Inspirational Speaker Humbled by Dynamic Participants at the Senior National Games

Pat with Shellie Pfohl Executive Director President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, Angela Gorsica Alford, film maker Granny's Got Game

Pat with Shellie Pfohl, Executive Director President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, Angela Gorsica Alford, film maker Granny’s Got Game

 

 

In July, I was invited to speak at the Senior National Games about my memoir Home Sweet Hardwood, the story of a woman’s struggle to fit in society and play basketball in college, professionally and overseas at a time in America’s history when women’s sports was  taboo. My intent was to motivate the participants, but I was the one that left feeling inspired.

As a guest of the National Senior Women’s Basketball Association, I met the lively participants in the women’s over 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s competing in the 3 on 3 basketball competition in Cleveland, Ohio, home of Rock n’ Roll. But I was taken aback when I found out I would be speaking at their socials held at the Hard Rock Cafe. Hard Rock Cafe, a venue for geriatrics? Pitch out whatever preconceived notion you once held of senior citizens.These ladies could play and party with the best of ‘em.

They weren’t just feting basketball, and competition, they were embracing life. They cheered, chanted and celebrated just being together.

Unlike addressing the quietly attentive business-suited businessmen and civic leaders at the Rotary as I did earlier in July, this event required hollering over the din of  a crowd like during the « 3rd half » of a rugby match where opposing teams put rivalry aside, shared a meal and tossed back a beer together.

I tweaked my speech to hold their interest, opening with a few phrases in French. They glanced up from their meals.

« We grew up listening to a language as foreign as French, » I said and they set down forks. « In our hearts, we heard run, jump, play, compete.»

« When society was telling us, cook, clean, cheer, sit, sew, smile, bake, be mommy’s lil’ helper, daddy’s lil’ princess, when what we really wanted to be was fighting warriors on competing America’s playing fields. »

The rowdy crowd stopped socializing.

« WE grew up hearing a language so foreign, no one understood it yet. But they do now! Women can be doctors, lawyers, CEO’s even Secretary of State. »

Cheers erupted. I strode from table to table shouting into the microphone like a union leader as the audience clapped and roared. When I saluted them for staying in the game, they humbled me by rising in a standing ovation.

As a first generation Title IX athlete, I came of age in the infancy of women’s rights to participate in sport and benefited from the controversial bill mandating equal opportunities for women in all public institutes. Many women at the Senior Games grew up pre Title IX and never had the opportunity to compete, or played the old-fashioned 6-a side game where you broke your toes stopping at center court, limited to playing only one half side on defense or offense.

A lady on the Chicago Hot Shots, a 65+ team, told me, “I started playing at age 66.”

Another spunky guard, Carol Strickler, on the Memphis team drawled, “I survived cancer twice and just had hip replacement. Basketball keeps me mobile.”

They endured personal setbacks, career changes, job losses, and family crisises. They recovered from cancers, heart surgeries and joint replacements. Many, like me, stared down death, and refused to quit, “No! I ain’t done living yet.” They found not only a way to remain active, but to be competitive.

100_2021Basketball has become a way of life defining their days. They may have admired me for blazing a trail, but my awe of them was greater. My career ended at the age of 26 in a car accident that should have taken my life. Here were gyms full of women, past the half-century mark, who refused to give up. They were setting picks, blocking shots, knocking down jumpers, taking the charge and still walking off the court upright.

Against all odds, they found a way to stay in the game.

“Never again will we question our right to belong on the Home Sweet Hardwood,” I said.

East Cost players still got game

East Coast players still got game

« I came here to share my uplifting story and encourage you to read my book, » I told them,  « but I am the one leaving the Cleveland Senior Games 2013 feeling inspired. I raise my glass. »

« You rock, ladies. Fitness for Life. Basketball Forever. »

We’ve come a long way, baby !

Amen, sister, amen !

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Posted in education, health, inspiration, relationships, social view, sport.

41 Comments

  1. Pat, you never fail to inspire me ( and all of us) to “stay in the game.” Your speech and your story give me chills and make me want to jump up and join in the celebration of how far we’ve come. My glass is raised to you, dear friend for showing us the way. Cheers!

  2. Pat, das hast du super geschrieben!
    I forwarded your Blog to two Former german teammates who recently returned from the World Championship with the Silver Medal +55!
    Cheers to all girls, women, Ladies who Play and Love the Game!
    Bette

    • Vielen Dank meine liebe Bette!
      Super bravo to your former German teammates. Too cool. Some of the ladies in Cleveland told me they were going to start preparing for the next world championship. Don’t you wish we could still be out there playing! Those were the days. Miss you.

