Olympia Scott Visits Latvia to Raise Awareness of Parenting and Breast Health

Olympia Scott poses for a photo with clinic participants
Credit: Olympia Scott

I recently had the pleasure of traveling to Riga, Latvia as the guest of the United States Embassy. I went on behalf of the WNBA in order to participate in a Breast Health Awareness event. This is an important league-wide initiative of the WNBA and we wanted to impart itís importance by showing our support.

The first day was a full day. I started my morning waking up at 4:30 am and the sun was beaming. The sun hadn't set until 10:30 pm the night before, so I was under the impression the sun didn't set at all because I fell asleep before it did. Imagine my confusion with the time of day. I was already jet-lagged from a ten-hour time difference on top of a hectic travel schedule. I was rerouted due to a four-hour delay in my first flight to Washington Dulles. Instead I flew from LAX to San Francisco to Frankfurt to Riga. Luckily I was able to snag an exit seat on each flight.

Back to my long day. I was escorted by Marta Sarma, a Latvian woman who works in the Public Affairs office of the Embassy and helped to coordinate my trip. Also along for the ride was Andris Purvlicis, program assistant in the Public Affairs Dept. as well as our photographer for the day. I started the morning with a training session and discussion with girls from Riga High school No. 47. The girls are trained by famous Latvian basketball coach Ms. Mudite Zandere. They were 15 to 16 years old and because we were delayed with traffic they were already at work when we walked in. I have to admit they looked pretty good. Immediately I met Ms. Dace Mence, a woman who had an important role in planning and scheduling the weekend's events. She runs a company called Pro[d]aktiv, a marketing consulting company specializing in sponsorship and CSR. Her company has established a great partnership with many leading organizations, working in the field of charity, culture, education, and sport.

I was then introduced to the coach and when I asked what she would like for me to work on with her team she had an interesting approach. She said she wanted to ask the girls what they needed to work on. That's probably part of what makes her a great coach. Her players are a part of their own coaching process and are aware of what they need to work on as a team. They decided that they needed to work on transition, so I put them through a few classic transition drills. I stopped them midway a few times to point out some keys to accomplishing the goals of each drill and related to them how this applies in a game situation as well. They seemed really receptive and each time there was a marked improvement in their production. We didn't have much time because of our late arrival and the coach wanted me to spend some time talking with the girls. I think she saw this was a great opportunity for her players to maybe hear some of the same advice or pointers that she has been doling out. I completely get that. That's one of the things I say when I go out and speak to students and players worldwide. A lot of what I have to say they've probably heard before from their parents, teachers, coaches, etc. I'm reiterating it because maybe they are tuning into me today because I'm a WNBA player or I'm tall or whatever has blessed me with the opportunity to grasp their attention in this moment. But what I'm saying, and the adults in their lives are saying, is of the utmost importance. If they heed this advice they will be happier and more successful and more able to navigate life because of it.

So what did I say to them? I expressed the importance of attitude, effort and how our personal energy is contagious. I relayed the story of how I won the two championships I had the privilege of winning. I explained how it was later in my career and my role on the court was not what I would have chosen for myself, but I embraced what I could provide the team. I couldn't provide many stats, since I wasn't playing many minutes, but I could provide a positive attitude, support, and good energy that acted as a contagion amongst the players on the bench and on the floor. I told them the story about a game the Phoenix Mercury played in the 2007 Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Silver Stars. It was the final game of the series and after the game, in which I played zero minutes, Cappie Pondexter turned to me and exclaimed, "Olympia, you were great today!" She was referring to how much effort and input I gave from the bench. That I was as equally involved as they were. I literally tried to give my strength and energy to the players who were exhausted from playing so many minutes that day. It's a true story that I don't know if Cappie remembers it but I do because it made me feel appreciated for trying to still lead from behind. I hadn't had to do that before. I was accustomed to leading by example and leading the charge. I had learned to do what I was called on to do, although it wasn't what I had envisioned for myself.

We talked about a lot of things that morning because they had plenty of questions, and I believe I connected with them and my message was well-received. We took pictures and they gave me a t-shirt for the breast health walk the next day and a coffee mug with their team name on it. I signed official FIBA basketballs for each of them to keep.

