Dr. Dave.

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Freedom to Run – Boston Marathon Bombs Hit America’s Heart

Participants in the 2010 Boston Marathon in We...

Participants in the 2010 Boston Marathon in Wellesley, just after the halfway mark (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a five-year-old, I ran my first race at my family’s boys’ summer camp on a winding dirt road lined by a quiet green forest. My heart pounded in my temples, dust clogged my throat, and I inhaled the sweet aroma of swamp water as my skinny legs floated toward the finish line. At the recognition banquet, Grandma handed me a pink ribbon with OUTSTANDING typed in capital letters. I pressed it to my heart. I ran many more races, winning other ribbons, but the thrill of that first race never left me.

As a child, I outran the neighbor boys in kick the can, capture the flag, and tackle the man with the ball. In adolescence, I ran through the emotional upheaval of hormonal rages, unrequited loves and shattered friendships. In college, I raced through setbacks, devastating losses and future uncertainties. After graduation, I jogged down the wide boulevards of Washington DC, the cobblestone streets of Paris, and the winding alleyways of Marburg lined with half-gabled houses dating from the 15th century.

Running represented freedom. Like many other athletes worldwide, I dreamed of one day running in the Boston Marathon.

This year’s Boston Marathon, synonymous with the spirit of the American people, was held on Patriots Day at the historical city that represents the democratic values we hold so dear. When I first saw bombs explode on TV, I gasped for air as if my lung had been punctured. Immediately, I wondered, where’s Tina; my best friend – a runner- repatriated back to Boston. Twelve years earlier, we squeezed hands for support in Switzerland as we watched the Twin Towers disintegrate on September 11, 2001 setting the stage for a new era of terrorism.

Like everyone else, as the newsreel in Boston unfolded, I thought first of my friend, and her family. Even after I found out that she was all right, the anxiety didn’t subside. Instead it rippled out in waves, while I went through the motions of my day teaching multi-cultured, multi-colored students in Switzerland’s tranquil countryside. I kept replaying the scenes of pandemonium, knowing that today someone’s life was shattered. Forever. Someone lost a leg. Someone lost a life partner. Someone lost an eight-year-old son.

Running is the great equalizer: anyone at any age can run anywhere. Out the door. Into the street. Across the fields. Over the hills. Through the woods. You don’t need to rent a court, pay club fees, own special gear or earn a specific income.

Air is free. Breath. Oxygen in, carbon dioxide out. Runner’s high. The benefits are immediate… until a bomb strikes the Boston Marathon on an American holiday reminding us that our streets, and fields, and hills, and woods are not safe.

Robert Cheruiyot in 2006 Boston Marathon as he...

Robert Cheruiyot in 2006 Boston Marathon as he passes through Wellesley Square. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over the week, as the news unfolded of the manhunt for the perpetrators, I watched in horror a city under siege in lock-down. Until the capture of the second brother, soldiers patrolled sleepy suburban streets; snipers perched on the rooftops and armed tanks rolled through the trendy neighborhoods of Watertown and Cambridge.

Though my running days are long gone, as I walked to my international school where I encounter a hundred different nationalities on a daily basis, I wondered what has gone wrong? Why can’t we get along?

Running, freedom, bombs, all blur into a nightmare of disbelief, replaced by uncertainty, anxiety, fear.

We will always run free!

 

 

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Happy Easter, March Madness and Home Sweet Hardwood

I published a book and exposed my soul. Today, I stand on your steps, with a dimpled grin, vulnerable like a kid selling chocolate door-to-door for summer camp, soliciting your sponsorship of a dream.

Tall, smart, athletic -three strikes against me, I grew up being teased, but never bullied because, heck, I fought back. But I also wondered what was wrong with me for being so darn feisty, so damn driven. My story is the tale of a generation of girls who grew up feeling left out, girls who fought for the right to participate, girls who paved the way for the Lisa Leslies, Brittany Griners, Elena Delle Donnes of the 21st century.

More than just a basketball book, it reflects the bonds between parent /child, teammates/friends, coaches/athletes and about the compromises we make for love, family and career. It is about a crazy kid’s dream, filled with detours that carried a small town Midwestern girl from the cornfields of Illinois to the City of Lights, challenging stereotypes about gender, race, and nationality every step of the way.

