Cal's Golden Girl
Cameron Kondo's dream world is one where women don't need to be a part of a club to understand their own self-worth.
"I want everyone to have an understanding that being yourself is completely enough," the Cal softball player said. "I want to get to that point that we have this club as a reminder of that, but we don't need the club to understand that we deserve to be here, and we are enough."
The club in question is Golden Girls, the first-ever organization specifically for women in Cal Athletics. It was started by Cal softball alum Jordan Fines in the August of 2018 with the help of teammates Kondo, Zoe Conley, Director of Student-Athlete Development Bobby Thompson and Cal Athletics Alumni Relations Coordinator Pita Toler.
"What we saw (was) there was a disconnect between women athletes at Cal, especially between Haas (Pavilion) and the Simpson Center, just based on geographical locations - there were athletes who I had no idea even existed," Kondo said. "So what we really wanted to do was to provide this platform, originally just to kind of meet more people and make more friends and more connections within the women of Cal.
"It's just developed over the past three years now that we've been doing it into really impactful meetings on things that have completely rearranged how I see things. Ultimately, it's a place to meet people and a place to build connections, but it's kind of covered by these meeting themes of self-compassion, self-love, how to be a good teammate. We've had guest speakers on self-defense. We've had panels of women in Cal Athletics that have been super amazing and awesome. We have coaches' nights, and back pre-COVID they would do fun arcade games with the goal of basically breaking down the facade of woman athlete vs. woman coach vs. woman whatever, and just being women at Cal. That's what our goal is, to just allow for that space to be vulnerable, to make friends, and to build those connections out."
Fines, who graduated in 2019 and now works in schools in Stockton as part of Teach For America, knew she wanted the group to last beyond her time at Cal, and that Kondo was the perfect person to take the helm when she was gone.
"Cam is a servant leader and she's always going to do what is best for the group," Fines said. "She leads by example all the time and she's just somebody that you always want to have on your side. She's a good person to have on your corner."
Through a difficult year for everyone, the Golden Girls have been able to adapt and continue to build community even while physically isolated.
"I met with our leadership team this summer, and I would not have been able to adapt Golden Girls during COVID without them," Kondo said. "Coming in this year, we wanted to provide a space for people to meet each other and check-in with each other.
"This past fall, none of the female sports were on campus, so we were all training on our own from home. How we've adapted is we've just taken what we've been given and figuring out what women athletes or women, in general, were lacking, and figuring out how we could best provide an environment for people to talk about these things and engage with other women around them."
Kondo and Fines share a favorite memory from Golden Girls - at the first-ever meeting, representatives from the Cal Cheer and Dance teams taught the group some moves to get everyone feeling comfortable and vulnerable with each other.
"Whenever you start something new for the first time, of course there's nerves," Fines said. "You're kind of hesitant, you may doubt yourself a little bit. But for the first meeting we had representatives from every single team and I just remember feeling this huge sense of community.
"We had asked the cheerleaders and the dance team to teach us some steps to a routine at the end of the meeting, so they taught us some dance moves and every person that was there, whenever we would hear that song at the football games, we would go through the moves with them, and it was just super fun. Being in that room with over 60 student-athletes and doing that all together - it was amazing to see that sense of community, everyone having fun and just letting our walls down and being vulnerable."
"It's pretty funny to get all these Cal athletes who are pretty rigid dancing like that," Kondo added. "I always love the icebreakers and the time in breakout rooms of just getting five minutes to just talk to someone who you probably don't know, and then seeing them at the next meeting and checking in about whatever we had talked about the last time. I think that's the really awesome part, is just that community."
As for the future, both Fines and Kondo are confident that Golden Girls will still be going strong long after they've left Cal.
"I think the future is bright," Kondo said. "There are so many underclassmen, as well as some of our seniors who are staying for their fifth year, who are going to be able to take this on and see where it goes.
"That's something when I've talked to Pita (Toler), she said, "I wish we had this when I was here 10 years ago," Kondo shared. "I think it's something that can reach across generations of Cal athletes while also completely serving the infinite number of athletes that will continue to come in after I leave."