Celebrating International Women’s Day and an NCAA Final Four

we all can do itEvery March 8 we celebrate International Women’s Day to raise awareness of women’s rights and their battle to achieve equal status. It also reminds us of the challenges, struggles and inequality faced by women worldwide. This year the UN’s theme –Equality for Women is Progress for All – echoes my life story.

Growing up in the infancy of Title IX, I sat on the sideline longing for the right to participate in sports like the boys. I had a dream. That one day, I too, would be allowed on center court. In 1972, Title IX mandated gender equity in all schools, which opened doors in education and sport. I was off and running, blazing a trail as a pioneer in women’s basketball.

International Women’s Day holds special significance this year as I have been given a platform to share my voice, a voice representing the silent generation of American women who fought so hard in the past to earn the rights we enjoy today.

I slouched through adolescence, feeling ashamed for my talents, ridiculed for my love of sports. But I am standing tall today. After the publication of my memoir, Home Sweet Hardwood, A Title IX Trailblazer Breaks Barriers Through Basketball, I have been invited to share my story all over including at the very men’s clubs that banned women when I was growing up.

When I was a kid even in America, the world’s greatest democracy, the basketball court was not the only arena where women were conspicuously absent. I didn’t know any female doctors or lawyers or businesswomen. It was unheard of. We fought for the right to play ball and in doing so, paved the wave for our high-flying daughters of today including my own biological daughter, a pediatrician, who went onto to become the first doctor in our family.

As part of University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point educational program, Title IX and Access to Opportunity, I have been given a spot in the limelight. I’ve been invited to speak to the community and as keynote speaker at the NCAA DIII Final Four banquet. Forty-two years after the passage of the groundbreaking Title IX legislation, this international woman is stepping out, heading to the Big Dance.

March will be a month of celebration, but come April it will be back to work. Great gains have been made in some parts of the planet, but there is still work to be done around the globe to improve women’s health care, to protect reproductive rights, to guarantee equal pay, to curb the epidemic of violence against females, and to allow the voices of other women to be heard worldwide.

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Mix a French Printer and an American Writer and Watch the Fireworks Explode

IMG_4003_copyAfter 30 years, ze Frenchman said, “I am so sick of hearing about the damn book, publish it yourself.”

So I brushed off the dust of a manuscript I had worked on with 3 agents and a dozen different editors and started over again. Long before I felt that the 88th edition was ready, my other half gave me an ultimatum, “Now or never!”

Unite a pragmatic, logical, French, feet-on-the-ground-no-nonsense-businessman and a flighty, idealistic, touchy-feely artsy American writer and then watch the fireworks! I live in my dreams. He worries about reality – about spaces, margins, and quality of images.

Ze Frenchman, a CEO in printing, formerly headed a French book printing company; now he manages newspapers in Switzerland on a 24-hour deadline. However, I have worked on this memoir nearly half a century changing the content according to the whims of a regiment of editors.

“I hate WORD (the computer program)!”  I hear ze Frenchman scream from our attic office.

Ze American loves words. I am driven by words. Do they dance across the page delighting the reader?

“If your cover doesn’t catch the eye, no one will open your book.”

I worry about content; he focuses on form.

Meanwhile the website crashes. Spammers from outer space invaded the blog. Drafts are lost in cyberspace.

“Putain, vérole, bordel de merde!” he yells enriching my French vocabulary.

I learn new curse word every time something goes wrong upstairs in the attic. I jump, fearing his foot, slammed so hard, will smash through the floorboards.

What in the heck were we thinking publish a book? He wants it to be done; I want it to be perfect.IMG_3961_copy

His reputation is not at stake, he is the loving husband who endured three decades of his wife’s eccentricities: writer’s block, creative outbursts, artist angst.

I want to reread, revise, re edit, resubmit. The Frenchman says, “Non! Stop!”

I press forward, trying to sneak in one more rewrite quickly, so the Boss will get off my back! Fine for him to say “Just Do It,” he’s not the one standing on the high dive with acrophobia!

