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  • Tom Gilchrist

In Praise of Women (and Girls) in Sports


Long before she met me, my wife Laura played at the United States Tennis Association's Nationals Tournament (twice), and her team won the 4.0 doubles division. That’s impressive to me, but the most impressive thing about that sentence is that I memorized all the words, since I don’t really know what it means. She is one of five sisters, most of whom found some early success in sports, two of them playing volleyball professionally for a while. She’s a natural athlete while I, on the other hand, am what we used to call a “shlub”. The mile-high view of our ever hooking up was never promising. It should not have happened. And, had we met much earlier, back in the heyday of her athletic pursuits, or of my own champion-level ability to drink from 7am until 3am the following day, we would not have. I’m sure of that. We were fortunate enough to meet at the exact right time in our lives. Maybe even the exact right moment. We met on Match-dot-com (is that still a thing?) just as she was moving from Oakland to San Francisco to start fresh, and I had just been dumped one year earlier, to the day, and decided to go online and get a move on, too. I’d seen her picture on there several times, thought she was cute, but not much else lined up between us. She was a lawyer who put herself through school, paid off her loans quickly at a high-paying consultancy job, freeing her up to pursue her environmental passion of saving the Earth with the NRDC. She made lots of plans. Then she executed on them. I had debilitating credit card debt from ten years prior that I kept moving to stay ahead of, and a head full of creative dreams that crowded out any possible thought of their execution. A go-getter and a serial procrastinator. No chance. So, what happened? We were both “done”. That’s what happened. I even said so in my Match profile, in a line she found “charming” enough to stick with her after she'd scrolled on by: “I’m done with the bar scene, and it is done with me.”

She had tried relationships with the fast-talking lawyer set to no avail. We were both looking for something too similar to ourselves back then, and all that can ever do, in my opinion, is create an enabling dynamic. One thing I learned is, you don’t need any special problems in your life (gambling, drinking, etc) to capitalize on the validating and crippling comfort of an enabler. You already have enough destructive traits in you to make great use of someone just like you. Someone who’ll keep you content, "fat and happy" as they say. We all do. Much better, I’ve found, to find someone who intrigues you with their differences. So long as they line up with a few of your prerequisite values (intelligence, humor...) you can stand a LOT of intriguing differences. A shlub can love a mover-and shaker, and be loved in return. It helps to meet a little bit later in life, not at a particular age, but, as I mentioned, after you are both officially done with your enabling scene. Whatever that means to each of you. Now we have a three-year-old daughter, and we love life. No, really. We spat occasionally, like anyone else, but we make a point not to blow things out of proportion. This comes naturally to us both, thank heaven. The simple reason we are happy, on the whole, is we challenge each other with our differences. Just enough. It creates growth opportunities for each of us, and gives us each a chance to switch things up and lead the other. I hate to travel, but I’ve been to several countries, both the Disney’s, and several States where her relatives live. She'd always felt guilty sitting still, wasting any free moment on indulging herself, or jumping before the net had appeared. Now she's better at taking self-time.

Net… I was telling you about tennis. And I owe the fact that I'm even bringing this home to my original topic to my wife. She challenges me to focus. We have a daughter who will be the product of our upbringing efforts, and our sort of Frankensteined-together world views. I never would have pushed (challenged) any child of mine to excel, or even appreciate, any sport, except for this one other human being, my wife Laura. I was the kid in Gym Class who, like Alvy Singer says, “they threw him a football once and he tried to dribble it.”

I came from a home just broken enough that all its (once upon a time) male sporting aficion was missing in action. I arrived for football expecting to learn football, only to find out everyone else already knew how to play. We chose teams and started the game, along with my very public humiliation. I had a chip on my shoulder about “dumb jocks” ever since. And sometimes I still do. But my wife is brilliant. She exploded my myths about athletes just enough to force me to see sports as potentially great for a young person, specifically our daughter if she wants to pursue that. On the other hand, my wife understands, more than me perhaps (having lived in it), that commercial sports glory, and its fandom, is a killer for learning teamwork, not some mythical booster of it, and its narrow “Us vs. Them” fan mentality is mirrored to catastrophic effect in our society everywhere from the schoolyard to the White House these days. Any sporting dreams my daughter has will be quickly tempered and balanced with lessons in civics, social responsibilty and, especially, humility by her dear old dad. And my two-time tennis champ of a wife loves that about me. I’m one pretty lucky shlub.

(Today is National Girls & Women in Sports Day. )

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