Celebrating Girls & Women’s Rights to Play Sports

February 6, 2019 marks the 33rd annual National Girls & Women in Sports Day, an event that never occurred when I was a girl because females were not allowed to compete until Title IX passed in 1972.

But I loved basketball even before they let me play. As we celebrate extraordinary achievements of women and girls in sports, give a nod to the icons who have done so much to promote the women’s game.

Fittingly, last Saturday, Illinois State University named their women’s basketball locker room in Jill Hutchison’s honor. I felt privileged to play for Jill in the 70’s during the early infancy of Title IX, back in the day before we even had a girls’ locker room. We used to change in a bathroom or borrow the men’s locker room before our games in Horton Field House.

If I had my way, ISU would also put her name on the floor of Redbird Arena. After all, Hutchison led the way making changes in legislation at the national level mandating a woman’s right to be on that court.

That same Saturday, a legend in Wisconsin, UW-Stevens Point coach Shirley Egner notched her 300th win in the tough Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference as her team defeated UW-Eau Claire. It was Egner’s 800th game as UWSP coach where she holds an amazing 546-253 record.

Unbeknownst to both us, I would have played against Egner when ISU played at UW-La Crosse. Three decades later Egner coached our daughter, born and raised in Europe, to a DIII Final Four in 2004.

Meanwhile at my old high school, Sterling – home of the first ever state championship girls’ team – Coach Taylor (Carbaugh) Jackson, a former standout player guides her team to a 19-4 record and 10th place 3A state ranking. Five sisters from the Borum and Gould families – the same girls who also starred on Sterling’s first state volleyball championship 2018 – help lead the way again.

And on that same day far, far away, we won our tournament at the International School of Geneva competing against teams from Austria, Germany, Poland, and Switzerland.

Around the globe, girls are playing ball driving the baseline, shooting the jumper, taking the charge and learning through sports to be tougher, stronger, and braver.

And yes, the granny of the game is still coaching.

At our tournament, the Basel coach heard other coaches talking about my history, and the younger woman approached me.

“I loved playing high school and college ball in New Jersey,” she said. “I just want to thank you for paving the way.”

As we shook hands, I felt a surreal connection to generations across time.

It was a humbling moment.

This February, as we applaud the accomplishments of female leaders in all sports – not only basketball – be sure to remember the real victory is the right to play.

An opportunity that may be taken for granted, but should never be forgotten.

The plaque on Jill Hutchison’s Women’s Basketball locker room reminds us,

“To play the game is great, to win the game is greater, to love the game is greatest.”

And capping off the celebration, never in my wildest dreams could I imagine that one day a Super Bowl advertisement would feature girls playing football to encourage girls to get in the game. Check it out!

How to Endure Set Backs in Chronic Illness

Endure Set Backs in Chronic IllnessWhen you suffer from a chronic illness your life randomly spins out of control as you try to endure setbacks. Illness with a mind of its own flares up ending temporary remission and teaches you to distrust your body. You never know when it will let you down. And when it does you will blame yourself. You worked too hard, traveled too far, indulged in too much sugar, gluten, dairy or whatever. Don’t go there. It is not on you.

All human beings show wear and tear as we age, but the body parts of those with chronic illnesses age faster.

It’s not fair. But nothing about life is fair. It’s a crap-shoot at best. Otherwise why would good people get sick?

Like Frannie whose battle with lupus has worn out her kidneys and heart. Everybody loves Frannie. She lights up all of Sterling with her smile and fills your soul with energy when she wraps you in one of her big bear hugs.

Like my kind and loyal childhood friend Jane, who has fought multiple sclerosis for decades. When her legs give out she rides around her house on her scooter never complaining.

Like my writing buddy Kathy out east, who pours positivity in every word of her inspirational blog Memoir Writer’s Journey. After surviving Stage Four Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, over a decade later, she now faces dialysis when her kidneys began to fail from the chemo treatments.

As I struggle to breath from a reoccurring respiratory and inflammatory illness, my spirits sink, my energy wanes, my heartaches.Endure Set Backs in Chronic Illness

I cry, I rant, I lash out at the world in anger. Why me? Why not you? You don’t have to look far to bear witness to someone else’s suffering.

Why did this bacteria, cancer, virus pick my body to invade?

I rage at the injustice. Then I pick myself back off the floor and keep going.

Here are ways to help cope during those inevitable setbacks.

Rest but try to keep your mind busy. Watch Netflix series or listen to podcasts.

Read books. If you want good recommendations check out my friend Helen Cohen Bludman’s blog Books Is Wonderful or try one of Lynne Spreen’s Karen/Grace Blues series, featuring an adventuresome middle aged protagonist.

Call a sister, brother, daughter, son, parent, friend or other loved one

Draw strength from others in unexpected cards, emails, FB notices.

