Mont-Blanc, Mini Triathlons, Personal Bests

In my original game plan, I thought that when I retired from playing basketball in my fifties, I would ski mountains and run marathons into old age. Alas, an accident at the peak of my career at age 26 ended my basketball playing days. Illness filled my life with detours. Today a bad back, blown-out knees and chronic pain from fibromyalgia prevents me attaining the goals I once set.

The first part of my life as a first generation Title IXer, I fought to get off the sideline and into the game; the second half, I learned how to be a gracious cheerleader. That is why I am so proud of my daughter for incorporating fitness into her daily life as a doctor, to my friend Tina for winning a Gold Medal in basketball at the Senior Olympic games, for my little sister and her friends in their fifties for competing in their 2nd mini triathlon.

Karen sets a new personal best

Karen sets a new personal best

Karen and her friends, Ann Jackson and Jean Pupkes, joined 317 other participants on Saturday July 21st in the 9thAnnual River City Days Triathlon Sprint held in Chaska Minnesota.

fab' 50s finish sprint triathlon

fab’ 50s finish sprint triathlon

Training for the triathlon may be just as difficult as the actual event. Karen alternated training schedules prior to the meet. A strong swimmer she loved the first leg, a third mile lake swim, yet struggled with the final 3.1K run. This year my brother-in-law Dick, 2 months after undergoing a thyroidectomy to remove a cancerous tumor, decided to join her. An avid biker, Dick whizzed past people on the 16 mile ride, avoided sinking on the swim, and walked the first K, all uphill, of the run.

While my sister and bro defy age by challenging their bodies to remain fit, I am inspired to focus not on what I can’t do, but on what I can. Since my mid twenties, I have seen a team of doctors for a list of ailments. For the past 4 years, as a guinea pig in a clinical trial treatment for a multisystem inflammatory autoimmune illness, I have avoided light exposure.

my umbrella and me

my umbrella and me

But that doesn’t stop me! I hike in the Alps under an umbrella, walk to work covered in gloves and a hoody, and swim across the lake in my wet suit and scuba gear. In solidarity with my sister and brother in law, I participated in my own mini triathlon. Early Saturday morning, I biked 7 miles, walked a mile and then swam a half-mile. Afterwards, I couldn’t lift my arms to hold a book. I broke no records but as the sole competitor, solitary contestant, I won the event!

In a personal best, Karen had the best time in her age group for the swim and beat her overall time by 12 minutes. Dick, setting his own record, inspired anyone who has battled cancer.

My adult life is not as active as I had once hoped; yet I have accepted that I will never ski down Mont-Blanc, because I can still admire the mountaintops from my window. I will never again play the game I love, but I can impart my love of the game to the girls I coach. I will no longer knock down J’s (jump shots), but I can swim through summers on my beloved Summit Lake.

Life is good!

A Thousand Years of Sanctuary at the Hospice on the Grand St. Bernard Pass

At  2473 meters the Grand St. Bernard Pass, in a torturous part of the Alps in the no man’s land between the Swiss and Italian border, is not easily accessible. Especially since for the greater part of the year, it is closed due to snow. The pass only opened in mid June this summer, so when visitors arrived, we decided to take them to see the monastery and dogs symbolic with Switzerland.

the hospice viewed from the Italian side

the hospice viewed from the Italian side

From June to September the pass may be accessed by road or rail service, but during the rest of the year, it can only be reached by foot or on skis and snowshoes in the winter. Avalanche risks are usually high and the climb is challenging.

In 1050 Bernard Archdeacon of Aosta (Italy) founded the hospice on the Mount Joux pass.  For nearly the past one thousand years, travelers have been guided and offered sanctuary by the community of monks. During storms and inclement weather, the monks led by marroniers (guides) search for lost or distressed travelers and lead them to safety at the Hospice.

Open everyday, the Hospice is reserved for those travelers on foot or bicycle or people seeking a spiritual retreat. The Brothers live according to the rule of St. Augustine, who preached the Gospel of the 4th century, yet welcome voyagers of any faith.

Other than a gift store, a café and a museum, the monastery stands alone looking forlorn against a rugged landscape. Austere and isolated, it was hard to imagine anyone crossing by foot and even more incredible that an average of 600 travelers a day were fed and housed in the 1800s. We walked along a trail winding along

Italian border behind the frozen lake

Italian border behind the frozen lake

edges of precipices, above a lake surrounded by wind swept, desolate view of craggy mountaintops.  About a half-mile down the road, we saw the Italian border and a spindly, grey edifice that serves at a hotel and customs crossing.

