Saturday, September 23, 2017

Winner Takes All: Billie Jean King

My very first "real job" brought me face to face with one of my heroes: Billie Jean King. I had landed a staff writing position at Scholastic Choices Magazine and though it was primarily home economics, somehow or other Billie Jean was visiting during my first week--and I was assigned to an interview.

I don't even think it was for Scholastic Choices - but honestly don't remember. What I DO remember is wanting to ask her everything I could. Unfortunately (for me, anyway), we had only a short time so I was limited. 

I knew my audience was middle school kids and wanted her to address them and what they might need to know growing up. My recollection is she said they would need to take care of themselves and not depend on others, as past generations of women had. I always thought that was spot-on advice.

Some years later, I met Billie Jean King again while working at another job at Melpomene Institute for Women's Health. I asked her to autograph a tennis ball at my son's request. He was about 10 years old and avidly collecting autographs. She graciously and gracefully signed the ball, which we still have.

What I most loved about both these experiences was how wonderful it was to see a woman who was totally comfortable in her own skin--(and who, by the way, looked as young as a teenager). I had not been involved in much physical activity when I was younger, and it wasn't until I was a full-fledged adult that I started really engaging in exercise (besides dance, which I always loved).

The idea of being physically active never extended to team sports for me, but using weights, hiking, walking and swimming have really saved me in some pretty big ways. I truly think I would be a much more depressed, bad-tempered person with a lot more physical problems if I wasn't exercising. And while Billie Jean King wasn't the deciding factor that pushed me to become more physical, she was a shining example of surpassing expectations about who women are and what we can do.

That includes winning a match against a (pretty arrogant) guy, while the world is watching.

For that, I will always be grateful. And yes, going to see the movie.

For more information on Billie Jean King to share with your sons and daughters:

The True Story Behind the Battle of the Sexes Movie
Billie Jean King's Battle is for "Equality, Period"
Billie Jean King Won for All Women