As a ski racer, the odds were not exactly in my favor. I was uncommonly small, I lacked a natural gift for gliding on flat terrain, and I had four season-ending injuries in the ten years that I was on the National Team. Like any World Cup skier, I put my time in at the gym and I logged thousands of miles training gates, but I was able to achieve my dream of competing in the Olympics in part because of my involvement in other sports.
Heading into high school, I decided that I wanted to pole vault. It made perfect sense. I loved the feeling of flying and I wanted to try something new and fun. There was only one hitch: at the time, there was no such thing as girl’s pole vault. Undeterred, I competed against the boys. My freshman year I vaulted 11’, the highest of any girl in the state, and I even qualified for the conference meet in boy’s pole vault. For my first two years, the points that I earned by competing in boy’s pole vault didn’t count toward my team’s score because I was a girl.
It wasn’t long, however, before girl’s pole vault started to gain ground. By my sophomore year, girl’s pole vault was an exhibition (non-scoring) event at the State Championships, and by the time I was a senior, it officially became a scoring event. I am proud to have been a part of the rise of girl’s pole vault in Washington state. Now, girls are vaulting way higher than I ever did, and they don’t think twice about having to compete against the boys.
I strongly believe that I was a good ski racer because I was a good overall athlete. I wouldn’t have been the skier I was, if it weren’t for the athleticism that I built off the slopes doing sports like soccer, softball, gymnastics, diving, and of course, pole vault. That’s why, with the recent 40th anniversary of Title IX, I am incredibly grateful for the fact that I had access to—and the support to pursue—many different sports. In a way, access to a wide variety of sports made my skiing dreams possible.
One of the best parts about sports is the opportunity to demonstrate to yourself time and time again, “I can do this.” It’s more than just telling yourself, “I can do this.” Through long-term involvement in sports, you prove to yourself that you can do it. Whether it is small (e.g. “I can go on this run”) or whether it is big (e.g. “I can win this run”), through sports we collect actual data points that prove exactly why we should believe in ourselves.
I will never forget what it felt like to qualify for the 2006 Olympic Team and walk into those Opening Ceremonies. It was an overwhelming combination of elation, pride, and accomplishment. My Olympic experience was meaningful because I overcame obstacles and setbacks to get there. I didn’t just tell myself, “I can do this,” I proved it. Because I’ve proven my ability to beat the odds once, I know that I can do it again and again. It’s one of the greatest gifts of sport: learning what you’re capable of and building from there. That’s one of the reasons why I’m passionate about getting and keeping girls involved in sports. Believing in myself is such a powerful gift; I want other girls to have the opportunity to start collecting reasons why they should believe in themselves too.