Hotel and dog's kennel's sign

Hotel and dog’s kennel’s sign

A visit to the museum reveals time period artifacts, geological information, and historical pieces.  One of the most amazing historical facts was trying to fathom how Napoleon’s Army,  managed to climb up through the pass. Even more amazing was the adventure of Hannibal, in 218 b.c., crossing the pass with it’s elephants to attack Rome ! Art works and writings depicted countless stories of miraculous rescues by the St. Bernard dogs and monks.

In a spirit of humility and sharing, the legacy of St. Bernard at the Hospice, which continues, offers guidance on life’s journey.

However, far less spectacular than other parts of Switzerland, tourists may feel a bit disappointed in the view of a few grey buildings and desolate landscape. The frolicking, happy go lucky guide dogs are biggest drawing card.

Next week meet Barry the St. Bernard, symbol of Switzerland.

Atop the World in the Swiss Alps

Almost on top of the world, at an elevation of 1,640 meters (5,413) feet, Mürren clings to the edge of precipice in the upper reaches of Lauterbrunnen Valley. On a clear day, this typical village in Bernese Oberland offers an indescribable view of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.

Eiger, Mönch and tip of Jungfrau

Eiger, Mönch and tip of Jungfrau

It is inaccessible by car, yet tourists still find it. A popular destination, Mürren, though only having 450 inhabitants, offers 2,000 hotel beds.  Originally a farming community, tourism in the summer and skiing in winter provides the steadiest livelihood for the locals. Reaching the village is part of the fun. Visitors must take the panoramic funicular and then a short train ride up from Lauterbrunnen, which offer stunning views of the valley.

Main Street is dotted with an eclectic mix of restored wooden chalets and hotels from the early part of the last century. Giant cowbells hang from the awnings; flowers line window boxes of balconies and dainty lace curtains cover the pane glass windows with red shutters.

Mürren with Eiger in the background

Walking paths zigzag up and down the mountainside winding through the meadows where hardy wild flowers in yellow, lilac, and white, orange, blue burst into color on a verdant palate.  Cowbells clang like old silver milk cans in horse drawn wagons. Insects buzz and birds’ twitter in harmony with the soft swoosh of the wind that whips through valley.

mowing the yard, Mürren's way

mowing the yard, Mürren’s way

One man mows his yard at precipitous angle, while another splits wood then lines each log in a perfect, uniform stacks so typically Swiss. The locals speak the thick, guttural Swiss German language. They are easily identified, by their ruddy, wind burned completion and strong calves and thighs for every step outside one’s door requires movement on incline.

Hikers of every age dot the meadows bearing backpacks and walking sticks.

The three Kings, Mönch, Eiger, Jungfrau appear deceptively close, as if you could reach out and touch them giving one a surreal other worldly feeling.

On a summer day in Mürren, the light, color and mountains topography, are so perfectly intertwined that it is hard to deny God’s existence.

Villages across the valley below look like match boxcars and miniature towns. In the distance one can imagine seeing Heidi skipping off from Grandpa’s hut to herd the sheep grazing in a the verdant valley over yonder.

It is as if time stood still. Invigorated, renewed, exalted, I want to burst into song. Indeed, the hills are alive with the sound of music.

mountain chalets in the meadows

mountain chalets in the meadows

Truly in Mürren, God perfected nature’s symphony.

Salute to Jill Hutchinson A Pioneer in Coaching Women’s Basketball

“You don’t have to be a victim of your environment. You learn that through sports, you learn that through teamwork. You decide who you want to be and then you go pursue that. “ I learned this key lesson from my college coach, Jill Hutchinson, a legend in women’s basketball. With that mindset, it is no surprise Jill influenced the lives of so many young women in her 28-year tenure as ISU.

She refused to be a victim of gender.

Historically in America, women and sports were incompatible. While at University of New Mexico (1963-1967), Hutchinson was reprimanded for competing in a national tournament in Gallup, NM as part of an AAU state championship team. When a professor, who was then president of the Division of Girls and Women’s Sport (DGWS), announced that women were not suited for team sport, Jill challenged her comment in class.

“She ripped me from one end to the other,” Hutchinson recounted. “I walked out of class in tears.  I remember telling some kids in class that I was going to make sure girls have an opportunity to play.”

Before the time women were recruited, I chose Illinois State University on a gut feeling.  Coach Jill Hutchinson won me over with her enthusiasm for life and the game.

Coach Hutchinson with Coach McKinzie

Coach Hutchinson with Coach McKinzie

Not only were female athletes new, but women coaches were an anomaly.

While Hutchinson racked up championships in her 28-year tenure at Illinois State, she also succeeded at the international level leading the US to a gold at the 1983 World University Games and a silver medal at the 1978 Pan American Games. On the national level, she is known for helping the women’s game grow from obscurity to its current level of popularity.

