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Sports Benefit Girls in Immeasurable Ways


Dr. Gevvie Stone


Meeghan Ford


My Taekwondo teammates and I practiced our backflips, kicks, and sparring runs for four hours straight. My legs and back were sore. Across the gym, my father waved at me, motioning me to take a break and log into an interactive panel discussion on his phone. 

 

Participating in this meeting has to be vital, I thought to myself. Why would my father pull me out of training barely three weeks before trials for the U.S. national team? The forum was a masterclass on why more girls should embrace sports. I left the discussion energized, uplifted, and ready to take on the world. I am grateful to the panel of exemplary athletes and role models: Dr. Gevvie Stone, Ms. Meeghan Ford, Ms. Lauren Surzyn, Board Chairperson, and Ms. Erin Brown, Executive Director, both at Inspiring Girls USA.  


Dr. Gevvie Stone has completed her residency in emergency medicine and is currently a fellow in sports medicine at the University of Utah. She is also a three-time U.S. Olympic Rower, participating in the 2012, 2016, and 2020 games. Meeghan Ford is the Assistant Director of Athletics for Compliance at Duke University. Ellery Kourepenos, a high school senior and a Young Ambassador for Inspiring Girls USA moderated the panel discussion with remarkable ease and effortlessness.


Dr. Stone embraced rowing after dabbling in soccer, lacrosse, and swimming. She won the National Championship, the first spring training in the sport. Gevvie continued rowing in college and spent the next 13 years studying to be a medical doctor and rowing for the U.S. rowing team. 


"Balancing the student-athlete lifestyle for so many years pushes you in many different directions, brings out the best in you, and ultimately makes you stronger in every imaginable way," said Dr. Stone.  


Meeghan Ford grew up in a small town in New Hampshire, where she played various sports. As there weren't many girls-only sports leagues, she often played in boys-only leagues. In high school, Ms. Ford participated in field hockey, ice hockey, and lacrosse. Later, she realized her passion for sports could evolve into a career. An internship at Disney inspired her to pursue a Master's degree in sports management at UNC Chapel Hill. Currently, she works at Duke University, where she has the opportunity to attend many games, collaborate with coaches, and pursue her passion for sports.


Juggling sports and other demands in high school is challenging. Both panelists offered sage advice. Meeghan suggests, "Time management is the name of the game. I am a list person, and having a to-do list helps me work through my various tasks. If sports is your priority, you may need to sacrifice some social time with friends." Dr. Stone added, "Use sports as an outlet for academics and use academics as an outlet for sports. If I were saturated writing a paper, I would take a break to row. If I had a bad practice that day, I would refocus and redirect myself by studying for a while at the library. Splitting time between both activities helped me stay level-headed." 

 

Their advice was practical and inspiring for girls passionate about sports. Here are the top 10 takeaways: 


Goal-setting: Chop big goals into smaller ones to achieve them. Start with mastering the simple tasks, such as getting your dribbling technique down or getting your oar into the water at the right angle. 


Be accountable to yourself: You can only get to the big goals once you hold yourself accountable for meeting the smaller goals. 


Build the mindset to give it your best every time: Positive self-talk is essential in athletics and life. Believing in yourself is crucial to succeed. Dr. Stone uses visualization techniques to envision the desired outcome of a race.


Stay in the present moment, let go of the past, and "be a goldfish": Goldfishes have poor short-term memory, allowing them to stay present. Coach K, the former head coach of Duke men's basketball, advised players to focus on "the next play" instead of dwelling on the past, according to Meeghan.


Be bold; take risks often: Whether you win or not, the gamble will transform who you are and strengthen you from the inside. Dr. Stone took a significant risk by taking two years off from medical school to try out for the London Olympics. 


Rest and recovery are a huge part of performance: Training at your best involves more than just working hard. Sleep, recovery, rest days, and stretching are all crucial to reaching peak performance.


It is as much about the journey as it is the destination: Winning medals in some races is possible, but not in others. However, what matters long-term is who you become due to your hard work and perseverance. As Dr. Stone suggested, "It may not always result in a happy ending, but the journey is always worth it." Ms. Ford took a significant risk when she decided to study at Duke University, many hundred miles from her home in New Hampshire. In the end, the risk was well worth taking. 


Thriving in a male-dominated world: "I love it when they say you play like a girl," asserted Ms. Ford. "Representation matters. We need to see more girls pursue sports. We need more women athletic directors in Division 1 schools and more women coaches across the country." 


If you like a sport, simply lean in: There is no pressure to aim to become an Olympic-level athlete on day one. Take baby steps. Explore the sport for the joy of it. And see where your interests take you. 


Know there are many opportunities in sports beyond being an athlete: There are numerous positions in sports that extend beyond being a player on the field. These roles include managers, coaches, athletic directors, sports operations directors, referees, NCAA compliance managers, sports medicine physicians, athletic trainers, and physical therapists. By taking on one of these positions, you can continue being involved in the sport you love long after your playing career.


The panelists also shared many amazing quotes I need to print out to review frequently. 


"Don't let anyone tell you that you cannot pursue a specific path. Follow your dreams," advised Ms. Meeghan Ford.


"Tailor your life to your goals at the moment." - Dr. Stone. 


"Men have been taking care of each other for a long long time. We women need to support each other and take care of each other," said Ms. Ford. 


"Get comfortable being uncomfortable." - Dr. Stone. 


"What you do when no one else is watching tells you much about your character," Ms. Ford stated.


Dr. Stone reminded us, "Aim high and have fun. Working hard is easier when you love what you do."


After the virtual panel session ended, I returned my Dad's phone and walked back to the padded floor mat of the gymnasium. My mind was filled with thoughts as I had a renewed commitment to the sport I love, Taekwondo. I felt equipped with tips and tricks to balance my academic and sports commitments. I was grateful to Dr. Gevvie Stone and Ms. Meeghan Ford for sharing their time and words of wisdom. Although I may not be able to repay them directly, I am determined to pay it forward.


As teen girls pursuing competitive sports, we can and must serve as beacons of inspiration for other young girls with a dream and a passion for sports.

 


About the Author:


Riya Janardhan is a high school junior with a black belt in taekwondo. She recently won a gold medal at the USA National Taekwondo Team Trials, earning her a coveted spot on the 2024 National Team representing the United States at the World Championships to be held in Hong Kong.


Riya has many interests, including writing, acting, dancing, and singing. Currently, Riya is a Junior Board Member/Vice-Chair of the Promotions Committee at Project ADAM and a Young Ambassador with Inspiring Girls USA. She also writes for Gloria Steinem’s Women’s Media Center, Teen Ink, and UNICEF’s Voice of Youth. Her work focuses on topics that empower teens and promote gender equity.

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