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!

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.

College Graduate Finds Her Calling Working With the Elderly

The French love a celebration; yet, university students receive their degree through the mail. However in the U.S.A., graduation is a rights of passage, a moment in time to be marked by celebration. And it should be!

The graduate with proud parents & sis

The graduate with proud parents & sis

We danced in the streets when my oldest niece walked last Saturday. Family scattered across the Midwest applauded her efforts. She not only received her B.S. of Science degree from University of Wisconsin- Stout, but she graduated with Cum Laude Honors. (G.P.A. of at least 3.5)

School was more difficult for Marie. Like for me, math was a struggle, but she is gifted in people skills. She lights up a room with her smile, can converse with a recluse and bring laughter to the lips of dour faced octogenarian. Marie has a knack of making older people feel appreciated. Not everyone is capable of working with senior citizens, as Marie instinctively knows, “The elderly love people that are fun, entertaining, creative; someone that can make them feel young and capable of doing things.”

“It all started when I was a child, going to work with my mom, who was a recreational therapist in care centers. I also always loved hanging out with my 3 grandparents. Two years ago, my roommate helped me get a job where she worked at Solomon Hill Residential Care and I fell in love with the 4 elderly residents. I knew this right away; this was my calling.”

Marie, a high-spirited, spunky gal, has her dad’s Carlson smile and charisma, and her mom’s McKinzie resiliency and sensitivity. That same perseverance that led her to throw tantrums as a toddler and run cross country as a teen, also made her determined to complete extra requirements in college and never give up when faced with obstacles.

“Every year had its own challenges. Freshman year was transitioning away from living at home. Sophomore year, Pops had a heart attack and surgery; it was impossible to concentrate on school. Junior year, I learned how to handle the death of two favorite residents, then attended summer school, working 2 jobs and living in a beat-up old house with terrible landlords. Senior year was the best year ever! Now the hardest part is leaving my roommates and best friends and the place I’ve called home the past 4 years. “

All along, Marie matured with every setback and gained a better understanding of herself.

“In college, I learned I am a good student. In high school, the classes were boring, teachers didn’t care so much and I didn’t like my subjects. At Stout, the professors CARED about me.  And I LOVED going to class, having a say in discussions, and learning what I’m passionate about. The biggest thing I learned is that it takes a special person to care for elderly.”

Last Saturday, Marie beamed as she announced, “graduation is best day of my life!” After the ceremony, the celebration ended in typical Wisconsin fashion at Pickles, a local college bar, where family and friends of the housemates toasted over Wisconsin’s finest brew.

partying in The Pickles

partying in The Pickles

Then 48 hours later, without missing a beat, the new grad faced the real world as she held her mom’s hand in the hospital while waiting for doctors to remove a grapefruit-sized tumor from her dad’s thyroid.

Next step, Marie will be saving up to go to graduate school for a master’s in Occupational Therapy. Like so many college coeds, she faces the uncertainty of a diminishing job market during economic hard times. But there will always be work for my niece. With society growing older, we need more Maries to lighten up our dark days of aging.

Happy Mother’s Day- A Tribute to My Greatest Teacher

In Paris, nearly three decades ago, I was filled with trepidation, anticipating the birth of my child. How could I possibly measure up to the task?  Within the previous year, I lost my career due to a car accident and my baby in a miscarriage. With my confidence shaken, I struggled to rebuild my life one step at time. And to top it off, I would be raising my child abroad in “French” no less.

Would I be patient enough to let my independent two-year-old do everything herself when she embarrassed me by parading around the block with the hood of her spring jacket over her  rump, and shouting, “Me do. Dress myself, Mommy.”

Will I be clever enough to turn a child’s disappointment at her dad’s not coming to dinner into delight by serving supper on a card table in the living room and pretending it is a restaurant?

Will I be creative enough to invent cool games for hot summer afternoons, like painting sidewalks with water, building tents over picnic tables, making lemonade ice cubes?

Will I be perceptive enough to know when my child screams at siblings that something went wrong at school?

Will I be kind enough to make Kool-Aid for the entire neighborhood, to pitch whiffle balls to the kids next door, to volunteer as a bank mom at the grade school?

Will I be tolerant enough to accept the trail of muddy feet from the backdoor to the refrigerator and to answer the phone ringing at all hours?

Will I find time to watch track meets, tennis matches, basketball games, band concerts, and drama performances, to share my child’s interest?

Will I be flexible enough to reheat meals, alter vacation plans, celebrate birthdays early or late, put career plans on hold?

Will I listen closely enough to understand tears as my adolescent struggles to find herself?

Will I be accommodating enough to run out to the store when my child brings unexpected guests home from college?

Will I trust my teenager when she comes home late and my young adult when he picks a mate?

Lenore & Pat

Lenore & Pat

Will I have the faith to sleep when my grown child travels across the continents daring to experience adventures my generation never dreamed of trying?

Will I be wise enough to know that the soundest advice I can offer is by my example?

Will I be smart enough to teach by patience and understanding, not commanding and demanding?

Will I be strong enough to love as unconditionally as my mother loved me?

Will I be as deserving of the honor given on Mother’s Day as she?

Autism: A Cause To Stand Up For

What affects more Americans than diabetes, AIDS, cancer, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy or Down syndrome combined?

Autism.

Over 2 million Americans fall under the umbrella of brain developmental disorders referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorders. ASD creates social and behavioral challenges, which often include repetitive mannerisms. Researchers are yet to identify the cause, but attribute it to a combination of genetic make up and environmental factors.

Every spring, since 1970, the U.S. celebrates National Autism Awareness Month, so before April slips away I wanted to get on board. http://www.autism-society.org/

Although the exact cause of ASD remains a mystery, what specialists do know is that the numbers are increasing at an alarming rate. The CDC estimates as many as 1 in 88 children or 1 out of every 54 boys and one out of every 252 girls is born with ASD.

Statistics indicate that more than ten million individuals are afflicted worldwide. Five years ago the United Nations declared every April 2nd as World Autism Day. Across the continents, people are encouraging others to stand up for autism to increase awareness and funding for research. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=csYs_aSXFcQ

Unfortunately in many parts of the globe, autistic children are institutionalized due to ignorance and lack of early intervention measures and public health programs. The more obvious signs of autism usually emerge between the age of 2 and 3 and behavioral therapies can be most effective the earlier the disorder is diagnosed. http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/index.html

A career change in my teaching role led to work in my school’s learning support department, which coincided with a time when I became more limited by illness and a medical treatment that required minimal light exposure and maximal eye protection. While walking in the shadows, wearing black glasses and gloves, I bump into obstacles. I am forced to see the environment through different parameters too. Working with special kids is a great fit; I am a quirky adult.

Everyone who has ever worked with ASD individuals knows that every step forward in understanding their universe is a move in the right direction for they may not have the capacity to understand ours. To comprehend the world of autism demands infinite patience and persistence, but the rewards are immeasurable.

Please take time to witness the triumph of an Asperger’s boy and basketball. Stand up and raise the roof for autism!

J Mac Greatest Basketball Story Ever