A few months ago, I popped into my hometown. When I drive through, I revisit all my happy places and think about what they meant to me.
Driving past my old high school and the town library, I was reminded how one book helped me change my life. It brought me knowledge, which gave me confidence, which helped me be the best at something. Because of this book, I made many friends and memories, and grew up. One book helped me change.
Picture it, Sicily 1972, a young girl wandering far from home…just kidding. But it was 1972 and the start of Title IX. I may have wandered a bit. It was the first year of alleged equality in sports. It was the first year of a girl’s high school track team in my hometown. You know the song, big girls can’t run, so they throw. I had a natural affinity for throwing the discus. Try to find a sexier sport.
There was an abundance of resentment and toxic masculinity among the male species in the field events. We were given the bare minimum that the law legislated. I went to the library and found a book on how to throw the discus. I found one oversized paperback book that became my bible. I don’t recall the title but it was unlikely as catchy as “Discus for Dummies.” I practiced seven days a week. By my senior year I sported a snazzy metal back brace. I still competed. No one told me not to. I taught myself how to spin when I threw the discus and improved every week. It was unusual for girls to master the spin. I kept looking at the black and white photos trying to capture the technique I needed. I practiced. I watched. I was determined. It was the foreshadowing of my future, being an individual contributor within a team. This book held the key to my accomplishing something. I became the best in my school, in my league and one of the top 20 in the state every year. It was measurable in yards, feet, and inches. It was indisputable. How often are you the best at something? As of a couple of years ago, I still held the record for my high school set in 1975. It’s a disgrace that female runners have set new records, but not in field events. The coaching is crucial.
This success gave me the opportunity to be recognized by a coach from another town and other high school track elites in my league. He believed in me enough to want to coach me on his free time. He wrote me a letter and called our Athletic Director. Unfortunately, I turned down his offer. One of my many mistakes in life. My friends and I became friends with these other athletes. It was great to fit in with people I admired. There were flirty friendships. There were some shenanigans. We went to their team dinners and parties. We went cruising in cars. I brought them to Boston and Cambridge for the culture. They brought me to bars. They got me fired from a great babysitting job. Note to self: boys, beer and babysitting do not go together.
Over the four years, I began to realize the impact of Title IX. I learned a lot about having to work at getting what I wanted. It wasn’t all victories and tooting rainbows. Life slapped me in the face more than once. I learned to endure. I was a constant in the Athletic Director’s office. We needed time in the weight room. We needed real uniforms. We needed better coaches. I was naive enough not to be intimidated. I was just a girl who had goals. I learned I had to rely on myself and my friends. We accomplished so much, and many life lessons were learned.
I had no idea how all these experiences would shape me, or how they would shape the future of women’s athletics. I just did what I had to. It was an exciting time of opportunities. It all started with a book.