Infinite Opportunities (Day 32, Year 3)

Friends, guess what today is?! It is National Girls and Women in Sports Day! 

I normally do not celebrate these thematic days. I know that sounds strange because I love a good theme! But, I find these days overwhelming. Like today is National Serpent Day (no thank you), National Baked Alaska Day (Yes, please) and National Get Up Day (this one uses a photo of an elderly person attempting to get up from downward dog to depict the day. It's simply too much.)

But this day, I think is important.

Both my daughters are athletes. When you ask either one of them about their sports--they will talk your ear off. Lily loves rowing. She dreams of racing down the river. Chloe loves field hockey and lacrosse. She dreams of the rules and plays--strategizing how to get it all just right. 

When ask them about women in sports---immediately they've got stories to tell. For Chloe, the stories are of unequal field time and unequal celebration. There wasn't a parade for her team when they won the championship this Fall. Often the fields she plays on are a mess. We have a son, so I can say that his fields are usually not so much of a mess. Chloe knows she won't be a professional field hockey player--that path isn't even on her radar. 

Her little brother entertains some thoughts about playing sports professionally; after all men get paid more professionally and enough to make this a legit path for the lucky few. Plus, he's ten--the world is still magical. 

It's just different for boys, isn't it?

Chloe doesn't like that. She talks of change in attitude and understanding. Sports, she says, are important. Equality is important. Level playing fields are important. 

Why are they important?

Well, her older sister Lily is a perfect example of the power sports can play in someone's life. 

Lily started sports before she could walk independently. She was 2 years old when we put her on a horse. She couldn't hold her head up because of the surgery to remove a brain tumor damaged her cerebellum. She was 3 years old when the Temple University Women's Lacrosse team adopted her through the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation. She got to see her "sisters" work hard and win and lose and get back up to try again. 

Lily was five when she stepped on a soccer field wearing braces in her shoes to help her alignment and activation in her feet. She was six when she picked up a field hockey stick--thankful those giant shin guard hid the high braces she wore to help her lift up her toes. 

By the time Lily was 10 years old, she learned that she did not love soccer or lacrosse or field hockey. They weren't the sports for her. But she also learned that she loved sports. She loved that sports were hard--but rewarding. She loved being part of a team. She loved being able to support teammates when they did well and support them when they were hurting. 

Lily also discovered that her little body--the one that gave her trouble and wouldn't walk when it was supposed to--had amazing potential. 

Lily was 12 years old when she first rowed down the Cooper River.  I remember when she came home and said, "Mommy, I found it! I found my sport!"

And she did. 

Now, Lily is 16 years old. She's had amazing wins in rowing and she's had really hard, hard lows. She's had months spent sitting on a dock when she wanted to be rowing in a boat. She's had to recover from emergency shunt surgery and try to find a way to explain that she's not sidelined forever. She's been hopeless and at the same time, confident that someday, someone would take a chance on her again. 

Today, because of rowing, Lily finds herself on the cusp tremendous opportunity. She loves her sport.  She loves her team. She loves her body. She's learned firsthand what it feels like to be sidelined--to be excluded because coaches couldn't see past her impairment. And now, she has learned firsthand that there are coaches who can see her for the athlete she is and have taught her to embrace herself--the perfect and imperfect. 

Sports have taught my daughter that inclusion does not mean letting someone row in a race as an experience. Inclusion means giving someone the opportunity to do the hard work, to be part of the team and to earn their own experiences; to earn their place in the boat. 

Sports have shown her that nothing needs to stop her drive and determination. These aren't lessons she could have gotten anywhere but on a sports team. 

Opportunities that are given--create infinite opportunities for the receiver. 

This is why sports are important and this is why equality in sports is critical for our girls.