By: McKane Sharff, InternPosted on June 21, 2012 Issues: Athletics Education & Title IX

I began playing organized sports in fourth grade when my mom literally forced me to join a community soccer team. Soccer was big in my town. Especially girls’ soccer. There was a great club program, dozens of fields, and three talented high school teams. But I had little interest. More than that, I was scared. I’d grown up playing football, baseball, and basketball with my dad, brother, and cousins – but the idea of being on a real team, with other girls counting on me, and the outcome meaning more than who got the first slices of pie at Thanksgiving was pretty intimidating. What if I wasn’t any good? What if my teammates didn’t like me? What if the coach was mean? Did I really care that much about winning? It was one thing to play pick-up games with my family. It was another thing to be on a real team and compete against complete strangers – to be an athlete.

As it turns out, I had a lot of room for improvement on the soccer field, but my teammates were great (and I think they liked me), my coach very supportive, and I quickly learned that I DID really want to win. But more than that, I wanted to PLAY. I loved being out of the field, running down the sideline, yelling for my teammate to pass me the ball. And winning wasn’t so bad either. A spark, buried somewhere in my 9-year-old self, began to glow brighter. It turns out I was an athlete after all. The flame had been lit. As my skills improved, so did my confidence. Always a small kid, and often the brunt of jokes, especially after moving to a new school in third grade, I came to realize that my short little muscles and low center of gravity had some benefit after all. I was FAST! And that was a major advantage on the soccer field.

I went on to play soccer through high school, making varsity my sophomore year, and becoming a captain my senior year. I joined the track and field team as well, and was a captain for both the indoor and outdoor teams.  In college, I continued to run track, competing for 8 seasons. I also dabbled in rugby, and played soccer while studying abroad. Being part of a team taught me the importance of working together and supporting others, both on and off the field or track. My best friends from college are former teammates and we share a special connection that will last a lifetime. As a captain I gained valuable leadership skills, and learned the significance of leading by example. Being an athlete inspired me to be a better person and to set an example in all areas of my life. Pushing my body through grueling workouts, proving that I could make it through a seemingly impossible number of intervals, and setting new personal and school records built mental toughness and gave me the confidence to set lofty goals, and the determination it would take to reach them.

Since graduating, I’ve run a marathon, done 3 triathlons, and there’s more on the way. The skills, determination, and confidence I built playing sports growing up have served me well as I train for these endurance events, but more than that, they have served me well in life. I am so thankful for the opportunities and encouragement I had to find the athlete within me.  I am who I am today because of it. I am extremely grateful for Title IX and the opportunities it brings for all women and girls to find and kindle their own spark. The flame still burns strong inside me; I am and forever will be an athlete.    

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