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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Girls Basketball ABCs: Accomplish Goals, Build Confidence, Create Courage

At age 25, at the peak of my professional career, an accident forced me into early retirement, and I gave up playing basketball. Coaching abroad saved my life and kept my love for the game alive. Five years ago, I retired from coaching when repetitive lung and respiratory infections destroyed my voice. How can you coach basketball if no one can hear you?

team huddle

team huddle

Then, the program collapsed and students urged me to return to the gym. Common sense told me no, but my heart said, go!

My athletes are a mix of Algerian, American, Australian, Congolese, French, Greek, German, Haitian, Italian, Kenyan, Japanese, Polish, Senegalese, Scottish, Somalian and Swiss. A mini United Nations; we combine our talents to overcome challenges.

basketball builds lasting bonds

basketball builds lasting bonds

I silently applaud, watching my hyperactive forward focus for hours, perfecting her shot. My dyslexic guard deciphers plays on the court that leave honor students perplexed. We combine our strengths to compensate for one another’s weaknesses.

We miss free throws.
But make friends.

We lose ball games.
But win courage.

We shatter stereotypes
And build fighting spirit.

We learn every time we step on the court.

Dribbling, passing, picking, rolling
We grow together.
Singing boldly, laughing loudly, chanting mightily.

High achievers, headed for the spotlight,
Accustomed to success
We learn to battle back from defeat.

When senior teammates graduate
We will be sad
And proud!

As they trot the globe in high-powered careers
They carry the spirit of basketball
A game designed to bring people together.

Thirty-five years ago, in the infancy of women’s basketball,
my trailblazing coach, taught me to « BELIEVE! »
In a raspy whisper I echo her words, as my players step up,
Determined to be all they can be!

« To win the game is great, to play the game is greater, to love the game is greatest »

*******

Woo Hoo! March Madness! My memoir is on the market!
HOME SWEET HARDWOOD, A Title IX Trailblazer Breaks Barriers Through Basketball

BookCoverImage“Pat McKinzie’s story captures the depth of emotion felt by a woman moving in a man’s athletic world. It is a must read for anyone interested in how we got where we are in women’s sports. We are forever grateful for our pioneer athletes whose passion for the game over-rode social mores of the day to bring much-needed change.”

Jill Hutchinson, co-founder & first President of Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, former Illinois State University Basketball Coach

Buy my book_2

 

 

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Night Birthday Celebration in the Swiss Jura Mountains

One snowy February night, members of my department gathered at the Jura mountain pass Col de Givrine (1320 meters) connecting Switzerland and France for a “midnight balade” to celebrate one colleagues 50th and another’s 40th birthday.

In French, balade means an excursion for distraction to relax and get fresh air. One of the benefits of living in Europe is that people slow down from equally frantic lives and take time out to recharge their batteries with fun and exercise.

An eclectic group of British ladies, 3 Frenchmen, two Americans, a woman from Marseilles, a Canadian, a Swiss, and a gregarious Scotsman gathered together on a snow bank, bundled in parkas, snow pants, and snowshoes. Designated scouts wore helmets with flashlights to guide us on the trail under inky black skies.

Due to my health issues I rarely go outdoors to play, but they insisted that the dark conditions were ideal for me, so I wouldn’t have to wear my sun-blocking, movie star shades. My friends swore it was a short, flat walk; it ended up being a one-hour steady climb uphill. But I couldn’t turn back without getting lost.

I used ski poles for balance; if I veered off the path, I sunk up to my knees in snow. My Frenchman moaned the whole way because his knee hurt; I was too short-winded to moan. When I thought I couldn’t take another step, one of the birthday girls announced, “Time for the aperitif.” She pulled a bottle from her packback and stuck it the in the snow. She dug out cup holders in the snow bank and filled cups with the white wine creating an open-air mini bar. When the stragglers caught up, we toasted to the birthday girls in a clearing surrounded by white, velvet-covered evergreen.

birthday toast in the Jura mountains

birthday toast in the Jura mountains

We forged ahead around the next bend to the “restaurant,” La Vermeilley, technically, a reconverted herders shed. We parked our snowshoes on the snow-covered picnic tables at the entryway. Inside red and white tablecloths covered wooden tables lined with benches. A finger-thawing fire crackled from the fireplace. A waiter set plates of viande des grison (dried beef) and bowls of pickles on the table. Then the owner brought out steaming fondue pots filled with the special 3-cheese blend mixed with wine. We dipped chunks of thick, white, country bread into the pot and ate with gusto.

birthday girls

birthday girls

Several of my colleagues, former rugby players, chanted, engaging the participation of the other half a dozen tables filled with hearty, physically fit men and women. When we got up to leave, my head of department, a fun loving Scotsman, started singing a rendition of Patricia, the best stripper in town, so I pseudo danced tossing off my mittens and scarf to the applause of the merrymaking partiers. The ambiance all evening was exceptional with strangers joining in our shouting, “Hip, hip hurrah!”

The hike back down the mountains was equally enchanting. Snow-covered pines loomed in the foreground, while  stars twinkled overhead. I felt as if I were in another world. I stumbled down the path, savoring nature’s austere elegance. Then my Frenchman drove us back down the mountain. When we arrived home, I peeled off 5 layers of clothes and collapsed into bed. I woke up early the next morning, cloaked in warm memories and smelling of barn animals and cheese.

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Thirtieth Anniversary of My Second Life After Car Accident in France

Thirty years ago, at the peak of my pro basketball career, I fell asleep in the back of a car dreaming of driving the baseline on a fast-break. One second I was on top of the world with all-powerful high of a victorious athlete, and the next, my body careened weightlessly through air. Folded into the fetal position, I slammed into hard metal and when I regained consciousness, icy water sucked my breath away.

