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National Girls and Women in Sports Day Essay Contest
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The Seattle Storm's National Girls and Women in Sports Day Essay Contest kicked off last Wednesday, the annual National Girls and Women in Sports Day, and will run through Feb. 28. Storm Assistant Coach Shelley Patterson and Ginny Gilder of Force 10 Hoops L.L.C. will serve as judges for the essay contest. Here, they share their thoughts on the essay's topic question: "How have girls' and women's athletics impacted my life?"

Shelley Patterson

Basketball has taken Patterson to a two-decade career on the sidelines in both the college ranks and the WNBA. Paterson played collegiately at Washington State University, where she ranks amongst the school's all-time leaders in assistants and steals. She spent a decade as an assistant at five different universities before coming to the WNBA in 1999. Patterson is entering her third season as an assistant with the Storm, having originally joined the team in 2007

Growing up with four boys almost insured my life as a future sports fanatic. I was the epitome of a typical tomboy. Everything the guys had, I wanted. Everything they wanted to do, I did. I even cut my familiar ponytails and opted for the more popular “J5” (Jackson 5) fro just so I could look like them. In fact, when I was at the tender age of 11, you really couldn’t tell us apart.

We would play for hours in the streets of San Jose, Calif. Basketball, baseball, football - you name it and we played it. We would often play well into the night, fighting the glare of the street lights just to see the ball.

It was one of these late afternoons when a local PAL (Police Athletic League) coach stopped by just in time to watch me complete a game-winning pass to my favorite receiver. Bradshaw to Swan (I’d imagined), or in this case, Shelley P to my cousin Tim. It was a beautiful spiral and it seemed to hang in the air forever. It landed right in the hands of my target for the touchdown and the win.

Coach Jackson watched the entire play and immediately approached us and introduced himself. He told us all about a football league and wanted to know if we would be interested in joining. He had a particular interest in me, the little sandy blonde quarterback who just completed that spectacular pass. We were all so excited and couldn’t wait to share the news with our parents. But it would be on this day that I would discover that for the first time I would not be able to play with my cousins. In the '70s, it was prohibited for girls to play football with the boys. There were no leagues for girls, so I could only sit and watch every day as the guys left for practice with pads in hand.

I could look back on that day and think of a hundred ways how that experience impacted my life. Just as sports have always been a part of me, it was probably that way for many who came before me. I have watched sports evolve and create many positive avenues for girls and women to follow. It allowed me to find my way in an ever-changing world. It has given me confidence to be the person I am today and it has taught me the importance of perseverance. Yes, athletics have had that much of an impact on my life. I am proud of the fact that I am a pioneer and that I helped pave the way for the next generation, as they will do for those who come after them. Just the other day, I went to a park to enjoy the Arizona sunshine. There were screaming Little League baseball players everywhere. I witnessed a little girl with a ponytail dangling from her baseball cap step up to the plate and knock it out of the park. The young man who threw the home-run pitch tossed his hat to the ground and I couldn’t help but smile and think, "Wow, we really have come a long way. You go, girl!"

Ginny Gilder

Gilder is also a highly-accomplished athlete in her own right. A standout rower at Yale University, Gilder was named to the 1980 U.S. Olympic team before the boycott of the Moscow Olympics and got her chance to compete on the world stage four years later, winning a silver medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games.

I was practically a non-athlete in high school, now over 30 years ago. But when I started my freshman year of college, back in the mid-1970s, I began rowing - and I fell in love with it. I loved being outside, surrounded by water, isolated from humanity’s buildings and hurried schedules, working harder physically than I ever had in my entire life, trying to make a long, skinny boat glide along the water.

I loved doing this sport with other women my age. We were all in our late teens at the time, but we insisted on being called "women" instead of "girls." I loved the sense of working hard together, of pushing and challenging each other, of wanting to be the best in the group, but wanting each individual to do her best, too. I loved trying to do something well that required enormous strength; a high level of fitness; and consistent, exacting attention to the detailed technique necessary to propel a boat forward while sitting backward, in precise synchronicity with seven other comparably committed and passionate team members.

I loved how strong I felt, physically and mentally, as I watched myself become fitter than I had ever been and accomplish training goals that had once looked impossible. I loved my building sense of self-confidence that I could pursue my escalating dreams for my future and ignore the naysayers who warned me my dreams were impossible and sought to tie me to their view of a narrower, more confined future.

I loved the camaraderie that developed among the women on the team, a new experience for me: the sense that I could depend on these teammates to deliver for me, as I sought to deliver for them. I would pull to the end of the ocean for them, would strive to never let them down, to do whatever I could to help them win, even if I was unsure whether I deserved to go fast, to win, or to claim the top spot for myself. I always knew that they deserved the best; in that way, I claimed the same for myself.

Rowing either taught me directly or validated everything important from a values perspective. I learned self-respect; that’s why I wanted to be recognized as a "woman," not a "girl" as I stepped into adulthood. I learned that I would go much farther with the support of my community than as a solo struggler, no matter if I was on the water or elsewhere. I learned the value of hard work; boy, did I ever learn that! I learned that most people give up too easily and too soon, and that often one’s own perseverance pays off more than another’s more obvious potential. The biggest lesson of all - one that my father modeled from my earliest days - is that the best way to live is to follow what you love. Figure out your passion and pursue it without pause. Don’t let others diminish your enthusiasm, your drive or your dreams.