Though I never reached my goal to play basketball for Team USA in the Olympics, I have thrown elbows in good company. I played hoops for Illinois State alongside the late Charlotte Lewis, a silver medalist in 1976 , the first year women’s basketball became an Olympic event. In summer camp at ISU, I coached Olympian Cathy Boswell, a 1984 gold medalist. And June 11-30, 2011 during the Senior National Games in Houston Texas, my former co-coach and BFF, Tina Quick, won a gold in 3 on 3.
In 1987, the first National Olympic game debuted in St. Louis with 2,500 participants. Today the National Senior Games Association, (http ://www.nsga.com/ ) Summer Games drew 15,000 athletes, who competed in 18 sports in everything from shuffleboard to triathlon. And get this, the youngest competitor was fifty!
NSGA is a non-profit organization dedicated to motivating active adults to lead healthy lifestyles. With 50 being the new 30 never has the time been more right for women to stay in shape. And nobody trains like Tina, the fifty-five year old blond firecracker, with Native American blood, who runs circles around women decades younger. Though she didn’t have the opportunity to play organized ball growing up, she never missed a beat in adulthood, challenging men in gyms around the globe. Seven years ago, she repatriated to the United States where she met up with the Massachusetts Miracles.
« We went from being the team that couldn’t win a game, to becoming team to beat, » Tina said. « Everyone, except me, played college »
The Miracles is comprised of first generation Title IX athletes, who like myself, became pioneers during the infancy of the women’s game when law mandated equal opportunities for women in education and sport. June Walton, the second all-time leading scorer at her alma mater, Morgan State University, also played in Venezuela and England. Kris Krablin, the only athlete to be named MVP every season, was a Hall of Famer at St. Lawrence University. In 1979, the first year an All State College team was selected, Barbara Cherecwich became a first team All Stater from Worcester State College.
The Miracles won the state competition to qualify and then swept 7 rounds in the games. My five-foot- five friend played early on in the tournament, but for the finals she insisted, « You big girls go do your stuff – I’ll take over on the sideline. » The only team without a manager, Tina, then went onto coach her Miracles to victory capturing the gold in the 50+ age category.
« Like at the Olympics, we had an opening ceremony, parade of competitors, athlete’s village and medal platform. The Olympic Torch, carried across Texas, was lit by a 100 year old man. »
Tina walked off the podium with not only a gold, but also a stash of giveaways – pill boxes, jump ropes, energy drinks, cool bands, health tips and other prizes. But according to Tina, the best part of the games was the great ambiance, team camaraderie and support from friends and families .
« One lady, a seventy year old, stopped me and asked if she could touch my medal.»
When my pro basketball career ended abruptly due to a car accident, my goal to shoot hoops into my sunset years never materialized. In time, I learned to let go and share in the joy of others’ dreams. Nobody cheered louder than me for my former athletes competing in European clubs, for my little sister, playing in a 5 on 5 league in Minneapolis or for my buddy in Boston, who just came home with the gold.
Apparently seniors are alive and well. The Summer Games, NSGA’s signature event, has become one of the biggest multi-sport happenings on the planet; my friend Tina could be the spokesperson.
During the festivities, Gloria Gaynor, belted out, « I will survive. »
I slapped my knee, tickled pink and echoed her battle cry,
« Go granny go ! »