Debbie Waitkus &
Lyn St. James
It always is interesting to hear successful women talk about their career paths and “how it all began.” At last year’s YWCA Women’s Empowerment Event in Phoenix, AZ, a panel of five, fabulous women shared their stories and discussed how participating in sports was instrumental in their personal and professional growth and development. As you read about these women, think about a dramatic connection between success and involvement in sports that was recently uncovered:
Ernst & Young research shows that among senior businesswomen in the C-suite today, 94 percent played sports and over half played at a university level.
Lyn St. James — 7-time Indy 500 Driver
"I like to drive fast. My mother said, ‘Lyn, the gas pedal can get you out of more trouble than the brake.’” Although she wasn’t considered a great athlete at most of the traditional sports, she was exposed to them at school in Grade 7 and became a great athlete by using her brain. She acknowledges that without sports she wouldn’t have the enviable life she’s been living. The 1992 Rookie of the Year (in her 40s!) and survivor of many crashes, including fireballs, Lyn says that when you find your passion, you don’t see the obstacles others see. “It’s all about where you focus.”
Ann Meyers-Drysdale —VP Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury
Ann grew up with 5 brothers and 5 sisters. Her parents wanted them out of the house (imagine that!), so they went outside and played sports. Hers was a sports oriented family. Dad played ball at Marquette, and both parents believed their daughters and sons could and should be participants. Ann says older sister Patty was her role model. “Sports opened doors for me, always,” Ann says. Her family is her biggest accomplishments, she believes. Ann and husband Don have three children; son DJ works for the AZ Diamondbacks.
“The biggest obstacle is insecurity,” she says. Echoing Marilynn Smith (LPGA Co-Founder), Ann observed that there always will be people out there trying to discourage you, suggesting that you should be at home, making babies.
Misty Hyman — Olympic Gold Medalist, 2000 Sydney Olympics (200m butterfly)
Diagnosed with asthma as a young child, Misty had a doctor who told her parents swimming would be good for her. Into the pool she went, at Roadrunner Park in Phoenix, AZ. Her first race gave no hint of the greatness to come. She dove in, swam a few strokes, then headed straight for the side of the pool and got out. After that, her first goal became simply to finish a race. Next goal?—not to finish last. She learned that by setting goals, things become possibilities.
“When I missed making the Olympic team by 3 one-hundredths of a second, I was heartbroken at first. It meant another four years before I could try again.” But she got in touch with why she really loved to swim and be in the pool (and today mentions the smell of chlorine and coffee together!). Her times became record times and she moved forward by overcoming adversity. “The angst and pressure melted away, and the love of swimming shined through.”
Linda Vollstedt — ASU Women’s Golf Coach 1980 - 2001
Linda believes her introduction to golf was destiny. When she was 10 her parents joined a country club in Portland, OR. It was family oriented, and she started playing. Growing up with boys, she loved to compete, but couldn’t compete in football and baseball. Golf was acceptable. She played in tournaments and enjoyed the competition and camaraderie. After earning a degree in Math Education from ASU, Linda went to work as a high school teacher. One day the school needed a golf coach. She said yes. “Destiny,” she says.
More “destiny” was to follow. The golf coach position opened up at ASU. She took it and left a job at the top of her pay grade ($30K, at the time) for a “part time” coaching job that paid $9K. The pay was not fair for a woman, clearly, but Linda made it work. She cashed in her 401K, sold property and did what she could to get by. A small voice kept telling her, “If you do this, you will be rewarded.” She truly believes she has been. During the Q & A portion of the program, Linda was asked about the wisdom of giving kids ribbons for merely showing up. She surprised a few people when she said she believes it’s okay, because kids should be encouraged. She reflected on Misty’s goals of finishing a race and not being last. “I think it’s good to give them something to build upon.”
Nona Lee — SVP & General Counsel, AZ Diamondbacks
Nona was an athlete growing up, playing in the streets with boys. She was a good athlete, but acknowledges she “wasn’t an elite athlete.” After college she worked as a litigator for a law firm, and wanted to start a sports law practice at the firm. She was told no. However, when the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) arrived on the scene, she was able to marry her passion for sports with her law background. One of her favorite memories is working at America West Arena and having a key to the Arena (before card keys were invented).
All of these women had to overcome challenges. Nona was a black, woman lawyer in a male-dominated industry. Today she is happily “where I’m supposed to be.”
You don’t have to be an elite athlete to derive the benefits of participating in sports. But you can challenge yourself, and by challenging yourself, improve yourself — mentally, emotionally and physically. Not everyone can win a gold medal, but anyone can turn golf into gold. Say ‘Yes!’ to sports!