This week, we marked a very special day, the 25th Anniversary of the National Women in Sports Awareness Day in Washington, DC. On that day we took the time to celebrate and honor all of our mothers, sisters and daughters who participate in sports. I was fortunate to play on the varsity team in college. Competing at that level has given me a keen understanding of the work, dedication, and sacrifice that goes into achieving excellence. Sports continue to play an integral role in my life. Sports keep me balanced and healthy. I play basketball up to three times each week, and I lift weights. As a mother of three, the daily demands of parenting and work can seem daunting. But I am a stronger and happier person for my family and my job when I am active on the court. For girls, participating in sports is an important part of developing strong character and self-esteem, and it is also a way to combat obesity - which has higher rates in Indian Country than for any other racial or ethnic group studied.
We have come a long way in 25 years. Not too long ago girls were not allowed to run in basketball and were required to wear skirts. My mother and other girls were not allowed to play basketball in her school. But my mother was a great softball and volleyball athlete, and she always encouraged us to play sports. I know the barriers she confronted were much greater than they are today. But we still don’t have a level playing field when it comes to providing opportunities for girls to participate in sports. My daughter does not have the same open doors that are available to my sons. That’s why it is so important to highlight all of the women and girls who are strengthening themselves, their families and their communities by just taking the time to play in the game.
Jodi Gillette is Deputy Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs at the Department of Interior