Sisterhood, motherhood and marathons

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Hannah & Karen

Hannah & Karen

When my professional basketball career ended, my goal was to start running marathons.  Accidents and illness thwarted that dream; I never ran again, so my little sister is competing in a sprint triathlon for me.

Karen was always a good athlete with a body built for competition. She had perfect teeth and toes, providing a good bite and great balance.

During thousands of dollars of treatment for a misaligned dental occlusion, my dentist explained, “The massetter is the strongest muscle in the body. You ever notice all the best athletes have beautiful teeth?”

Ditto for the toes. Whereas my sister polishes her beautiful toes, my crooked ones remain hidden in clunky orthopedic shoes. My podiatrist has told me I should retire from teaching because my feet are so bad. My ankles are pronated, my arches too high, my big toe too short, so my balance is bad. My second toe is too long and the other three are curled like claws to grip the ground to keep me upright. Leg aches plagued me since childhood, but never slowed me down.

So while Karen and her friends train for the Chaska River City Days Sprint Triathlon – a third-mile swim, 16-mile bike and 5K run, I cheer them on. After raising children and caretaking in helping professions, they decided to do something just for themselves and began training together for the event.

Jean Pupkes, Ann Jackson, & Karen Carlson at the finish line

Jean Pupkes, Ann Jackson, & Karen Carlson at the finish line

Ever the competitor, I secretly train for my own triathlon – a walk, bike, swimathlon. Everyday I bike around the neighboring lake, walk to town, and swim to the island, each day pushing to go a little farther and a bit faster. It takes some ingenuity because I have to avoid the sunlight.

While my baby sister paints her nails and runs in preparation for the big event, I don full scuba gear, like the Loch Ness monster, to swim in a cold, purple lake.

When Karen finished the triathlon reaching her personal goal wearing the number 60, her birth year, she called me first.

“After the swim – my best event – I felt great,” Karen said, “But after the 16 mile bike, my legs turned to Jello on the run, then a guy ran by and offered me good advice – just put one foot in front of the other.”

My sister admires me for never giving up in spite of all my physical limitations, but she remains my hero, a younger, more refined, fitter version of myself.

Our competitive spirit spurs us on. If my baby sister, can finish her first sprint triathlon at the age of 51, I can darn well make it around the block again on my own two faulty feet.

Celebrating Title IX’s Anniversary with Senior Games Gold in Basketball

Though I never reached my goal to play basketball for Team USA in the Olympics,  I have thrown elbows in good company.  I played  hoops for Illinois State alongside the late Charlotte Lewis, a silver medalist in 1976 , the first year women’s basketball became an Olympic event. In summer camp at ISU, I coached Olympian Cathy Boswell, a 1984 gold medalist. And June 11-30,  2011 during the Senior National Games in Houston Texas,  my former co-coach and BFF, Tina Quick, won a gold in 3 on 3.

In 1987,  the first National Olympic game debuted in St. Louis with 2,500 participants.  Today the  National Senior Games Association, (http ://www.nsga.com/ ) Summer Games drew 15,000 athletes, who competed in 18 sports in everything from shuffleboard to  triathlon.  And get this, the youngest competitor was fifty!

molly and the miracles

Tina, Quick, Barbara Cherecwich, Kris Krablin, June Walton, Megan Ladd

NSGA is a non-profit organization dedicated to motivating active adults to lead healthy lifestyles. With 50 being the new 30 never has the time been more right for women to stay in shape. And nobody trains like Tina, the fifty-five year old blond firecracker, with Native American blood, who runs circles around women decades younger. Though she didn’t have the opportunity to play organized ball growing up, she never missed a beat in adulthood, challenging men in gyms around the globe. Seven years ago, she repatriated to the United States where she met up with the Massachusetts Miracles.

« We went from being the team that couldn’t win a game, to becoming team to beat, » Tina said.  « Everyone, except me, played college »

The Miracles is comprised of first generation Title IX athletes, who like myself, became pioneers during the infancy of the women’s game when law mandated equal opportunities for women in education and sport.  June Walton, the second all-time leading scorer at her alma mater, Morgan State University, also played in Venezuela and England. Kris Krablin, the only athlete to be named MVP every season, was a Hall of Famer at St. Lawrence University.  In 1979, the first year an All State College team was selected, Barbara Cherecwich became a first team All Stater from Worcester State College.

The Miracles won the state competition to qualify and then swept 7 rounds in the games. My five-foot- five friend played early on in the tournament, but for the finals she insisted, « You big girls go do your stuff – I’ll take over on the sideline. »  The only team without a manager, Tina, then went onto coach her Miracles to victory capturing the gold in the  50+ age category.

« Like  at the  Olympics, we had an opening ceremony, parade of competitors,  athlete’s village and medal platform. The Olympic Torch, carried across Texas, was lit by a 100 year old man. »

Tinie takes charge coaching the tall gals to gold

Tinie takes charge coaching the tall gals to gold

Tina walked off the podium with not only a gold, but also a stash of giveaways – pill boxes,  jump ropes, energy drinks, cool bands, health tips and other  prizes. But according to Tina, the best part of the games was the great ambiance, team camaraderie and support from friends and families .

« One lady, a seventy year old, stopped me and asked if she could touch my medal.»