After that I went to the U.S. Embassy to change for lunch with Amy Storrow, the public affairs officer responsible for organizing my trip to Latvia. She is very nice and she seemed excited that I was able to come on such short notice. I was happy to be there myself because breast health awareness is such an important cause. I lost my step-mother to it a few years ago and I even had a small scare with a lump that I had to have medically investigated years back. Luckily it was nothing. I told the story of our vey own Edna Campbell who was able to recover from it, so she is a success story that people may draw hope and inspiration from because she is a survivor who was able to make a full recovery and return to the game. Afterwards I was able to meet the Ambassador Judith Garber. I thought it was fitting that she is a woman representing only 25 percent of women in administration in the U.S. State Department and I was there on behalf of the WNBA for an event promoting breast health for women. Having the opportunity to speak with both the Ambassador and Ms. Storrow, I realized the importance of the next day's events even further.

This would actually be the first breast health event of its kind in the country. It is especially timely because the global economic crisis has hit Latvia pretty hard in causing a 25 percent decrease in their economy. As a result healthcare suffers as parents, especially mothers, work to keep food on the table for their children. Raising awareness and funds to assist women in getting the necessary treatment and preventative care is of the utmost importance as a result.

I was enjoying the time with Ambassador Garber and Ms. Storrow, and thought it unfortunate that the strict security of the Embassy caused me to have to check my camera at the door. I had never been behind the scenes at an Embassy before although I have had several visits to federal buildings, Embassies or Consulates for passport renewals or replacements. It's much different in the offices of those running the place. I didnít have much time for photos because I had to run and change into sports gear to do a clinic for orphans that were visiting the Embassy.

We were breaking in the brand new basketball court on the grounds that were recently opened two weeks before. In fact, some of the offices in the building still had unpacked boxes stacked against the walls because they moved in only two weeks prior. As we made our way around to the outdoor court, I met a few of the Marines that are stationed at the Embassy. They helped inflate 40-50 basketballs that had only arrived the day before and actually partipated in all of the camp drills. The orphans started to make their way over from the security checkpoint and I noticed two taller girls probably in their young teens. One of them was dressed a iittle inappropriately for the event, wearing a halter top, extremely short denim mini-skirt and some wedge sandals. I would almost venture to say that I thought her outfit was inappropriate, period. As a mother of a 12-year-old daughter, I tend to think protectively. I immediately thought that maybe she just came along but wasn't going to participate. For a moment I thought that she was the type that wouldn't want to break a sweat in the 85-degree Latvian sun to work on some hoops skills with me that day. That's when I realized my faux pas. It's a common one these days, I think. In society, it seems we have grown to be more negative, pessimistic, and critical of others. Constantly looking to point out others' mistakes. I consider myself optimistic, and I know I've grown to do it more too, but sometimes we're wrong. Things aren't always as they seem, as was the case with this young woman and some of the other children as well.

You see, she's an orphan, a ward of the state who can't afford a sports wardrobe to accompany her casual clothes. And maybe her skirt was so short because her legs were so long. She was a tall young woman who I discovered to be one of the most active in the camp, even taking her shoes off and playing barefoot at one point. She had great energy and kept a smile on her face the whole time. I think her and her friend were just really happy to have a tall woman, like they were going to be, to look up to. It was also a ray of sunshine for them to have an opportunity to work with a WNBA player at the US Embassy. They both played basketball at their school.

All of the kids wore themselves out. I was glad we had the official FIBA basketballs to give each of them to take home. They were really excited when they realized that I would sign each and every one of them too. Afterwards when I spoke with the campers, I just wanted to impart a message of hope to them. I wanted them to know that it's not where you start, it's where you finish. They can't control their home lives as children but they can put their heart into whatever they do, give a great effort, and prepare for their future opportunities. I think just participating in an event like that one was inspiring because it was a welcome surprise that I could tell was a lot of fun. They all were asking about when they could come back to do it again. As they left to walk back to their orphanages, they all dribbled down the streets of Latvia.

Later that evening when I relayed the story of the young woman and how I had misjudged her, I was brought to tears thinking about how she didn't even have the right clothes to wear. But she still had such a big heart and always wore a smile. If that isn't an example of how we should be thankful for all of the blessings we have and how we may keep a positive attitude and an open mind, then I don't know what is.

I went back to the hotel to take a much needed shower because playing dribble tag in 85-degree sunshine with kids with an unlimited energy supply is a sure fire way of igniting the sweat glands - if you know what I mean. I had only an hour or so to relax and prepare for a Super Parenting Seminar I was providing for the Latvian Parenting Association. Ms. Storrow saw one of my websites, http://superparenting.com, that I had co-founded Super Parenting LLC, a premier parenting education company with my mother and asked if I'd mind giving the seminar while I was here. Considering our goal of disseminating parenting education worldwide and inspiring parents to be SUPER Parents, I was overjoyed that I was being given this opportunity. Of course, it was a unique one because of a partial language barrier with none of the parents being native English speakers, but I was still thrilled nonetheless.