Coach Hutchinson, coach Egner & Nat

Coach Hutchison, Coach Egner & Nat

It is tribute to Jill Hutchison, my Illinois State University college coach, who fought behind the scenes to help elevate women’s college sport to the levels we enjoy today. And to my former teammates like Cyndi Slayton, Vonnie Tomich, Beth Landis and the late Charlotte Lewis (1976 Olympian.) It salutes my old college rivals, Northwestern’s, Mary Murphy, a Big Ten announcer, and La Crosse’s, Shirley Egner. The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, two time DIII NCAA championship coach, also led my daughter’s team to a Final Four. It hints at the story of those who followed my path at ISU, Cathy Boswell (1984 Olympic Gold Medalist,) Vicki Vaughan, Pam Tanner, Kirsti Cirone, Jamie Russell and all the others.

Why now? Time is running out as the once invincible, Pat Summittt, the most revered coach in women’s basketball, fights her greatest battle against early onset Alzheimer. Home Sweet Hardwood acknowledges unsung heroes, women, who fought for change. And men who supported them like Jim McKinzie, who co-coached my younger sister’s Sterling Golden Girls Team to the first-ever Illinois State Championship in 1977 at a time when most fathers did not want their daughters getting dirty and playing ball.

So many stories were never recorded. Stories no one heard. Stories lost with each passing generation.

Four thousand miles away, I sit in Switzerland and wonder who will read my book? I need your help. Get the word out. Pass the link, not only to my generation, but also to the next one.  Home Sweet Hardwood makes an ideal graduation gift for the college bound, a wonderful homage to parents for Mother’s or Father’s Day, a great read for your local book club.

It’s entertaining, uplifting, fulfilling like a delicious chocolate bunny without the calories.

I never made a living writing news articles; today I blog for free. I pen my words in a cyberspace vacuum in hopes that, somehow, my ramblings will strike a chord and capture your heart. I write to inspire courage, break barriers, make connections. That’s my brand.Buy my book_2

This is my story. Please pay it forward. Now I will get off your front porch and shut up. Thanks for keeping a little girl’s dream alive, for passing the torch, for giving a voice to the Title IX pioneers.

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Feeling Good in My Skin

As part of the GenFab launch today, celebrating midlife writers, I am blogging about the beauty of growing older. I love the French expression, “bien dans sa peau,” which means be happy in your skin. That is what aging gracefully means to me.

Maybe it is easier for me because I never relied on my looks; however, I did take great pride in my athleticism, which faded due to aging, accidents, and illness. Nevertheless I am still an athlete. My joints no longer withstand the wear and tear of running laps, shooting hoops or playing tennis, but I still walk to school, ride a stationary bike and swim every day in summer -rain or shine- in my beloved lake.

Okay, so my belly bulges, my triceps look like bat wings, my ankles buckle, knees creak, back aches. But, hey, I am not complaining cause I am still upright and mobile. When a car accident ended my professional athletic career at age 25, I could have been confined to a wheelchair or laid out in a box five-feet under, instead I globe trot with the teams I coach and shuttle between continents visiting friends from around the globe. I curse the mind boggling electronics in the digital age. Yet since I can never be in two places simultaneously like I would like, I sure appreciate the instant connection via facebook, Skype, and email.

Due to a mystery illness that behaves so strangely it sounds like science fiction, I have avoided sunlight for the past five years. I hide blemishes behind big, black glasses that make me feel like a movie star without all the paparazzi.

Pat and her beloved shades

Pat and her beloved shades

Early on I learned to embrace my faults when I faced my immortality. It also helps that I circulate in the shadows, keeping the lights on low. You don’t like how you look in a mirror? Seems like a no brainer. Simple solution. Don’t. Look. In. A. Mirror. Ever. I never do. Works wonders.

Seize the day. Enjoy a glass of wine, a piece of chocolate, a late night out, because well, tomorrow you might just not be here.

Aging gracefully means being myself, trying new things, traveling distant horizons, letting go of anger and forgiving others, because what the heck, we all say and do stupid things sometimes. Rage zaps too much energy.

Aging graciously means having the wisdom to know that life does not last forever. Every morning, we have a choice – we can give up or go on. Sags, bags, wrinkles be damned! I choose to embrace each day grateful for another 24 hours to learn from others, to inspire courage, break barriers, and create connections.

Je suis bien dans ma peau!

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