  3. You never fail to remind me how great it is to be a woman who has battled with the gender basics most of her life but who knows that the bruises I have taken are worth it and make me who I am and who I strive to be…. Thank you Pat – you are my rock… and you rock! xxxxxxxx

  4. You simply amaze me Pat! I don’t know how you find the time, but it was so cool to read about you at the Hard “Rock” Cafe in Cleveland, Ohio as a guest for the National Senior Women’s Basketball Association! You deserve the recognition, as well some others who dared to lay the groundwork for women’sports to follow! All glory came from daring to begin, and Pat McKinzie of Sterling, Illinois, was the woman to lead the way!! Totally Awesome! We’re so proud of you! My daughter finally received her autographed book l sent to her and she was pleasantly surprised! She exclaimed, “Wow! You knew Pat Mckinzie? So cool! I can’t wait to read it”! I told her once she starts reading it, she won’t be able to put it down! I read it again for the inspiration of what one goes through to reach their dream! I encourage everyone to read this truthful story of girl who never gave up!

    • Thanks, Rocky. It is great knowing that I have your support and I appreciate all you are doing to promote the book. I will be anxious to hear what your daughter has to say about it.You could be writing your own inspiring story of courage and resiliency.

  5. You simply amaze me Pat! I don’t know how you find the time, but it was so cool to read about you at the Hard “Rock” Cafe in Cleveland, Ohio as a guest for the National Senior Women’s Basketball Association! You deserve the recognition, as well some others who dared to lay the groundwork for women’sports to follow! All glory came from daring to begin, and Pat McKinzie of Sterling, Illinois, was the woman to lead the way!! Totally Awesome! We’re so proud of you! My daughter finally received her autographed book l sent to her and she was pleasantly surprised! She exclaimed, “Wow! You knew Pat Mckinzie? So cool! I can’t wait to read it”! I told her once she starts reading it, she won’t be able to put it down! I read it again for the inspiration of what one goes through to reach their dream! I encourage everyone to read this truthful story of girl who never gave up!

  6. Pat, so glad some of my teammates were there to witness your speech. Sounds fabulous. You truly have the ability on and off the court to inspire. Who was it once said you could raise a team from the grave and encourage them to a tournament ‘W’? I’ve seen you do it with the girls’ teams, the boys’ teams and now with us seniors. Wish I could have been there to witness it. I’m sure once we get back into tournament season and I meet up with the ladies (now gold and silver medalists) from Maine and CT, I’ll be hearing about your inspirational talk. You do indeed, rock my friend.

    • Aw Tinie, how I wish you and your 2011 gold medal teammates could have been there to tear up the court again. Hope you are able to enjoying many more decades of hoop dreams.

  7. Pat, so glad some of my teammates were there to witness your speech. Sounds fabulous. You truly have the ability on and off the court to inspire. Who was it once said you could raise a team from the grave and encourage them to a tournament ‘W’? I’ve seen you do it with the girls’ teams, the boys’ teams and now with us seniors. Wish I could have been there to witness it. I’m sure once we get back into tournament season and I meet up with the ladies (now gold and silver medalists) from Maine and CT, I’ll be hearing about your inspirational talk. You do indeed, rock my friend.

    • Aw Tinie, how I wish you and your 2011 gold medal teammates could have been there to tear up the court again. Hope you are able to enjoying many more decades of hoop dreams.

  8. How inspiring that you’re getting to live out your purpose! This is another accomplishment on your impressive life resume! Motivational speaker- In the words of Gwendolyn Brooks and my adopted mantra:) Keep- a- Going!

    Blessing,
    Clara.

  9. Pat, this is awesome! To think of those ladies staying in the game (and getting in it at advanced ages) is so inspiring. Thank you for a “Feel Good” sort of post. I’m glad you shared this slice of your life with us. Everybody knows people can play golf when they’re older; now, we know we can play basketball, too!!

    • Yes, Debbie, it was a Feel Good sort of games. Fierce competition, but friendly ambiance, and a feeling of pride just being there…an inspiring experience for participants and spectators.

    • Oh, I wish I would’ve known too. My geography is so bad…if it wasn’t for my brother, who lives in Cleveland, driving me around, I would have never made it to the venue, even though the National Senior Games has been the talk of the town. I am now up in the North woods of Wisconsin.

  10. What an awesome experience, Pat! How inspirational that these women have the energy and drive to compete. I don’t doubt for a minute that you were just as inspirational to them.

    • I hope so, Helene, but honestly these women could run circles around me just like the GenFab ladies when it comes to pictures and words.

    • Thanks, Sandra, and a hearty congratulations to you for receiving the Inspirational Voice of Year Award at BlogHer’13. The award winning piece about your mom, my-mother-escaped-from-russia-with-rags-on-her-feet, reminded me of the survival story of my Norwegian grandma.

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