There is no hand holding, no coddling, no ego stroking, back patting, confidence boosting. It is just YOU and your idea flying solo through the universe on a wing and a prayer. Self-doubt is your sidekick.

I second-guess myself on every sentence. My English language fluency regresses daily. I live in a country with four national languages – none of which are English -and work in an international school where students speak in 84 different mother tongues.

Ze Frenchman adds a comma. I take it out. He questions the origins of a word. “You can’t use that word in English. It’s French.”

“No it is not.”

“Yes it is.”

We race to our respective language dictionaries.

“It’s not in Webster’s,” I lament.

“It is not in the French dictionary either. You can’t make up words with nice rhythms, just so they can dance!”

Oh la la…how is a marriage to survive.

What was I thinking?  Write a book.

Ta da boom! Three decades later, longer than it took to raise our doctor daughter, my dream, -his nightmare- takes shape.

Together we created a book baby, Home Sweet Hardwood, A Title IX Trailblazer Breaks Barriers Through Basketball. I hope that my story inspires readers of all ages to never give up on their dreams. He hopes that after publication, I will quit writing.

I could never, ever have attempted to publish a book without my techie sidekick, to whom I am forever grateful for standing by me.

What advice would ze Frenchman offer anyone embarking on such an all-consuming endeavor?

“Never marry a writer!  Especially an American!”

 

 

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“Olympic” Moms Teach Us To Get Up

first stepsFrom the moment a baby takes its first step, a mom’s heart is torn. With one hand, Mom beckons her toddler forward, while the other hand lingers behind ready to catch the fall. In the push-pull of motherhood, moms encourage children to step up to the next challenge, while longing to hold them back in the warm, safe, cocoon of unconditional love, knowing full well the world will never be so nonjudgmental and forgiving.

My mom cringed each time I got knocked flat playing sports. After every concussion, broken bone, and heart wrenching disappointment, never did she suggest that I should give up the game I love.

In turn, when the time came, I perched on the edge of a hard bleacher – my heart was lodged in my throat each time my child hit the hardwood. Yet, I continued to drive my kids to and from practices and games, doctors and chiropractors.

My daughter, long and lean, had so many injuries during her career that she received birthday cards from the urgent care center. From the time my hyperactive son’s feet hit the floor, he ran recklessly, slicing open his hand before the age of two, splitting his head as a 4-year-old.roller skate

Sprained ankles, twisted knees, separated ribs, compressed vertebrae, broken fingers. During my son’s ankle surgery in the middle of the night, I lay awake worrying about the long-term effect of a growth plate break in early adolescence. Would his right leg be shorter than the left one?

A shattered finger. A bruised rib. A broken dream. An ice pack, a back rub, a favorite meal. Moms know instinctively how to comfort, to console, to care.

After every setback, I cheered. “Go ahead try out”… for the team, the band, the play, the scholarship, the job.

“What if I don’t make it, Mom?”

“Don’t worry. There will be another game, performance, employment. Don’t give up.”

Very few kids will stand on an Olympic podium, but whether they play sports or put their energy into other interests, our children will be stronger for having given it their best shot.

Life will knock them on their butts. More than once. The greatest lesson a parent can impart is, « Get back up!”

When children need the extra oomph to rise after those discouraging losses, thwarted goals, career-ending injuries, Mom will be there with a helping hand, a kind word, and a chocolate cookie.

My dad taught me how to throw a ball and shoot a basket, but Mom was the one who listened to my fears, wiped away my tears and encouraged me to follow my dream. I’d apologize for unloading my problems, but after teaching all day, my strong Norwegian-American mom would point to her back and say, “I can carry the weight. God gave me broad shoulders.”

We all stand on shoulders of the women who brought us into the world.

And every mother knows there is an « Olympian » in each child, then coaches it out of them.

“This remind me of you,” my daughter posted on social media acknowledging that strength passed on from one generation to the next

Thanks, Mom. For teaching us that falling only makes us stronger.

Congratulations to all the competitors at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games!