Follow bloggers that write/research about your illness like my friend Cathy Chester’s Empowered Spirit‘s blog about living graciously and staying positive despite a diagnosis of MS.

Eat soup.

Strum a guitar.

Form a support group.

Join a forum.

Share a hug.

Though today is our only guarantee, make plans for tomorrow.

Take baby steps.Endure Set Backs in Chronic Illness

As soon as I am physically able, I force myself to go outside and put one foot in front of the other. I look at the magnificent view around me and beseech the mountaintops, “Give me the strength to go on.”

When I can, I walk for Fran, for Jane, for Kathy and for all those people who struggle each day to get out of bed, put on a happy face and keep fighting.

We may be wounded…

but we are still warriors.

Feed Your Soul With Creativity

I am always looking for an interesting person to interview, a new place to visit, a story to share all the while feeling off balance and a little bit loco.

“You develop an extra sense that partly excludes you from experience,” Martin Amis says. “Writers are not experiencing things fully, 100%. They are always holding back and wondering what the significance is.”

That’s me in a nutshell, struggling to experience everyday life, yet capture each milestone and adventure on paper.

“Every person who does serious time with the key board is attempting to translate his version of the world into words so that he might be understood. Indeed, the great paradox of the writer’s life is how much time he spends alone trying to connect with other people.” (A Forest Through the Trees, p. 36)

Looking back at my career, I loved the game of basketball because its fast pace demanded total concentration preventing this dual existence as an observer and participant. I entered the zone – a perfect union of mind and body – and felt peace.

Off the court, stories pinged off my brain like pinballs.

On family trips traveling across America, while gazing out my window I made up tales of people’s lives on plantations down south, ranches out west and Victorian homes on the east coast.

As a kid I daydreamed so often, I wonder how I ever passed first grade.

Globetrotting in adulthood offered endless material for stories. Even standing still in the field teaching PE in Switzerland, my mind wandered to my mountain view where I imagined cows grazing in alpine valleys. Lost in reverie, I’d forget to call off sides in soccer or out of bounds in field hockey until a student complained forcing me back to reality.

To be in the moment is hard for a writer.

Not only am I torn between the different cultural, geographical, and physical worlds of Switzerland, France and USA, but also from the emotional, imaginary ones between living life and recording it.

Yet writing keeps me grounded. I process life through words. Like playing basketball, I enter “the zone.” Without the euphoria. After a writing session, I am spent. My shoulders ache. My back throbs. I need to walk or stretch, loosen my limbs frozen into the shape of a chair.

But writing is a constant battle of wills between the creative brain and the logical one. Why spend so much time doing something that brings no financial rewards and few emotional ones?

I swear off practicing my art becoming locked in writer’s block. But inevitably I return to the blank page because not writing is even more excruciating. Blessed with a curse, my tormented mind is that of a writer, whether anyone reads me or not.

Without writing life seems empty. As if only in the retelling, shaping experiences, can I fine-tune the raw edges of my soul.

Stories unleash the mystery in our existence.

But damned if it doesn’t drive me crazy. Stacked by my bed, crates crammed with thousands of pages of unfinished manuscripts, half bake books, and segments of stories, ferment like a compost pile.

Why bother?

Because language links humanity. Writer friends I encourage you to keep putting your muse to paper; reader friends’ merci mille fois (thank you a thousand times) for honoring our connection.

Why does anyone practice any form of art? Why did my dad paint beautiful landscapes and give them away or my mom spend hours quilting and cross-stitching presents for others? Why does one person garden for hours pruning delicate rose bushes? Or another spend time in the kitchen creating new delights to nourish family and friends?

Creativity feeds the soul. Without it we would starve to death.

What is your passion?

Wild Ride Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road

Though Americans may share the same language as the British, we differ in many ways especially when it comes to cars/driving. In the UK and Commonwealth countries such as Australia, the car’s steering wheel is on the passenger side. The driver sits on the right, yet drives on the left side of road.

In England, I fear going anywhere near traffic even as a passenger. On recent trip there, my son sat on the right side to drive on the “wrong” side, the left. I rode shotgun- a hair raising experience – I kept thinking we would crash in a head on collision.

As we wound through villages on pencil thin roads through a maze of round-abouts, I felt like I was on Mr. Toad’s wild ride in Disneyland.

In England, I start stimming every time I get into a vehicle. Granted my anxiety may be greater because I am directionally challenged. I am one of the 20% percent of the population that has trouble orientating themselves in space and distinguishing right and left.

Left-right discrimination involves higher neurological functions integrating sensory and visual information, language function and memory. This problem, more common among the left-handed, women and people with a high IQ, offers no consolation.

I blame my older brother for my directional disability. Born with a map in his brain, he hogged our family’s spatial orientation gene.

