I love everything about the Olympics. The competition, the pageantry, the patriotism, the hype; I simply cannot get enough. Like many of my Olympic fever-stricken friends on social media and around the world, I am glued to every ounce of coverage I can spare a moment to watch. Every two years I find myself becoming an expert in everything from badminton to duet synchronized swimming to handball to water polo. I dissect swimming strokes in a way that might actually fool someone into believing I actually know why those races end up coming down to the last hundredth of second. I find myself knee deep in a 5-miler on the treadmill yelling, “STICK IT!” to our beloved gymnasts. Olympic years have a way of reminding me that I would gladly watch my country compete in competitive lawn mowing if national pride and gold medals were up for grabs.
But as a kid I remember looking around, whether I was playing in the street or on the field, and seeing very few (if any) girls playing with me. I played on all boys’ baseball teams until I hit 7th grade when girls’ softball was just starting to become a ‘thing.’ Despite it being the 1990s, a progressive decade for history’s sake, it was still a very different time for little girls in sports as compared to now. We were not readily accepted in the dugouts, on the courts, or in the fields. If we were, many expected that we were there to simply participate and not compete. I remember my father colorfully arguing with one particular coach in my 5th grade year in Mannheim, Germany when he refused to put me on his team for fear that I would “get hurt.” (Made the team. Never got hurt.) Don’t get me wrong, I realize that the opportunities available to little girls my age were innumerable compared to generations before me. I recognize and appreciate that I grew up in a post-Title IV world. Still, I remember wondering if there was something wrong with me. I took a look around and I wondered: where are the rest of us girls?
Atlanta. The rest of us girls, I found out in the Summer of 1996, were in Atlanta. I was 10 years old and watched the Opening Ceremonies from the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia on tape delay from our living room in Germany completely awestruck. I spent the next two weeks glued to the television watching women dominate in their own respective sports. My Mother the Swimmer pointed out the nuances of strokes in every race we watched and lamented to me how sorry she was that there just weren’t as many opportunities for women of her generation to compete at most levels. I remember watching The Magnificent Seven, our women’s gymnastic team, and reveling in the strength of their bodies and their nerves of steel. I sat too close to the tv and saw Lisa Fernandez and Michelle Smith and the rest of the American softball team win the very first gold medal ever given for the sport. I vividly recall thinking to myself, “Wow, there are a lot of us.”