I Am Woman Hear Me Roar or You’ve Come a Long Way Baby, Part II
Isn’t it strange that women swimmers a few decades ago ended their swim careers in their teens, while it’s not uncommon to have women compete in their 20s and 30s today?
I was talking to Bonnie Adair — a former swimmer who held 35 National Age Group records during her career — including the 50-meter free for 8-and-unders that stood for 29 years. She quit swimming at age 19. Contrast that to say Olympian gold medalists Dara Torres, who swam in her fifth Olympics at age 41, Natalie Coughlin, still competing at 32, or Janet Evans who swam in the 2012 Olympic Trials at age 40.
What has changed so much in swimming since the 1970s that gives women the ability to still compete throughout their 20s and beyond?
I interviewed Bonnie Adair, the head coach of Loyola Marymount in LA, for another writing project I’m undertaking. She began swimming at age five and was an amazing and gifted swimmer. She said after she graduated high school she wanted to train for her third Olympic Trials. She lived at home with mom and dad and commuted to college — so she could still swim with her club team, Lakewood Aquatics coached by the legendary Jim Montrella.
She noticed one day that there were no guys in her training group. They had all gone to swim on scholarship at colleges such as UCLA and USC. The girls did not. Why not, you ask? Because they didn’t have college swim teams for women!
Isn’t that stunning? My daughter, age 18, is swimming right now — this very minute — at a D1, PAC 12 school (Go Utes!). It was always her dream — since she was five years old — to swim in college and go to the Olympic Trials. She took it for granted that she had the opportunity, and that if she worked really hard, she could possibly achieve those dreams. She’s made the college dream come true and she has a couple seconds to drop for Olympic Trials 2016.
I was shocked and stunned to realize that these dreams were not remotely possible for women just a few years older than me! Their swim careers were cut short if they wanted to have a college experience where they lived on campus and were away from home. It was difficult or nearly impossible to keep competing with a club team for many years past high school.
When I was in high school, we had no pool or high school swim team, boys or girls. I remember we had girls track and field and tennis. Cheerleading was the big thing for girls to do. Cheer tryouts was one of the horrors of my teen life, a total embarrassment that makes me cringe remembering being put on exhibition in front of the entire student body.
We didn’t have girls basketball or golf and I played golf. Since I didn’t make the cheerleading squad, I tried out for the boys golf team with my lifelong friend and fellow golfer Christy. We were allowed to go to all the practices with the guys. We were the last group out on the course — a twosome. We were never included in any of the tournaments or competitions. I honestly don’t know if we were that much worse than the boys — or if it was because we were girls.
I wrote about how far along we’ve come from the time my parents told me I was going to college to get my MRS degree and when girls were required to take home ec in high school in “I Am Woman Hear Me Roar, or You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!” Our young women take all of this for granted. They are truly lucky and blessed to be alive today in the United States.
Of course, the main reason there are women’s collegiate sports today and weren’t say before 1972 can be summed up as Title IX — which has its benefits and its unintended consequences. This will be discussed on another day.
What high school and college sports did you participate in? Were there girls teams for all the boys sports?