In spite of the obstacles she confronted, Hutchinson was never bitter. When inducted to the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame Knoxville Tennessee, Jill said, “I am very fortunate to have lived in the time I have. The progress from the time when we could only play three players on each side of the court to where we are today has been a great experience.”

She was a rookie coach, learning the ropes as she went along, yet she never feared asking questions or standing up for what was right. Jill gained ground with class and kindness at time when women met roadblocks. When women athletics moved from McCormack gym to Horton, they were unwelcome. “I brought brownies to the workers and won them over.”

“Her legacy is etched in stone in national basketball archives with 460 wins and an impeccable graduation rate at Illinois State,” said former ISU Athletics Director Rick Greenspan.

She coached numerous professional players and two Olympians, Charlotte Lewis and Cathy Boswell, but what makes her proudest is the fact that every senior athlete she coached earned a degree, even if she came back years later to attain it.

“If you’re willing to win at all costs, if you don’t emphasize the values in sport and the values in learning then I think you, as a coach, sell out to the big entertainment business. I still think if you’re going to be coaching at a collegiate institution you have an obligation to educate your student athletes.”

She had just as great impact off the court as on it due to her leadership on the rules committee. She was the co-founder and first Women’s Basketball Coaches Association President, an honor she held 4 times.

“I have been extremely fortunate in my career,” said Hutchinson.  “I never had to go to work. I got to go to the gym.”

Yet work she did. As a graduate student at ISU, her research shattered the myth that full court 5on 5 basketball would be fatal for women.  She hooked electrodes to basketball players with no ill effects proving a woman’s heart wouldn’t explode by running a fastbreak. This led to a change in rules instead of six-player game to the full court five-player game.

As first generation Title IX athletes, competitive sports for girls was so new that we came into university with raw talent, true grit and a love of the game. We were in awe of Coach Hutchinson. For the first time, we had a female role model. Everyone who played for her wanted to do right by her. Most of us remained in contact with her long after graduation.

When my former Olympian teammate, Charlotte Lewis, died of a heart attack in her early 50s, Jill spoke at her funeral.

Another, incident shows the depth of Jill’s caring. I left the States in 1980 to play basketball in Europe. Three decades later, my Franco-American daughter raised abroad returned to the States to combine sport and academics as part of the DIII program that Hutchinson recommended. My daughter, Nathalie, played for Shirley Egner, another highly acclaimed coach at UW-Stevens Point. Hutchinson attended their match-up at Illinois Wesleyan and stayed afterward to meet Nathalie. Then Jill passed on to my daughter the poem that I had written her, during my senior year at ISU, about a coach’s role shaping athletes into adults.

Coach Hutchinson, coach Egner & Nat

Coach Hutchinson, coach Egner & Nat

Hutchinson was ahead of her time. Long before sports psychology existed, she invited a psychiatrist to teach us progressive, relaxation technique before a big game.

In the day before assistants, Hutchinson was a one-woman show. She thought nothing of driving her team cross country in campus station wagons. She tracked down gyms without GPS, and followed weather reports and speed trap warnings from truckers on CB radios. She fielded winning teams on shoe-string budgets, fighting for practice space, athletic equipment and opportunities to compete. She planned practices, organized travel, scouted opponents, and fought on national committees for women’s rights. She mimeographed handwritten scouting reports detailing game strategy and opponent players’ strengths and weaknesses. Every game she scrawled individual notes to each player. Hutch had an uncanny ability to motivate players and that motivation never left us.

Her legacy lives on in the hundreds of players whose lives she influenced and in their daughters, who never doubted their right to succeed in any arena!

Happy Father’s Day – From Papa Mac to President Obama Empowering Daughters

When I saw the espnW interview with President Obama coaching his 10-year-old daughter, Sasha’s basketball team, I cried; it reminded me so much of my dad and me. However, forty years ago,  dads teaching daughters jump shots were anomolies. Most fathers discouraged daughters from playing ball games because society deemed it unladylike.

Like my dad and I, first the President cheered on Sasha from the sidelines, then  he offered  pointers  to the team at the White House on Sundays and, finally, he coached the team from the bench, shouting aphorisms my father once pronounced, « Work the ball inside. Don’t take those crazy long shots. »

“Girls just take it for granted,” President Obama said,  “and maybe that is a good thing that girls grow up knowing they have equal rights on the court.”

But it is hard to appreciate what you got.

Four decades ago,  when  my dad hollered,” Quit marching down court like a battle line. Spread the wings.  Get ahead of the ball,” my team learned how to fly on the fastbreak.

