Tuesday, July 24, 2012

When Billie Jean met Sally

Sally Ride--astronaut, feminist, physicist, and teacher--died yesterday at the age of 61. Ride was a personal hero of mine. She not only broke the gender barrier in my country in terms of going into space; she also spoke bravely (no one listened until it was too late) about the dangers that existed in the space program, and she used her knowledge and her money to help girls achieve their best.

I could go on and on about Sally Ride's accomplishments, but they are easy to find, if readers are inquisitive. My purpose in writing this today is to remind people that Ride was also a very good tennis player, and that she became an astronaut and physicist (she had a degree in English, too) only after deciding not to pursue tennis as a profession.

Ride was the number 1 female player at Stanford. She caught the eye of none other than Billie Jean King, who urged her to get on the tour and make tennis her career. Ride chose outer space and the classroom over the courts because of what she referred to as "a bad forehand."

While Billie Jean King fought to show the world that women could be successful athletes, Ride flew into space, and then had to endure endless questions about whether she wore makeup in the shuttle, or how she managed having her period in outer space. Later--concerned about all of the stereotypes that surround girls when it comes to studying the sciences--the astronaut and professor devoted much of her life to helping girls realize they could do anything they wanted.

Who knows? If King had been a bit more persuasive or Ride had had more belief, we might have spent the last few decades talking about Ride's tennis accomplishments. But all she wanted to do, she said, was fly. And 29 years ago, she boarded the shuttle Challenger, while people watching the launch held signs that said Ride, Sally Ride.


Todd.Spiker said...

Wow, an unexpected little treat there. I really enjoyed reading that, Diane.

Diane said...

Thanks, Todd. It's always been one of my favorite "little" tennis stories. Sad about the event, though.

Anonymous said...

Full of wonderful surprises Diane. Thank you.


Diane said...

I'm glad you enjoyed this, David.