Tonight I discovered something about my god-daughter. More importantly, in the process, I found something that I almost might have lost. My god-daughter Hannah is nearly 14 years old, and is a terrific kid. She is a respectful and communicative daughter to her parents, a caring and responsible older sister to her two brothers and a loyal friend. She is in the high achievers program in grade eight at high school, is a prolific reader, enjoys writing stories, sewing with her grandma and has a thing for stationery. Her brothers love listening to her while she reads her original stories to them and they willingly comply when she gently reminds them to do their chores or brush their teeth. Hannah has always been good at running. That kid can run. She made it to the regional finals in cross country events in primary school and consistently performs beyond her age in the beep test. Hannah possesses a spirit of persistence and determination that would help her scale Everest. Personal bias notwithstanding, I have always suspected that Hannah would achieve something significant in her life. Tonight I realized that she is a trail-blazer.
Allow me a small digression. Time for true confessions of a god-mother. I am ashamed to admit that over the past 14 years, I have been periodically negligent in my GM duties, wrapped up in my life, relationships, career, sport and social life. While we cannot make up for lost time, we can decide to do things differently in the present and the future. During the past two years, I have experienced many losses, and it is through these losses that I have come to recognize and appreciate what I have always had, in addition to what I have subsequently found. Last year I travelled 10,000 miles to Edmonton, Canada.
While in Canada, I attended a lecture about the Edmonton Grads, a famous Canadian women's basketball team who dominated the sport for two decades and still hold the North American record for the sports team with the best wining percentage of all time. I learned that their coach trained them as he would the men's teams, and they played practice matches against the boys, frequently defeating them. The Edmonton Grads were trail blazers, paving the way for the popularity of women' basketball and were instrumental in raising the profile of women's sport. So what does this have to do with my teenage god-daughter?
Tonight, I took Hannah to the community gymnasium, for the first of an eleven week program of basketball training for local young people aged 12-18 years. When we arrived, her eyes widened as she took in the sight of more than 20 young men, most of whom were over 6 ft, many from the horn of Africa. An imposing sight for anyone. And there was Hannah, solo girl. We both must have looked like we were thinking we were in the wrong place, because the head coach approached us, introduced himself and reassured Hannah that girls were most welcome. I asked her if she was happy to stay and of course, she said yes. I stayed for a short time, just to confirm for myself that the big boys would look after her. During the warm-ups, Hannah was sprinting up and back the length of that gym like a woman possessed, keeping up with many of the younger guys, and with more stamina than some of the tall, imposing figures who had caught our attention earlier. I should have known that she wouldn't require much looking after.
I returned an hour later, with Hannah's two little brothers in tow, and we watched as they were finishing off the training with a shooting drill. Hannah had been placed in a group with the under 15 boys, who were only a little bit taller. Or perhaps they appeared that way because Hannah had grown in stature over the past hour. One of the mothers in the crowd remarked that Hannah was inspirational. I nodded, with a massive smile on my face. Hannah's youngest brother was gleefully exclaiming "look at Hannah, look at Hannah, she can't reach their hands", as the entire group huddled to give a 'high 5'. It was obvious that he was proud of his big sister and in awe of her mixing it with the boys.
When we returned home, Hannah made a point of showing her brothers how hot and sweaty she was, and then regaled us with stories of the training drills, telling us how she was asked to demonstrate 'on the spot jumping' to her group, because according to the coach, she had the strongest legs and could do it properly. Hannah told me that most of the other girls at school "aren't all that into sport". She wouldn't mind if there were some girls at the training, but she also thinks she will improve and learn more by training with the guys. I am sure the Edmonton Grads would agree.
Hannah has well and truly commenced her trail-blazing. I am certain that many more challenging trails lay ahead for her. The best thing I have found is the opportunity to bear witness to this exciting journey.
Footnote: On the Grads’ achievements, Colin Howell, a renowned historian and writer, stated “Their lifetime record of 520 wins and only 20 losses testifies to their dominance in competitive women’s basketball, and to the fact that basketball was the team sport of choice for most female athletes in the first half of the 21st century.” The inventor of basketball, Canadian James Naismith, considered the Grads to be “the greatest team that ever stepped out on a basketball floor”. In 2010, the team was also recognized as “Trailblazers of the Game” by the United States Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.
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