The only thing scarier than driving in England is walking in England. As a pedestrian, I am afraid to cross the street; I can’t figure out which way to look for oncoming traffic. Like a deer in headlights, I freeze on the corner too terrified to set foot off the curb.

The roadways through villages are so narrow that even while walking on the sidewalks, I hug the brick facades fearful of being sideswiped by those wrong way drivers.

Driving on the wrong side will never be on my bucket list, but if you do dare to drive in the UK here are few tips.

  1. Hang a ‘think left’ poster on your dashboard. Remember to look first to the right when crossing the road. Take care when pulling out of junctions, one-way streets and at roundabouts.
  2. Beware that unlike the rest of the continent, which gives priority to the right, there’s no priority to the right or left on UK roads.
  3. An octagonal stop sign with a solid white line on road or a triangular give way sign (dotted white line on road), where a secondary road meets a major road.
  4. At all crossroads and junctions, ‘Stop’ or ‘give way’ may also be painted on the road surface. But in England’s typical rain and fog, I doubt you will ever see that.
  5. Traffic flows clockwise round round­abouts and not anti-clockwise as in countries where traffic drives on the right.
  6. UK drivers set a lively pace, which is often way above the prevailing speed limit.

Lastly, if you do drive in England, be sure to slow down and wave when you see me still standing on the corner, waiting to cross the street.

Beware of Bear in Wyoming

Beware of Bear in WyomingWhen you hit the trails in Grand Teton Park you will be reminded over and over again “Be Bear Aware”. Even the out houses, which by the way are very tidy considering they are used by millions of tourists, post warnings. When you perch for a pee, a sign on the back of the outhouse door offers wise advice.

“Do not feed the bears. Do not leave food around. If you see a bear, do not run. Carry bear spray.”

Before beginning our exploration, we stopped at the ranger station and bought an over priced 50-buck can of bear spray. I thought it was an -over-the-top-precaution tourist trap until we ran into Yogi. In true Wild West form, Gerald carried the repellent on his hip like a gun, ready to spray an attacking beast for protection.

At the Jenny Lake Trail, we started our hike and as usual I lagged a bit behind Gerald, the billy goat out front. I heard a rustling noise of what I thought was a small animal like a raccoon in the brush behind me. I turned around to see a big brown animal.

“Uh oh. A bear.”

My natural instinct was to run, which they warn you never to do. While back peddling in slow mo, the fearless Frenchman turned and charged toward the beast, dropped to his knee and began shooting. No, not bullets, or bear spray, but pictures. I held my breath in awe as Mr. Bear lumbered across the footpath 30 feet away.

For the rest of the hike, I tripped over boulders and stumps never paying attention to where I was stepping, because I was so Beware of Bear in Wyomingbusy scouting right and left in the berry patches and forests. I expected a grizzly to lumber out of woods any minute.

Further along our hike toward the water falls, we heard what sounded like campers singing, “Hi ho, hi ho its off to work we go” coming from the opposite direction

Around the next bend we crossed a family with 6 kids in matching T-shirts and marched by single file singing at the top of their lungs. “Keep your eyes peeled,” the mom said jiggled bells. “We crossed a grizzly on the path back there.”

“Whaaat???” said the Japanese couple behind us. Pointing to Gerald’s six-shooter on the hip, they asked, “Can we hike with you?”

We made it the falls without incident and headed across the river to the other side of trail along Jenny Lake where we met up with a French tourist. He warned, “On a juste passé un grizzly.”

They had been way laid by a grizzly that refused to budge from the trail where we were headed. To my relief and my husband’s disappointment we never faced off with Mr. Grizzly.

Later, when we met Canadians from Winnipeg, we warned them about bears and they scoffed, “It’s no big deal. At home Bears live in our backyard.”

I guess it is all what you get used to.Beware of Bear in Wyoming

Seriously though do take precaution and play it smart if not yourself then for the wildlife. Bear in mind these sad statistics : fourteen bears are killed every year due to foolish tourists, so if you hike the Grand Tetons be bear aware as much for their safety as yours.

Grand Teton National Park One of America’s Jewels

If you listen to the pundits, a lot of US citizens are understandably upset with the political climate and frustrated by present lack of leadership. There is a lot to criticize about my birth land right now, and it makes me sad for my people, but there is one thing that America got right. The National Park system is something to boast about.

With clean facilities, well marked trails, interesting museums and well-trained, friendly rangers, any trip to a national park is well worth your time. Our visit to the Grand Tetons was no exception.

America’s National Parks fill with visitors not only from every state, but from around the world. We met one French couple that came back every vacation to hike in the Grand Teton.

My words fall short when it comes to describing the majesty of America’s national parks, so I will let the pictures do the talking.