Granny’s Got Game

The real reward in speaking at the National Senior Games in Cleveland on behalf of the National Senior Basketball Association was not the chance to tell my tale, but to hear everyone else’s story.

One of the other speakers also was Angela Gorsica Alford, who played for the top-ranked women’s basketball team at Vanderbilt (1994-1997) and represented USA Basketball in international tournaments. She began her career as a software engineer for Motorola & Sony-Ericsson, and re invented herself after her children’s births by starting her own video production company in 2007.  A year ago, she launched Granny’s Got Game an inspiring documentary about the Fabulous 70s, a competitive senior women’s basketball team in North Carolina that battles physical limitations and social stigma to keep doing what they love. Who says girls can’t play ball? These grandmas defy age and gender stereotypes by dishing and driving into their seventies all the while racking up medals every step of the way. Liz still has an unstoppable, quick first step and Mary’s mastered a deadly left-handed hook.

“Just like so many younger sports teams, this one includes a bossy captain, a guard who never runs the plays correctly, a tentative post-player, and a bench warmer who wants to play more than anyone. As teammates and friends, they support each other off the court through the difficulties that accompany aging, such as breast cancer and widowhood.”

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Rose Boyd, Marilyn Asay, Bev Beck,Mary Ellen Philen, Brenda Taylor, Linda Burke

But the ladies I found most enchanting were the North Carolina women in the 65-69 category whose claim to fame was that they served as practice dummies for the fabulous 70s team featured in Granny’s Got Game.

« We helped them get good, » forward/center Marilyn Asay said.

In the gym, I watched the Scrappy Swishers from Raleigh fight. They had to be scrappy; they had no height.

The Swishers battled it out with the best of them even though one player (also the Fabulous 70s team coach) missed part of the basketball competition because she was off placing 3rd, the bronze medal in 65+ golf this year at the national games.

Members of the Swishers attended high school from 1958-62 (pre Title IX) and played 6-aside, 3 on each end of half court and were limited to only had 2 dribbles before they had to pass or shoot. A player was designated either a guard (defense) or forward (offense.)

« We resumed our basketball career after retirement at age 65 years. We hadn’t played for approximately 40 years, » Marilyn explained. «We are geographically ecumenical- Swishers recruited 2 players from North Carolina’s Outer Banks, who play with the team at local and state competitions. »

And get this.

« Two teammates host the team’s BBC (Beach Basketball Camp) twice each year, » Marilyn says with the enthusiasm of a teenager at a rock concert. « Our motto is fun, food, fellowship. Oh, and also practice, sun, sand, and surf.

During one of the Swishers games against the powerful Maine team, I watched Bev Beck all of 5-foot-2, 100 lbs. set a pick on a center twice her size for 72-year-old Marilyn who cut backdoor to the basket. The ladies huddled around Coach Angela at the time out and the referee gave also offered pointers. Every action reflected the spirit of the games. Fun, fitness, friendship, competition, comraderie, community.

While our present day sport stars are making the front page for domestic disputes, betting scandals and alleged homicides, our real heroes are playing ball in the shadows after having contributed to society as mothers, educators, hard workers, and beloved community members.

Like the filmy subtitle claims, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.”

Give me five, Granny. You may be wearing support hose, knee braces and platinum hips, but you still got game!

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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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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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Spring Cleaning in Tidy Switzerland – No Picnic for a Pack Rat

P7100476_copyOh great, it is that time of year again. Spring! Uh oh, spring cleaning. Since winter dragged on, I procrastinated a few extra weeks, but now the sun shining throughout my humble abode highlights my shortcomings. I may have been a couch potato all winter, but my oh my, the other creatures in the household have been busy. Spiders spun webs from each corner, fingerprints divided and multiplied on every glass surface, dust bunnies reproduced like mad under the bed, and books proliferated in quadruple stacks on the shelves.

Oh woe is me. Where to begin? Spring cleaning is an insurmountable task for someone born without the clean gene.  I would prefer things orderly, but my brain is so scrambled, picking up never comes naturally. I jump from one activity to the next and never finish any task for I am easily sidetracked. Books remain open half-finished by my bedside, fragments of articles cover my computer desktop, and shoes lay where they left my feet.

Last fall, when I found out that we had to start paying for garbage in Switzerland in 2013, I had the best intentions and looked at my old list of tidying up tips. Good intentions gone awry. Six months later, I stare at the mess and think where to begin?

My kids have grown and flown, yet their bedrooms remained untouched like shrines to the past. Every time I launch Operation Toss Out, I am immobilized by memories. I plan a Clean Sweep and open a closet ready to chuck games, toys, and dolls, but the sight of Beanie Babies, Little Ponies and Little Woodsies, leaves me immobilized lost in a reverie.P7100501

Instead, I open a box of books: I’ll Love You Forever, The Velveteen Rabbit, The Bunnies Get Well Soup spill out. Before you know it, I am in a rocking chair, reading Good Night Moon to my daughter’s Cabbage Patch doll perched on my knee. I drag junk out of the closets to discard and instead end up driving my son’s matchbox cars ‘round and round on a braided rug and snapping pieces together of his old Play Mobile cowboy fort.

The world is divided into pitchers and savers. Pitchers relentlessly toss items knowing that if it hasn’t been used for a year, it is no longer needed. I obey the law of inertia.

Apparently, the predisposition for this disorder is genetic. My daughter blames me for what she calls her apartment’s permanent state of entropy, “matter when left to its own devices will descend into chaos.” I am quoting a doctor here.

You would think I love living in disarray. Yet I prefer being at my sister’s house where everything is in order. You can open the frig without launching an attack of mystery meat morphed into extraterrestrials. You know precisely which drawer to open to find an envelope, a pen, and a notebook. Living in my house is like forever being on a scavenger hunt without a team to help hunt down the clues.

Realistically, our home is too big for the two of us. Downsize! But how? I am a sentimental old sod, clinging to memories of the past without a single organizing cell in my soul. If only we lived on the other side of the Big Pond, spring cleaning would be a breeze. I could own a five-car garage with one spot for my vehicle and four other places to park my treasures.

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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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