The seminar went surprisingly well. Most of the parents could understand me in English, although there was a translator there. I taught them our Super Parenting philosophy and they all took the Super Parenting Oath. I also spoke about the nine temperaments and relayed to them the relevance of them in Super Parenting their children. I led them through an exercise with them on it. Afterwards I gave them each an autographed copy of our recently published book, SUPER Parenting: Raising the Next Generation. They also received our bookmarks with the Super Parenting Oath on them to remind them of their commitment to Super Parent their children. I was a little unsure of how receptive they were to me because I was told that Latvian people are naturally a bit more introverted than Americans, so I couldnt read them as well as I can an American audience. However, I was invited to one woman's church to speak to the parents as well as the children and I was also given the contact information of one of the fathers there.

When I emailed him to thank him for his participation and to invite him to join our Super Parenting Social Network, he wrote back thanking me for the informative seminar and also to tell me that they were the beginning of the Latvian Super Parents. That really moved me. The next day, I was told that the parents really loved it and learned a lot and it inspired them to start a new monthly meeting where they will bring in a different parenting expert each time to discuss various parenting topics. This was so exciting because I had successfully fulfilled our mission by motivating parents to seek further parenting education and to create Super Parents. They recorded the seminar and have it posted on the Latvian basketball website for the parents who were unable to attend due to the school graduations that coincided with event.

The next day, was even busier than this one. I started the morning going on a walking tour of Old Town Riga with the Public Affairs Officer, Amy Storrow. It was beautiful. The city is very clean, probably because only two million people live in the country with half of them being in the capital city of Riga. I took a lot of pictures of the architecture because my family and friends, like myself, had never been there and we were all interested in what it would look like. I'll post a gallery of the pictures on my website at http://olympiahoops.com. We stopped for a light lunch at an Indian restaurant that thankfully had a cool breeze as we sat and watched people walk by. We caught a cab back to the hotel so we could get in an hour of rest before the big event, the breast health walk.

There was an anxious mood prior to arriving at the rally because we were hoping for a good turn out, but we were unsure of what to expect because this was the inaugural event. As Ms. Storrow and I approached the venue on foot, we immediately grew excited because there was a sea of pink. Hundreds of people turned out to support the cause. Already it was a success. Becase the Latvian Basketball Association was involved there were several basketball teams there, including the Latvian Women's National Team. The Ambassador and I both spoke to the crowd prior to the walk. I have a recording of it posted on my website. Although I must warn you, she spoke first and in Latvian. I spoke of the importance of the event and that I came all the way from Los Angeles to participate, reinforcing that message. Hope, education, and support are the purpose of the rally, walk and concert that culminated in an day that was officially named "Check-up to Live." I believe that was the mood of the people there. Many young women were there and so I was glad that they were learning the importance of breast health exams at a young age. We walked in our pink t-shirts and held our pink balloons until they were released at the finish line. There was a concert that I even grooved to, without understanding a single lyric in the songs. But of course, music is a universal language.

After the walk the Latvian National team played a charity game against the Slovakian National team. It was also in preparation for the European Championships that are starting soon. I threw the opening jump ball. I have to admit I was nervous because as a center I've done plenty of jump balls and I didn't want to throw it all to the left or something. The Latvian team lost a close game and were probably worn out from the walk in the sun. It was a great game though. The evening culminated in a dinner at a beautiful golf course overlooking a lake with a sunset that never came because, as I stated earlier, sunset is nearly 10:30 pm in the summertime. Again I spoke at the dinner, thanking them for having me and looking forward to returning next year where we may hopefully double the participation and the funds raised.

I was only there four days, two of which were technically travel days. In that short time however, we were able to touch the lives of young women athletes who may have needed that extra little push, reminding them of the importance of intangibles in achieving their goals. We were able to give hope to orphans by providing the beginning of what Ms. Storrow has assured me will be an ongoing relationship through the state department as well as the US Marines. We were able to motivate parents to be Super Parents and to educate themselves further in their mission to do so. We were also able to inspire a city to gather around a cause to improve the health of women with breast cancer, as well as raise the awareness in women to receive preventative treatment as well. So in two days, working with the US Embassy, we were able to plant seeds of hope, inspiration and education in children, women and parents that I look forward to seeing grow.