And to the moms that picked them up every step of the way.cross country skiing Jura

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Never Too Late to Play – Join Boomer Basketball Clubs Across USA

Hey, it’s hoop time. Today anyone can find a team and play at any age and skill level. It wasn’t always this way at least not for girls. In 1980, I left my homeland to continue playing basketball abroad, after my professional team collapsed due to lack of support. I thought one of the best things about living in Europe was their club system where anyone could play any kind of ball.

Last summer I was thrilled to speak at National Senior Games and see that the New World finally caught up with the Old World. Now basketball clubs exist for women, all ages, many who grew up pre Title IX and never had the opportunity to play as children.

One of the biggest perks of speaking at the NSG on behalf of National Senior Women’s Basketball Association was meeting a dynamic group who love sport, fitness and promoting a passion for playing games.

Kudos for these ladies from coast to coast, who have been promoting the game for boomers.

Kirsten Cummings, a personal trainer, spearheaded NSWBA, a non profit organization promoting Fitness for Life, Basketball Forever. Kirsten never let physical limitations define her. Though she is hearing impaired, she became a top flight professional basketball player who competed overseas for 14 years  and now heads the San Diego contingency. Kirsten was joined in the movement by Helen White, NOVA Basketball and Deb Smith, owner of Not Too Late basketball camp.

On the East Coast, Helen is a founding member and first President of the NOVA United Senior Women’s Basketball Association, located in Northern Virginia. She helped initiate the local Think Pink and National Girls and Women in Sport Day. In collaboration with the WNBA, she arranged for NOVA United teams to play half-time exhibition games during Mystics and Liberty games. In addition, to raise awareness of senior basketball and to show support for the professional players, she connected senior women’s teams in Connecticut, Louisiana, Maine, New York, and Texas with WNBA teams in Connecticut, Houston, San Antonio, and Minnesota.

Deb Smith, a Senior National Games board member, is the owner and director of the Not Too Late Basketball Camp for women ages 50 and above. In 2001, she received the State of Maine’s Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports Individual Award. She is the Coordinator of the Maine Senior Women’s Basketball Program and plays on the Maine team, where she can post up, block out and board with the best.

In Dallas, Kay Seamayer is founder and president of Basketball and Fitness for Senior Women in the Dallas area where she plays on the 65+ Texas All Stars team, and serves as head coach. They also promote senior women’s basketball through their “Granny Globetrotter” halftime show with exhibition play at WNBA, NBA, colleges, universities, and special events including a special promotion with the Harlem Globetrotters.

Women have arrived! Want more proof? My sister plays on a women’s team with her 24-year-old daughter.20140209_185251

So lace up those hightops, ladies.

Gear up for the Senior Games 2015!

Minneapolis here we come!

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In High School Basketball Friendship Wins, Cancer Loses

I spent the first half of my life fighting to be allowed on the court and the second half learning to graciously cheer for others when I could no longer play the game I loved.

ISG teamEven though I can’t drive the baseline anymore, I get a kick out of seeing the players I coach at the International School of Geneva make a perfect pass, hit a jumper, and run a fast break.

Teamwork is a beautiful thing. I love watching well-balanced WNBA teams like the Minnesota Lynx run the floor or the precise passing of the UWSP college women. None of that coast-to-coast garbage.

But high school basketball is best. Players put their heart and soul on the line every week in front of the family, friends and community that shaped them. They play, not for money, or prestige, but for the camaraderie and love of the game. Most of these young athletes won’t make the college roster; even fewer will sign a pro contract. But the lessons learned on the hardwood during their chaotic, fleeting adolescence last forever.

Not a day goes by where I don’t wish I could still play basketball; not a minute passes where I don’t forget how lucky I am to be here wishing just that, because I could very well be 6 feet under. I am grateful to be in the game even if only from the sidelines. I love giving halftime talks, drawing up last second plays, and encouraging kids to gut it out in tough circumstances.

If I ever forget the gift of “overtime” on my own game clock, a twinge in my back, an ache in my shoulder, or a pain in my skull – repercussions from my accident – remind me of the other option. Life took on new meaning after I came so close to losing mine.

Fortunately, rarely is a young athlete confronted with his/her mortality.

