By Julia Darnton, Assistant Director of Operations, Game On! Sports Camps 4 Girls
Up until age 5, I thought everyone’s parents were competitive cross-country skiers. In my family, I was used to my parents hiring a sitter for me and my two younger brothers so they could train for their next 50-kilometer ski marathon.
My mother often came home from a race dangling a gold medal. My brothers and I would take turns feeling its weight around our necks. I often found myself dreaming about winning one of my own.
Growing up post Title IX with active parents, I was lucky to experience a childhood filled with sports and fitness. My parents encouraged me to participate in a variety of sports, and not just the ones that my friends joined. Like my friends, I played soccer, volleyball, and basketball. But my parents’ support led me to explore sports like cross-country skiing, windsurfing, distance running, cycling as well as weight lifting.
My participation in such a host of sports during my younger years definitely offered me the mental and physical development, self-esteem, and attitude to risk delving into rowing my freshman year in high school. After all, I thought to myself, it can’t be harder than skiing a 20-kilometer race, and I have been doing that since I was 8!
The sport of rowing changed my life. After earning four varsity letters in rowing during my high school years, I was recruited to row for the University of Michigan. While at Michigan, I came to comprehend what it meant to be an elite athlete. I was now competing at a level that demanded full commitment from my body, mind, and soul. But I was rewarded my senior year when my team won a Big Ten Championship and earned a runner-up finish in the NCAA Championships.
Of course, all my years of participation in sports taught me invaluable life skills and healthy lifestyle habits. But the reality is that my early involvement in so many sports opened up many doors for me later. I had the choice of falling in love with a mainstream sport or widening my horizons and taking a less trodden path. The beauty of it was that I was prepared for either. This is a message and story that I’d like to pass down to all young girls. Feel the freedom to play it all and if your heart takes you down a “different” path, go for it. You won’t regret it.
And yes, my dream of a gold medal came true. After the Big Ten race officials presented my teammates and me with our medals, I lifted mine off my neck and put it around my mother’s. It was one of the greatest moments of my life, and it’s one that I’ll never forget.