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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Girls’ Team Sports Builds Global Leaders

In a college coaching career spanning seven decades, my grandfather shaped the lives of many men, including President Ronald Reagan. When I started coaching I had no such aspiration. Yet, who can say? I never dreamed I would teach sons and daughters of diplomats, ambassadors, and world leaders. The right word, at the right time, can shape an athlete. Teams force the individuals to check egos at the door. Teams demand commitment. Teams give players the courage to go on when they feel like giving up.

flying to the ISST

flying to the International Schools Sport Tournament (ISST)

For most of us it is hard to remember when women’s sports wasn’t a given. But girls were not allowed on America’s playing field until after Title IX passed in 1972. Along with my book launch, commemorating the impact of Title IX, I asked former athletes from my Dream Teams in Switzerland where they are now and how team sport helped shape them.

Yemuri – Regional Portfolio Officer, Save the Children (UK)
Nutrition, health, education for children in Niger, Mali & Burkina Faso
Social Work –University of Leeds, Masters, Human Rights University College London
Basketball was my sanctuary, my release, my discipline, my drive, and my second family. I learned responsibility, team play and how to give more than you first think you can.

Emily – Seismic Delivery Team at the BP North Sea Headquarters, Aberdeen, Scotland.
Geology/Marine Biology University of Aberdeen.
Basketball helped me get a job. At the time I was unemployed, and my teammates took my resume to work, and the rest is BP history. Basketball kept me alive as a teenager. When I came out of the hospital, there was a tournament, and I had to play. Basketball made me determined to make my life better and beat depression. It worked. Basketball is part of my DNA. I do not know where I would be without basketball. My coach during high school is like a mother to me – always has been. I still wish I could go back to playing with my high school teammates, as they were my family.

playing in the Swiss championship

playing in the Swiss championship

Anja – Melbourne, Australia Law degree University of Warwick (UK)
Masters Public International Law Leiden University (Netherlands)
One of the things I valued most was the team spirit. Being in a team is not just about the game, but also the bonds, which form between the players and their coach. Pat used to inspire us before playing a game, during training and even off the court. If something seemed difficult or if we doubted our capabilities, she made us understand that it was OK to have doubts, but that we should not let them overcome us. Rather, we should bond together as a team and play as best we could. Whatever the outcome, it was how we played that was important. That stuck with me and guided me throughout all aspects of my life to date: acknowledging my worries and doubts, but not letting them dictate my choices.

Katrina – medical student at the American University of the Caribbean.
Basketball is a team sport that has taught me about commitment, communication and faith; you have to be committed to practicing and learning from your mistakes if you hope to succeed; you need to communicate well with others to make the plays happen; and you need to have faith that your teammates are going to be where you need them. These same skills are what get me through medical school everyday; the only difference is that my teammates are my professors and peers and the plays are my clinical knowledge.

Janneke – Winona, Minnesota, Director of Live Well Winona
Growing up abroad is hard when you don’t speak the language. But basketball gave me a common ground anywhere I went. The game gave me friends; the sport gave me life skills- communication and self-discipline. You have to know where your teammates are on the court and how everyone works together. Training for a sport translates to training for life. When I’m in shape physically, mentally and emotionally I can handle a lot more.

riding the rails to another tournament

riding the rails to another tournament

Melissa – Nairobi, Kenya, management consulting Kimetrica
War Studies University of London, Masters Human Rights London School of Economics.
I’m a 5’4″ white girl with a petite frame more built for prancing to classical music than playing a sport where the aim is to jump higher, be bigger, power through and shoot over. I ended up in the hospital countless times and sustained every injury from the regular sprains to more serious concussions. I was strongly advised to stop. Yet I played. I loved it. Still love it. Now, the world can try, indeed has tried, to tell me in all areas of life that I can’t or shouldn’t do something. But it just makes me want to try harder and be better.

Claire – Nyon, Switzerland, Sports Management degree, Endicott College, Boston
One more round of free-throws… the discipline required to improve my free-throws is what has helped me with making the right choices and being patient for the desired results. It helped me to pass my university accounting class, run my first marathon and create my own “concept brand” with my business partner Urban Accents (website/blog launch April 2013).

Sophie – York, England. Human Biology, Loughborough University, Civil Engineering degree University of the West of England.
Playing basketball has helped me to never give up, no matter what life throws at me. It taught me to respect people for who they are and pushed me to be a better player/person. It gave memories that I have taken with me wherever I go and that never seem to cease to put a smile on my face.

KendallSydney, Australia, editorial assistant for messenger COLLECTIVE, global entrepreneurial magazine. Bachelors of Arts in Law and Anthropology at The London School of Economics,Masters of Law at The University of Sydney.
Playing basketball has taught me to never take anything too seriously. While I was always competitive I learnt not to take losses personally, to move on and enjoy life.

KatieSydney University of Toronto, University of Sydney
Basketball has played a big role in me deciding my career as a teacher mainly from the people I met and seeing what a big impact that coaches can have on someone.

To Tara, Nat, Raisa, Nicky, Laura, Maria, Kayleigh, Cindi, Jennifer and all my other players spread across Africa, Asia, Australia, America and Europe, I hope that you are still knocking down jumpers, running the floor and taking the charge in the real game!

To all coaches around the globe who invest in kids, never under estimate the value of your work, teaching lay ups lasts a lifetime!

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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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International Women’s Day, Title IX and a Nod to my Norwegian-American Mom

The unsung hero in my life story is my mom, a woman ahead of her time. While I was defying society with my dream to play sports at a time in American history when little girls were supposed to play house, cut paper dolls and dress up like princesses, my mom let me be a tomboy. Instead of coveting Easy Bake Ovens, Barbie campers and Tammy dolls, when I wanted a basketball, pop rifle and cowboy hat for Christmas, Mom made sure Santa heard my wishes.