Some win. Some lose. Some survive. Some die. Cancer, a formidable foe, strikes down opponents indiscriminately, but the loss is particularly painful when the disease steals the life of a child.

Hopefully most teenagers won’t be confronted with cancer, but they have all faced hard times which were made easier with the support of that special parent, sibling, aunt, uncle, teacher, coach or friend. When an innovative basketball coach at Bishop McGuinness High School in Greensboro suggested that his players dedicate the game to someone who had influenced their lives, he never expected his idea to go global.

One of his players, Spencer Wilson dedicated his game ball to an inspirational friend on the cancer ward, Josh Rominger.

On January 24th in that North Carolinian gym filled to capacity, a boy made a 50-foot last second shot to win the game in memory of a friend and found the courage to carry on.

Sooner or later, we will be faced with those defining moments when our best laid plans and deepest hopes are derailed by injury, illness, accidents and unforeseen disaster. Do we give up or go on?

We get one chance. To give it our best shot. To dedicate our game.

Bad stuff happens. So do miracles.

Friendship is eternal.

Keep fighting.

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Swiss Champions U21 – June 2008
Christoph Varidel,Paul Costello, Nicolas Lechault, Michael Shumbusho, Alex Gromadski

Together.

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Congratulations, Debbie! Your name was selected in a random drawing of commenters to receive a copy of my memoir, Home Sweet Hardwood: A Title IX Trailblazer Breaks Barriers Through Basketball.

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Warmhearted Minnesotans Take the Chill Out of Wintery New Year

My New Year’s resolution: never let the weather get me down. Celebrate each season. Even winter. That said, I struggled to step out the door when staying at the Carlson’s in Golden Valley, Minnesota in early January. My first achievement in 2014, surviving the Deep Freeze.

While visiting my Big Kids, nieces, sister and brother-in-law in the Twin Cities, I experienced those record breaking frigid temperatures that made even European news channel headlines.IMG_4236_copy

My niece, Hannah, told me that it was so cold that if I threw a glass of water outside, it would turn to ice before it hit the ground. Exposed skin would be frost bitten within 5 minutes. Sure enough, when I walked out the door, the cold felt like dry ice peeling the skin off my cheeks. Yet, Karen and I made it around the block on foot during the coldest day of the last decades.

Weather advisory – stay indoors. Even residents accustomed to long, harsh winters headed to the grocery to stock up on staples, just in case. Shops closed early. Sporting events were postponed. My folks in Illinois said even church was cancelled.

Due to extreme cold, the Minnesota governor mandated statewide school closing prolonging the holiday. Karen, a teacher, screamed with joy, « youpie another pajama day. »

We made the most of our moments together. We spent a super special Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field via satellite, enjoying spicy chili, nachos and cheese from the comforts of the Carlson’s living room. My first time tailgating indoors in Siberia!IMG_4342_copy

Like I reminded my sister, who begrudges the long winters, « it’s a healthy cold. » Unlike Switzerland where the mountains lock us in a fog trap of pollution, when I stepped outside the door in Minneapolis-St. Paul, my lungs felt invigorated from the pure air. The dazzling sun, reflecting off snow under cobalt skies, created an extraordinary light.

IMG_4340_copyIt is no surprise that so many Scandinavians settled in Minnesota. Folks up North come from a hardy stock used to harsh elements. Youngsters sledded, teens played ice hockey, couples skated, and « cheerful » ol’ men ice fished. Dick took us for a spin in his jeep on frozen Medicine Lake where we admired elaborate ice shanties and peeked through the lit up windows of the lake front mansions.

While the atmospheric pressures created record-breaking cold temperatures in North America, warm currents blew across Europe. Back home people were out and about in shorts and shirtsleeves enjoying a balmy 50F. Arriving in Geneva airport, felt like landing in Florida.

We never begrudged a minute of our holiday on ice because warmhearted northlanders magically thaw winter souls by welcoming travelers into their homes and hearth with open arms and a joie de vivre. Gotta love Minn-A-so-Ta. You betcha.

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