Olympic Medalist Speaks on Women in Sports

It's not easy for women in the world of sports, but that never deterred Anita L. De Frantz.

Easily one of the most respected and powerful women in sports, the Olympic bronze medalist, attorney, and activist for women in sports, spoke to Santa Monica College students in a special engagement entitled "Women in Sports: Life Lessons" on Tuesday, March 15.

Born in 1952 in Indiana, and a descendant of slaves, DeFrantz's story is truly one of inspiration and awe.

"I was born in the second half of the 20th century. It was an important time for women's rights, and the rights of human beings everywhere," she said. "I just want all people to have opportunities."

She learned to swim at the age of 4, and spent lots of time at public swimming pools in her native Indiana.

By age 9, she had joined many swim teams and began to compete in the sport of swimming.

She spoke of an anecdote that gave rise to an ethical dilemma and eventually led to her life's mission.

She was to be given an award on her high school swim team for the best woman on the team, but only because she was the only woman on the team. She decided to stick with her gut and not accept the facade of an award.

"When you're the only one, you may receive an award you don't deserve," she said. "My goal in life from that point on was to ensure that when I'm the first to achieve something, I make sure I'm not the last."

In her high school, and eventually college years at Connecticut College she took up the sport of rowing.

The chance came to her randomly -- she just saw the boat on campus one day and decided it would be fun.

But it would soon turn out to be the most important decision of her life.

She began to excel in the sport, proving her athletic ability was far more than above average.

"Rowing is the ultimate sport," she said. "There is no individual winner. It's all about the team effort."

It is in this attitude and level of perserverance that De Frantz was able to succeed.

By her sophomore year her love for sports in college showed her coaches that she was a potential for the Olympic rowing team.

Her love of sports and athletics shined here as well as her strong work ethic.

"Human beings are the only species that take part in sport. It takes a high level of power and thought. It is not only about athletics, but about the mind directing the body through time and space," she said. "Everyone who has played sports has had at least one sublime moment of excellence. We can use these moments of excellence in our everyday lives."

DeFrantz graduated from Connecticut College with a bachelor of arts with honors, while training for the Olympic Rowing team in 1974. It didn't come easy though.

Training for her consisted of rowing 18 miles in the morning, and nine to 10 miles each afternoon.

This was seven days a week throughout the winter, and lessened in intensity during the spring and summer.

By 1976, De Frantz made it to the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal as the captain of the rowing team.

Her hard work and dedication paid off. It was at these games she won her bronze metal.

Throughout her athletic career, she was also a four-time finalist and silver medalist at the world rowing championships in 1978, a member of the United States rowing team from 1975-1980, and winner of six national championships.

As if this weren't enough for one woman to accomplish, she also attained her juris doctor degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Law in 1977, and became an attorney for the Juvenile Law Center of Philadelphia, and an administrator for Princeton University from 1979-1981.

She has broken many barriers for women in the Olympic Games, and the world of sports in general.

In 1986, she was appointed to the International Olympic Committee. She is the first African American, and the first woman to serve.

In 1997, she was appointed as the vice president of the executive committee, again becoming the first woman to gain such a position. She fights today for the rights of women in sports, and especially the Olympic Games.

"By 1996, I was one out of fewer than 2,000 women in the history of the Olympic games," she said.

When asked about her position in the IOC by a member in the audience, she simply stated, "I have a mouth, and I will use my voice to speak out against injustices when I see them. When you know something is right, stand up for it, because you can make a difference."