When I was a little girl, I was never picked for sports. Ever. I couldn’t even play tetherball. I was clumsy, but I never knew why—until I learned, in my forties, that I had a treatable eye condition that destined me to be bad at sports.
But not every girl who never found her way in sports suffered from medical malaise. Many of the girls who grew up alongside me in the U.S. never knew the power of being part of a team—until Title IX became law on February 28, 1972.
Senator Birch Bayh and Rep. Patsy Mink re-introduced the provision of the Higher Education Act of 1965 that would eventually become Title IX. “This amendment,” Bayh said in a speech on the floor, “is an important first step in the effort to provide for the women of America something that is rightfully theirs: an equal chance to attend the schools of their choice, to develop the skills they want and to apply those skills with the knowledge that they will have a fair chance to secure the jobs of their choice with equal pay for equal work.”
The amendment was short, simple and so important: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Title IX’s opponents claimed they were concerned that the new law, and any increase in athletic opportunity for women and girls, would steal funds and opportunities from men and boys.
When there is a change, there is often concern about what will be lost, instead of what will be found.
But I’ve seen what magic can happen when we believe in individuals and support them in all of their abilities. I’ve seen a blind woman ski and a wounded warrior in a wheelchair race down the mountain in a bi-ski.
I watched as talented instructors at the National Ability Center shared their knowledge with a group of intrepid trainers from across the world seeking to expand athletic opportunities for people with disabilities.
After the Olympics in South Korea, instructors from the NAC ski team—including Saylor O’Brien, a 14-year-old athlete with spina-bifida who is the youngest member of the Paralympic development Ski Team—trained 40 South Korean instructors who are creating the first South Korean Sports Disability Association in how to use adaptive ski equipment. Their second training session took place in January, and their third was just last month.
After Rep. Mink’s death in 2002, Title IX was renamed the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act. Being with the NAC team reminded me of the lasting impact of her work, and how it has provided women with more opportunity and all of us with more community.
I was proud that I could bear witness to the work NAC is doing to ensure that everyone who wants to ski, snowboard and experience outdoor sports has access to trained and talented instructors who believe that we all can—no matter what our gender, age or ability.
As Margaret Mead said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”