A Night Of Inspiration

By Brian Price

Following the U.S. women's dramatic World Cup quarter-final victory over Brazil, team captain Abby Womback asked Pac-12 alums Julie Foudy (of Stanford) and Brandi Chastain (of Cal), and Mia Hamm, "Can you believe we're doing this?"

The response was a resounding, 'Yes!'

American women have always believed that, yes, female athletics can flourish and continue to provide inspiration for future athletes worldwide.

That inspiration was showcased in New York City on October 19, when the 32nd-annual 'Women In Sports' dinner was presented by the Women's Sports Foundation. The event brought together a dazzling array of talent. Venus Williams, Billie Jean King and laila Ali were joined by Julie Foudy, former president of the Women's Sports Foundation.

"An integral part of women's sports is passing the torch and mentoring. This night is about celebrating those who have come before us, those living it now and the athletes of the future," said Foudy, a three-time Olympic medalist and a two-time World Cup champion.   
 
According to the Foundation, 80% of female executives at Fortune 500 companies participated in sports growing up. Clearly, there's a strong correlation between athletic involvement and success. The event included awards presentations and showcased women athletes who have broken through barriers and become role models to many young sports aspirants.
 
Annika Sorenstam, formally of Arizona and holder of 72 LPGA Tour wins, presented the "Annika Inspiration Award," which was created "to honor a deserving individual girl who demonstrates athleticism, dedication, leadership and the ability to inspire others."
 
Fittingly, the award was bestowed upon Winter Vinecki, who, at the age of 9 completed her first Olympic-length triathlon, which consisted of a 1-mile swim, a 25-mile bike, and a 6.2-mile run. Vinecki, who moved the audience to tears during her acceptance speech, competed after losing her father to prostate cancer.

"Never give in," she said movingly. "I race for my father. Who do you race for?"

"She sees her father at the finish line," added Winter's mother, Dr. Dawn Estelle, who has dedicated herself to raising funds to find a cure for prostate cancer. She founded "Team Winter" and has raised nearly a quarter-million dollars as part of Athlete's for the Cure.

Special tribute was also paid to the Pac-12 as a leader in the advancement of women's athletics. In fact, women's sports in the Pac-12 predates Title IX and NCAA participation. Commissioner Larry Scott was on hand to lend his ongoing praise and support.
 
"It was an incredible event with great energy and tremendous star power," he said. "What the Women's Sports Foundation and [WSF founder] Billie Jean King has been doing to empower young girls and women through sports is truly inspirational. We were honored to participate in the event and receive recognition for the game-changing accomplishments and longstanding commitment the Pac-12 has had for women's sports. It was a great night to celebrate sports and the opportunities they create for women all around the world."
 
King, a pioneer and prodigy, was just as happy to return the sentiment.

"I always worked with Larry [Scott] with the Women's Tennis Association before he went to the Pac-12," King said. "I knew when he went there he'd create a new vision and he has already done so in less than two years. I'm also so happy he was here tonight and that we could honor the Pac-12, the [conference's] past achievements, and celebrate the future. Larry is very sensitive to both men's and women's issues and he'll continue to create opportunities and provide better lives for the student-athletes in the years to come."
 
Other highlights of the evening included the Wilma Rudolph Courage award honoring the Visa women's ski jump team. Led by Utah alum Lindsey Van, the team will compete in the 2014 winter Olympics in Russia after years of rejections from the IOC.
 
"We've ruffled a few feathers," said Van. "But to have come this far means more to women athletes than we could have ever imagined."

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