When she was a little girl, Sally Ride liked to play football and baseball. When she was ten, her parents, probably realizing that their daughter did not have much of a future in those sports, gave her a tennis racquet. At age eleven, Ride was studying with the great Alice Marble.
Sally Ride went on to become number 18 among juniors nationally, and then moved on to Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, where a sportswriter called her the "best female college player in the East." Ride was torn between playing tennis and becoming a scientist. Then she transferred to Stanford. While she was there, Billie Jean King noticed her and encouraged her to play professional tennis, but Ride made a decision to leave tennis and pursue the sciences.
Everyone knows the rest of this story: Sally Ride became an astronaut, and at age 32, became the first American woman--and the youngest American--to be launched into space. She later became the first woman to be the Capsule Communicator ("Cap Com") at NASA's Mission Control. Because of her tennis training, Ride's hand-eye control was exceptional, and she could manipulate the mechanical robot arm better than anyone else, so she became the first woman included as a member of a shuttle crew.
When Ride left the space program, she worked at the Stanford University Center for International Security and Arms Control. She then became a professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego, and Director of the California Space Institute. In 2003, she was asked to serve on the Space Shuttle Columbia Accident Investigation Board. She is the President and CEO of Sally Ride Science, a company she founded in 2001, that creates entertaining science programs and publications for upper elementary and middle school students, with a particular focus on educating and empowering girls.
2008 marks the 25th anniversary of Ride's first trip into space. I remember people standing at the launch site, carrying signs that said Ride Sally Ride! We honor her for her performance as an astronaut, but--had there been a different twist of fate--we might be honoring her as a tennis champion.