When my pro basketball career ended abruptly due to a car accident, my goal to shoot hoops into my sunset years never materialized. In time, I learned to let go and share in the joy of others’ dreams.  Nobody cheered louder than me for my former athletes competing in European clubs, for my little sister, playing in a 5 on 5 league in Minneapolis or  for my buddy in Boston, who just came home with the gold.

Apparently seniors are alive and well.  The Summer Games, NSGA’s signature event, has become one of the biggest multi-sport happenings on the planet; my friend Tina could be the spokesperson.

During the festivities, Gloria Gaynor,  belted out, « I will survive. »

I slapped my knee, tickled pink and echoed her battle cry,

« Go granny go ! »

Dads Play Big Role in Parenting

Back in the ‘60s when girls’ sport were taboo, my dad taught me how to throw a perfect spiral, pitch a baseball and shoot a basket.  Each time he tossed the ball to  my brother, he also threw once to me. He made sure to hit each of us an equal number of pop ups to field. He showed me how to hold a baseball glove, pump up a basketball and take a fish off the hook.

Papa Mac passes on tradition

Papa Mac passes on tradition

Like the Pied Piper, as soon as kids saw my dad arrive home from his teaching job, they lined up for a turn at bat. Soon he was pitching whiffle balls to the entire neighborhood. Instead of grass in our backyard, we had permanent dirt-patch bases, a diamond in the rough, the Field of Dreams for an entire generation.

Even though I never saw any other fathers in the yard shooting hoops with their daughters, I never thought it odd. Chasing grounders, running passing patterns and learning the baseline drive with my dad seemed as natural as  breathing. After all, he was a coach and I was an athlete. So what if it took the rest of the society a few decades to catch up.

Today with the acceptance of girls’ sports and working moms the norm, dads’ coaching daughters is no longer an anomaly. The Women’s Rights Movement also liberated men to assume a greater hands-on role in fatherhood.

Today’s dads are free to coach Little League AND girls’ soccer, to build camp fires, make tree forts, piece together Legos, to change diapers, give baths,  bandage cuts. They can also bake birthday cakes, read Good Night Moon, cook bœuf bourguignon and grill burgers.

French dad at 1st Final Four

French dad at 1st Final Four

Throughout our children’s youth, my husband worked the score table, drove the van for our daughter and son’s teams and prepared gourmet meals for all of us. Gérald never batted an eye about running a printing business during the day, and then wearing the apron at night.  Though it may have been a typical behavior for a Frenchman, he paid the bills, balanced the budget and brought home the bacon, proud to be a family man.

Just as I witnessed my dad in multiple roles – caring teacher, inspiring coach, loyal husband -my children saw their father as tough and tender, demanding and nuturing, competitive and compassionate.

Kids raised in families with ball-playing moms and story-reading dads make for a balanced, healthy, wholesome childhood.  Whether organizing car pools, building sand castles or playing catch,  adults investing time in youth yields the greatest dividends.  Worth all the gold in the world !

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!

World Class Olympic Swimmer on Wheels

Think your life is tough? Imagine learning to swim without legs?  Then go out and break the world record. Not once, but twice.

In the Beijing Paralympics 2008,  Teresa Perales broke the record for 50-meter freestyle (35.88), the 100-meter freestyle (1:16.65),  and collected 3 gold medals, 2 bronze medals and a silver medal.

From Sydney to Athens to Beijing, the dark eyed, 36-year-old athlete starred on the Spanish Paralympics team for the past 3 Paralympics Games winning 16 medals total.  Not bad for someone who learned to swim at age twenty, without the use of her legs.

At the age of nineteen, Teresa contracted a neuropathy in her legs, a residual effect of another illness.  Since then she has been wheelchair bound, but that never slowed her down.  Listening to her speak one would think her wheels were the best pair of legs ever invented. The inspirational speaker reminds students at my school that it’s all about attitude.

Teresa Perales

Teresa Perales, Pekín 2008 Olympic Champion 100 m Freestyle

“You have the possibility to create your own happiness,” Teresa says with an infectious smile.  “It does not depend on other people or things.”

Or legs.

“I keep my wheelchair in my bottom, “ she insists, “not my head.”

As a teenager Teresa only practiced one sport, karate, but as a paraplegic, she tried diving, car rally racing and horseback riding before deciding she liked swimming the best.

“Don’t your legs sink and slow you down?” one primary student, at my school, asked.

Teresa laughed and said, “Not if I swim fast enough.  I start off the block because then my legs are buoyed up, at least at the very beginning of the race.”

In addition to her work in politics with the City Council of Zaragoza in sport and tourism, she trains six hours a day in preparation for the 1012 Olympics in Barcelona. She adheres to the principles any athlete follows.  Courage. Sacrifice. Support. (Family and team) Hard work.

In 2007, she and her husband, Mariano Menor, wrote the book, My Life on Wheels.

Teresa travels the world, works, trains and raises a one-year-old son.  He stole the show by crawling from his father’s arms across the stage and pulling himself to stand by his mom’s wheelchair.

“Do you ever wish you could walk again?”  One boy asked.

“No, about three months after my legs went numb, I realized my feet are not that important. I am lucky to live in a country that recognizes disabilities,” she explains.  “Many places in the world still hide any kind of handicap in hospitals, institutions, and homes. I have met people of all different cultures, religions, languages, customs and disabilities.”

Handicapped? No way.

She could “run” circles around most of us.

 

 

 

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.