In 2007, my team came to the nation's attention when we responded to comments made by radio host Don Imus about us after our participation in the NCAA championship game. Many people were surprised by the intensity of feeling surrounding the debate. I was not. The overwhelming show of support for us in the aftermath of those comments showed me very clearly that Americans are ready for something better than the casual vulgarity and hurtfulness that characterize so much of our culture. My team stood up and spoke out, not just on our own behalf, or on behalf of all female athletes, but for all of us. And people all around the country saw, some for the first time, how—and whom—this kind of thoughtless prejudice hurts.

As Myles Brand, the head of the NCAA, pointed out, we became part of a great tradition of athletes who helped shake America out of its complacency, who set an example in the eyes of the world. When Jesse Owens sped past Hitler in the stands to take four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, he didn't just make America proud; he showed Hitler's ideas of racial superiority for the dangerous nonsense they were. When Joe Louis fought Max Schmeling in 1938, he was there as an American, not a black athlete. But he was a black man, and when President Roosevelt told him, "Joe, we need muscles like yours to beat Germany," he was putting the hopes of the whole country in the hands of a black man—and that sent a message to the world. When the Brown Bomber beat Schmeling, it felt like more than a fight; it felt like a country united against all the prejudice in the world.

They say that God never gives you a burden you can't bear, and maybe that's true, but I know that there have been plenty of days when I have not been able to see my way forward, days where I have thought, I cannot lift my head and go on. But I know that it has always been better for me to pick up that burden, no matter how heavy, and to carry it to the very best of my abilities.

You have to stay true to yourself and to what you believe. The minute you allow disappointment or tragedy to stop you in your tracks, you have stolen something from yourself, something more precious than you can even imagine: your dreams.

It is through overcoming that we understand what we are capable of; it is only after we have been tested that we can go on to offer comfort to others. My dream for the young ladies I coach is that they never measure themselves with someone else's yard stick, or simply by wins and losses. I would like them to know that real success is achieved when you set your own worth, fulfill your own destiny, and stand up for what you know to be right. And I want these young women, the leaders of tomorrow, to go forth and multiply: what we have learned, we now must teach.
Excerpted from Standing Tall by C. Vivian Stringer with Laura Tucker. Copyright © 2008 by C. Vivian Stringer with Laura Tucker. Excerpted by permission of Crown, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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