Seattle Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder's recently released memoir, "Course Correction," details her journey of self-discovery -- from a privileged but tumultuous upbringing to the realizations of her true passions, culminating in a silver medal in rowing at the 1984 Olympics. In this passage, Gilder -- who would become a fierce advocate for equality -- recalls a fateful run as a new rower at Yale coached by Nat Case.
At Yale, running and endurance training assumed center stage in my life, no longer an avenue for escape, but a means to a desired end. Never before had I strung together more than three consecutive days of physical activity. I occasionally jogged a couple of miles around my high school campus, attempted basketball, played tennis desultorily in physical education classes, and warmed the bench for my school's volleyball and softball teams, but the payoff from those efforts didn't trigger any increased desire or fiery commitment. This time, things were different. I should have noticed I was entering the deep and murky waters of insistent passion. But that's what love does; it blinds us to the full picture, painting only the promise, never the pain.
Nat scheduled the team's first timed run at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning in September, but I got off to a slow start. I had slept through my alarm. It was a jolt to open my eyes and see the time. I leaped out of bed, threw on shorts and a T-shirt, laced on my running shoes, and blasted down the stairs and out of the dorm, running full tilt to the gym.
Great start! Now you'll never make the team. You've handed him just the excuse he needs.
I arrived huffing and puffing, fifteen minutes late. Nat stood alone on the sidewalk with a clipboard tucked under his arm, a stopwatch cradled in his hand, and a pencil snuggled behind his ear, peeking out from under his ever-present baseball cap. The sidewalk beyond him was empty as far as I could see.
"Can I run anyway?"
I was prepared to beg, but he nodded his head up Tower Parkway toward the Grove Street Cemetery.
"Do you know the route?"
"Past the cemetery, left on Prospect, up Science Hill, right on Highland, first right onto St. Ronan, all the way to the end of the street, right on Edwards, left on Prospect, and back to the gym."
I was already breathless.
"Yep, okay, go on."
He pulled out his clipboard, wrote my name down, and noted the stopwatch reading.
I set off at a dead run. I couldn't remember how long the course was, and I didn't care. I thought nothing of pacing, only of redemption. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Recrimination pounded into my head as my feet pounded on the pavement. To the extent a seventeen-year-old couch potato could muster speed, I flew.
Within the first mile, I arrived at the base of Science Hill -- Mount Everest to my novice legs and flabby pulmonary system. No matter. My pride was on the line. I bullied and scolded myself up the hill. Don't stop. This is your own fault. The goading kept time with my pacing. You have no one to thank but yourself.
At the top of the hill, I saw a cluster of runners several blocks ahead of me. Perhaps they were fellow crew members. Invigorated by the chance to catch up, I sped up. Within a few painful minutes I reached the group and recognized some of the faces as I drew even. They were plodding with slow deliberation. Okay, so you're not going to be last anymore. Good!
"Hi, you guys," I huffed as I stepped into their rhythm. A couple of wheezy "hi's" greeted me. I didn't know the team etiquette here, whether to stay with them or speed on ahead, risk making them mad, or go for it and see what I could do.
It felt as if someone else decided. I didn't get a chance to protest. I just kept running without slowing down and left my teammates in my wake. I focused on running, not thinking.
Periodically, I'd see other team members a few blocks ahead of me.
Each time, I caught up to them, passed, and maintained my pace. I heard increasingly loud and insistent pleas for mercy from various body parts -- feet, calves, quadriceps, lungs -- that turned into throbbing hot spots and eventually merged into an all-over full-body burn. Don't stop. You're making progress. See if you can catch that other girl.
I did not keep track of how many team members I passed, nor did I know the size of the crew that had set out from Payne Whitney on this timed adventure. I had no way to calculate where I was in the pack.
I didn't waste any energy on the math. I was no longer dead last; I could have slowed down. I wasn't going to bring up the rear in a sorry-assed state of humiliation. But somewhere along the way, my goal grew.
I reached the run's halfway mark at the back side of the loop that led to the gym and saw a solitary runner several long blocks ahead of me. Come on, move it! You can catch up to that girl. By now, the furious pace I had maintained throughout the run, well above my predictable capacity, was taking its toll. Although I valiantly attempted to ignore the crescendo of my pain, I was no athlete. I knew my body was not up to this competitive challenge that had come out of nowhere.
But . . .
You can take her. I heard it loud and clear.
I turned onto Edwards Street. A horribly steep incline greeted me. No time to die; I put my head down and dug in. Of course I slowed, but I didn't stop, although I was gasping for air, my legs felt like concrete, and the sidewalk ahead wavered as my vision blurred.
As I crested the hill, I tripped on an uneven section of sidewalk and staggered a couple of steps, but I recovered. No quitting! I ignored the dizziness as I turned the corner to run the downhill section. Keep on going! I didn't recognize the inner voice that was the calling the shots, and I didn't think to ask. I kicked into an alien gear and started to sprint.
I chased the girl ahead of me the entire way down Science Hill, about two-thirds of a mile. As we turned onto Grove Street right outside Woolsey Hall, with about a quarter of a mile to go, I pulled alongside her.
This girl knew something about responding to a challenge. I could hear her breathing, fast and rough. She glanced at me, but I couldn't tell if she was wincing or glaring. Ten steps later, it seemed as if she'd sprinted a mile ahead.
The race was over. The timed run ended less than a minute later, as I crossed the last street and ran all out past Nat, who represented the finish line. He noted the time on his stopwatch and made an entry on his clipboard.
Stopping abruptly didn't end my physical pain. For several minutes, I battled competing sensations of nausea, exhaustion, and exhilaration. I wanted to lie down, close my eyes, and let my respiration rate return to normal, but I was standing on a concrete sidewalk in the middle of a city while my insides bucked like an angry horse. Instead, I stepped off to the side, out of the way of incoming runners, breathless, waiting, unsure what came next. I heard Nat tell the fast girl her finish time and ask her if it was a personal best. She nodded yes.
Then she introduced herself to me. Turns out I had challenged an up-and-coming Olympian. Anne Warner wasn't going to let some upstart freshman pass her. No f---ing way.
"Course Correction: A Story of Rowing and Resilience in the Wake of Title IX," written by Olympic medalist and Seattle Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder, is published by Beacon Press.