Mom never made me wear hair ribbons instead she cut my bangs short and let me march to the beat of my own drummer. When I slid into home plate, swished hoops, and tackled the “man” with the ball in the backyard with the neighborhood boys, she grinned and waved from the kitchen window.

When I fell off bicycles and out of trees, she straightened the handlebars and brushed off the grass and said, “Off you go!”

sharing moments when reunited

sharing moments when reunited

In college as she watched me compete on the basketball court, she may have worried about my lean frame bashing bigger bodies in the tough league, but she never told me. As she nursed my sprained ankle, separated rib, black eye, broken finger, and another concussion, she may have shuddered inside, but I only saw the smile.

When I hit the wall diving for a loose ball, or got slammed on a rebound, she may have cringed inwardly, but outwardly she remained calm. I only heard her shout of encouragement every time I got up and back in the game.

In childhood, she kissed my skinned knees, patched up my favorite blue jeans, and sent me back outside. In adulthood, she honored my uniqueness and urged me to follow my own star.

Instinctively my mom knew that from the time I could tie my own shoes, I was footloose and fancy-free and the world belonged to me.

When I threw my passport in the bin after being cut from the national team trials, she pulled it back out and patted my hand. “Put this somewhere safe. You may need it someday.”

When I fell in love with a Frenchman and made my life abroad, she started French lessons, wrote long airmail letters and opened her heart to a “foreign” son-in-law.

UWSP greatest fans

UWSP greatest fans

When her first grandchild was born in Paris, she sewed clothes with extra long sleeves for my fast-growing child. When that Franco-American granddaughter returned to the USA, mom made the 8-hour round trips to the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point to watch her play basketball. Later, when that granddaughter took the Hippocratic Oath at the graduation ceremony, my mom stood in for me, and applauded for both of us.

Mom made sacrifices to help me reach my goals. She drove me an hour away to take horseback riding lessons as an 8-year-old and she exchanged S&H Green Stamps for goods to help save for summer camps. No matter what the cost, she never held me back.

She never insisted I marry the neighbor boy and stay in town, and never complained when I spent more time practicing my jump shot than cleaning my room.

My mom, a smart, soft-spoken Chicago girl from a modest family of Norwegian immigrants, worked her way through college earning a teaching degree. She raised 4 children 5 years apart and when the last one started kindergarten, she started her teaching career.

first doctor in the family

first doctor in the family

Two generations later, her granddaughter born and raised abroad, followed her own dreams, back to America to become the first doctor in the family. My mom beamed. The family had come full circle.

Title IX presented the door, but my mom pushed it open and let me go.

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Birthday All Day Party in Celebration of Life

Last Saturday, I wrote about a mountain hike in celebration of my friends’ birthday, not mine. Like most people of a certain age, I dreaded another birthday, a reminder that I was aging. Frankly, I don’t need reminders. My knees creak, my jowls drop, my muscles sag, and gravity drags me one step closer to the underground. I wanted to sneak into my 56th year without any hoop a la. But the word got out!

birthday 2013

The night before my birthday at basketball practice, right on cue, when my point guard threw the ball out of bounds on a fast break, the team burst into song. The players brought out juice and homemade cupcakes and cookies in my honor, but I toasted them – for what is a coach without a team?

In homeroom, my 12th grade students insisted I call an emergency meeting Thursday morning, which I did, not realizing that I was the emergency. Students baked one cake for me and another one for a new boy in our group, whose birthday was the same day.

In the English department at morning break, my colleagues raised their coffee cups in cheer and passed around a chocolate cake.

Students in my freshman English class whispered in front of the multimedia center where we met to watch To Kill a Mockingbird. To distract me, a student dragged me to the back of the library to help her find a book. When I entered the assembly room, the class burst into song and a smorgasbord of baked goods magically appeared along with a homemade card, the best kind.

During lunch at my learning support department meeting, another friend made a frosted, pumpkin cake with American flag candles. This time round, a colleague sang the birthday song in Dutch.

.

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I haven’t had so much fun on a birthday since I was five years old and my mom baked me a white-frosted bunny cake covered in coconut.

When I arrived home after parent-teacher conferences, a bouquet of tulips sat on my doorstep. Inside, my Frenchman poured wine at a candle lit table and served leftovers on wedding china, but not just any ol’ leftovers!  Baby goat, simmered in wine sauce in a garden of carrots, zucchini and peppers, was a meal fit for a queen that tasted even better the second time around.

Just before falling asleep, I turned on my laptop and was bowled over with messages from family and friends scattered around the globe from Seattle to Boston, Paris to Berlin, London to Sydney and everywhere in between.

The fanfare was unexpected, especially from the college kids, like the surprise call from my son in St. Paul, who carried the conversation for a change, and an old-fashioned handwritten letter from my niece in Omaha.

GenFab writers, Gutsy Indie Publishers, blogging buddies, former classmates and teammates posted messages and feted me on facebook.

Ever since my professional basketball career ended in an accident 3 decades ago, I have wondered why I survived.

Now, I know.

In simple, heartfelt ways people took time to draw cards, write messages, bake cakes and make me feel special.

I wanted to skip my birthday; you assured me that my life –sags, bags, wrinkles and all-is still worth celebrating!

Riding on a sugar high from too much cake and so many well wishes, overwhelmed by the  ways people connected and confirmed my existence, my heart is filled with gratitude.

Every day a gift!

Merci mille fois (thanks a thousand times) for the reminder.

 

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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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