No normal human beings should have survived the impact or the relentless current when our car flipped off the French autoroute, sailed over a 100-foot high embankment, and crashed into the La Meuse River. But then we were not normal. As pro basketball players, our 25-year-old bodies had been honed to perfection, trained to withstand trauma.

my last game, Marburg, Germany

my last game, Marburg, Germany

Yet within seconds, years of training meant nothing; I was reduced to an invalid. If I wriggled my upper body, I could peek out over the hospital window ledge at the red rooftops of Verdun. Graveyards covered the hillside of the famous WWI look out point? Why wasn’t I buried beside yesterday’s heroes. I had lost my job, my identity, and my purpose. What was left?

Life.

I spent the past three decades trying to get my head around it. I survived…but why?

In addition to the endless support of my husband, family, and friends scattered round the globe, the one thing that has kept me going through years of pain was the drive to write.

I spent an inordinate amount of time in the reclining position due to an ultra bad back. I taught myself to type lying down with my eyes blindfolded to stop words from spinning off the page in my dizziness.

Old manuscript drafts are stacked from floor to ceiling. I could wallpaper my entire house with rejection letters. Yet, through endless transitions from athlete to coach, student to teacher, daughter to mom and through dozens of moves across two continents between four countries, I penned my existence.

coaching next generation of doctors, lawyers and businesswomen

coaching next generation of doctors, lawyers and businesswomen

Even when common sense told me to give up, I kept going. I was compelled to record the story of a lost generation, the pioneers of women’s sports that grew up as the first generation Title IXers coming of age in 1972 along with the groundbreaking law mandating equal opportunities for women in education and sport. The result is a personal testimony that echoes the voices of the past, who helped paved the way for our high-flying daughters of today.

Coming soon… our story seen through the twinkle of my blue eyes.

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Who Says Girls Can’t Get Dirty? Dad’s & Daughter’s Bond in Warrior Dash

As soon as I was old enough to walk, I was off running.  Before racing was fashionable for females, I dashed around the block of old East 19th Street neighborhood. In the winter, I ran circular laps around Jefferson, the first round school in town. In Jr. high, the coach let me run cross-country with the boys. In high school, when the law finally mandated equal opportunities for girls, I joined the track team.

Though my running days are long gone due to injuries, much to my delight my niece Marie was a runner. Though she no longer belongs to a team, she still enjoys a good race. Every July she competes in the Warrior Dash, a fun run where 600 runners lined up every half hour from 8am to 5 pm all weekend.

Her dad, Dick, a heart attack and cancer survivor, dedicated to fitness, joined her. After surgery in April to remove cancerous thyroid tumor, his goal was to run the Warrior Dash with his daughters. This type of cross-country run was fitting for his younger daughter, Hannah, a two time state championship rugby player, because it included army crawls and obstacles climbing.

Dick Carlson & John Pupkes coached daughters in team sports

Dick Carlson & John Pupkes coached daughters in team sports

The five-K run set on a ski slopes at Afton Alps Ski Resort in Minnesota was mostly uphill. Every 100 yards, an obstacle including a ten-foot high wall, had to be scaled by rope. Dick, ever the gentleman, sat on top of the wall to help women struggling to swing their bodies over the barrier. Then as soon as the contestants’ feet hit the ground, they crawled under barbed wire through mud.

“It gets tougher as you go cause your body is weighed down in muck,” Dick said, “and your feet slip and slide.”

But for Marie, a recent college graduate, the whole experience is “fun, fun, fun!”

To add to the gaiety, many competitors dressed in costume. At the end of the race, runners hosed off the mess and enjoyed a beverage, which for many was beer. Food booths sold chicken wings, turkey legs and hot dogs adding to the carnival atmosphere.

“Wear old clothes cause you’ll throw everything away,” Dick said, “except your shoes which are donated to charity.”

The entrance fee was $50 and competitors went home with T-shirts, buffalo warrior hats, participation medals, heads filled with pride and hearts bursting with joy.

“This year was better than last cause my friends ran,” Marie said, “ and so did my pops and sister!”

Thanks to Title IX dad coached daughters in soccer

Thanks to Title IX dad coached daughters in soccer

According to the fifty-six year old dad, “It takes a lot of upper body strength to climb over obstacles and the run uphill was much harder than I expected!

But Marie, insisted, “It was awesome! I can’t wait till next year!

If you love to run and roll in mud, check out this site http://www.warriordash.com/ to find the Warrior Dash in your area. Hit the treadmills and pump that iron! Work it this winter, so you can roll with the warriors next summer!

Life is not for the Fainthearted -Everyone is Gutsy

A bit unusual for me to be posting this early in the week, but I wanted to send
special thoughts to family and friends on the East coast of America in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
No matter where you are, here’s a little distraction to keep the anxiety level down and  boredom at bay.
A sneak peek at my upcoming book ?
You can find it at this address:

My Gutsy Story

Please hop on over to  Sonia Marsh’s Gutsy Living blog today to see my “My Gutsy Living ” story~ From Cornfields to City of Lights I guarantee you will enjoy it.

Every Monday, Sonia features a short story on “Gutsy Living” about something Gutsy you have done in your life that either: changed you, changed the way you think about something or made your life take a different direction.
Hope you’ll stop by and leave a comment. We all have a “Gutsy Living” story. What’s yours? Sonia would love to hear from you on her Gutsy Living website.