Slowly, times changed. In 1977, five years after Title IX’s passage, my dad co-coached my younger sister, Karen’s team to a first ever high school state championship at my alma mater Illinois State University.

1st girls Illinois State Champions

1st girls Illinois State Champions

My dad shaped values in the athletes he nurtured during his 33-year career at Sterling High School. His endearing relationship with his championship girls’ team earned him the affectionate title of Papa Mac. In his four years of coaching girls’ basketball, my dad’s teams racked up, 1 State championship, a 3rd place and an Elite Eight appearance. Then he retired, but not before girls basketball put Sterling on the map. Championship teams brought honor to the town and high school, but what made Papa Mac proudest was seeing how his athletic girls grew up to offer contributions to society as principals, teachers, social workers and leading members of their communities.

When I was 10 years old, I dreaded my 11th birthday because I thought I would have to exchange my high tops for heels, forfeit my dreams and stop shooting jump shots.  Papa Mac helped open the door of athletic opportunity for me and my younger sisters.

“Play hard, shoot straight, aim high!” he encouraged.

Four decades later, our 44th head of the nation echoed those words. President Obama deemed it important enough to take time out from running world affairs to coach his daughter’s team. That example speaks volumes about how far we have come.

“I am a huge believer that sports ends up being good for kids, and especially good for girls. It gives them confidence, it gives them a sense of what it means to compete. Studies show that girls who are involved in athletics often do better in school; they are more confident in terms of dealing with boys. And, so, for those of us who grew up just as Title IX was taking off, to see the development of women’s role models in sports, and for girls to know they excelled in something, there would be a spot for them in college where they weren’t second-class, I think has helped to make our society more equal in general,” the President said.

Coach Mac in action

Coach Mac in action

“I think the challenge is making sure that, in terms of implementation, schools continue to take Title IX seriously … and I think understanding that this is good, not just for a particular college, not just for the NCAA, [but that] it is good for our society; it will create stronger, more confident women.”

Remarkably back in the controversial years when Title IX was in its early infancy, when girls and ball games were non compatible entities, Papa Mac’s adamant belief in women’s right to participate in sports empowered all of his daughters.

Happy Dad’s Day Papa Mac and, oh yeah, thanks for the jump shot, too!

Girls’ Basketball Camps No Longer a Novelty

When I was growing up, I lamented the lack of opportunities for girls and would have loved to hone my skills at camp. The summer after my freshman year at Illinois State University, ISU, I complained to my friend, Sterling High School Coach Phil Smith.

“I found a camp for you to go to,” Phil said.

“They don’t have girls’ basketball camps in the area.”

“I know—it’s a boy’s camp. Lee Frederick’s One-on-One.”

The first day, Phil made sure the boys would let me participate. I lined up behind the guys who were a head-and-shoulder taller and 40 pounds heavier than I. I learned how to spin, dribble behind my back and between my legs. I developed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar‘s sky-hook. The boys beat me every match up in the one-on-one, but I never gave up. At the end of the week, the guys took home their medals and trophies; I left with bruises and a bunch of new moves.

“Girl, whatcha been doin’?” Charlotte Lewis, our six-foot-three, one-hundred-eighty-pound, All-American Olympian center, said that next season. “I can’t stop ya no more.”

The day I beat Charlotte one-on-one, I knew I’d earned my starting position.

Phil, ahead of his time, suggested we start our own local camp. McKinzie-Smith Girls Basketball Camp was born and ran for a decade. The first year, we handed out t-shirts with the words BASKET printed above an image of ball and awarded a trophies of male figurines shooting hoops. No one minded; girls were too happy to be having their own court time. Then we became more sophisticated, developing a better t-shirt design. With Phil’s business sense and coaching knowledge, our camp grew successful. In later years, we called it Lead Up Camp focusing on developing individual skills much like they do in camps now.

Today I am astounded at the smorgasbord of choices available to girls from team camps to offensive skills camps, to specialized position camps, as well as elite camps and AAU camps and dozens of others. A few examples: Little Dribbler Camp (pre K to 3rd grade) Hittin’ The Hardwood Exclusive Basketball Camp (3rd through 8th grade) Breakthrough Skill Development Basketball Camp  

Even with all the options available, I would still recommend attending my alma mater, Illinois State University, where girls’ camps have been held since the mid ‘70s. Stephanie Glance, Coach of the Year Missouri Valley Conference, and Jamie Russell (Rock Falls star and transfer from Wisconsin) who became the All Valley First Team Newcomer of the Year, are sure to offer valuable tips.

My other top choice, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point camps run by the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference’s most decorated coach, Shirley Egner.