Sunday, November 26, 2017

HOW OLYMPIC WOMEN ATHLETES ARE GIVING BACK

Female Athletes Honored at
38th Annual Salute to Women in Sports
On October 18, I walked into the swankiness that is Cipriani Wall Street with a list of Olympic women athletes to interview as they walked down the red carpet of the 38th Annual Salute to Women in Sports.  I ended up interviewing almost none of them, but what happened that night was even better than I expected.

Let me back up for a minute.  About a month prior to the event, a woman from an online female bike forum had tipped me off to The Women's Sports Foundation (WSF).  Their mission?  To create leaders by ensuring all girls access to sports.  When I found out that WSF would be dedicating  a whole night to honoring the top women athletes, I knew that I had to be there to cover the event for Creative Times.

When I learned that my request for a press pass to the event had been granted, I was excited beyond belief.  As someone who started watching the Olympics at the age of 6, and who champions female athletes throughout the year on my blog, on Facebook, and in live conversations with strangers and friends, I could not believe that I now had a chance to meet some of the most accomplished women athletes in person.  

After arriving at Cipriani, I was ushered to my spot where I would be interviewing the athletes who came down the carpet.  I came prepared with two questions:  "What advice do you have for girls or teens who want to get into sports but feel intimidated?" and "Who or what inspires you to keep going when the going gets tough?"

I first spoke with Charmaine Reid, a Canadian badminton player who is an Olympian, two-time World Champion, and three-time Pan American Games medalist.   As well, she is a  television commentator, ambassador, and motivational speaker.  Through her self-created program, S'Cool, Charmaine and sister Olympian Nicole Grethere conduct in-school badminton demonstrations and workshops to "inspire children to be active, to set goals, and to live their dreams and pursue a healthy lifestyle."  She estimates that she has reached 100,000 children through her work.

When I asked Charmaine about who inspires her, she spoke at length about WSF Founder Billie Jean King.  In her own work with children, it is Charmaine's intent to pass along Billie's message to get back up after you fail and continue to believe in yourself.

Next, I spoke with Suad Galow, a heroine who has coached the Somali Women's basketball team of young women, helped them to face threats of violence, and reclaim their spot on the international sports scene.  Her work is the subject of the upcoming documentary Rajada Dalka/Nation's Hope.

Suad's advice to girls or teens who want to get involved with sports: "Don't be intimidated.  Sports give you experience in teamwork and the opportunity to get to know other females.  Sports help you go get stronger, be creative, and help others." 


I then spoke with Laurie Hernandez, who was one of the Final Five on the gold medal-winning women's gymnastics team of the 2016 Olympics.  Her words of wisdom to young females wanting to get involved in athletics: "Block out what other people say and do what makes you happy."  When not training, Laurie leads gymnastics clinics for children. 

Next, I chatted with Alana Nichols, a Paralympic basketball player and Alpine skier, who had this to say to young females wanting to get involved in sports: "Take the first step. Go to the gym, take the class. The first steps will lead to the next steps." And Alana's thoughts about perservering when the going gets tough? "Make it about something bigger than yourself."  Alana does just that by giving motivational talks to young people and adults, including this TED talk, and by sharing images of her athleticism through her blog.

I felt incredibly inspired by each of the women I talked to - Charmaine, Suad, Laurie, and Alana, and also by some of the women I saw but did not get to interview, including Ibtihaj Muhammad, an American fencer who is the first Muslim American woman ito wear a hijab while competing for the United States in the Olympics.


Laurie Hernandez
What I admired by each of the women I talked to was not only her incredible accomplishments as an athlete, but how she had found a way to give back by inspiring, educating, and supporting children to stay active and go for their big dreams as well. 

Alana Nichols
Suad Galow
Charmaine Reid



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