The keynote speaker today was Dot Richardson, the Olympic gold-medal-winning softball player who is now the vice chair of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. I got to meet Dot before she spoke, and she's pretty much how I expected she would be from the times I've seen her on TV.
Before the presentation, I asked her how she felt about softball being eliminated as an Olympic sport after the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. She said something very interesting. The vote to dismiss softball was 52-52, with one abstention. (Olympic baseball also was eliminated, by the way.) The one abstention came from the United States delegate, Jim Easton, who Richardson said was told by the International Olympic Committee that his association with the Easton aluminum bat company created a conflict of interest. Imagine that. The IOC worrying about conflicts of interests. (Easton was allowed to vote at a later IOC meeting, where softball and baseball had one last shot of making it. But both were voted down again.)
Dot displayed several statistics during her power point presentation that showed the growing obesity epidemic in America. She knew she was "preaching to the choir,"; as she put it, but still, the stats were frightening. The one graphic that got a few "oohs"; and "aahs"; from the attendees was a map of the percentage of states and levels of obesity in each state. Dot showed the first map from 1985, then showed maps from later years indicating how the obesity levels in certain states grew dramatically throughout the years.
Dot said that the average lifetime of the current generation of American kids will be less than that of their parents. Another image that was pretty telling of our sedentary lifestyles was a photo of someone walking their dog while driving a truck. With two-thirds of adults either overweight or obese, it's no wonder that there's a new name for a cause of death based on physical inactivity: Sedentary Death Syndrome (SeDS).
After the presentation, Dot answered questions from the attendees, who brought up some interesting issues. She really came into her own as she wrapped up her talk, bringing out some inspirational stories from her public speaking. Dot talked about how there weren't many opportunities for her to play sports as a girl because, well, she was a girl. (This was right about the time of the beginning of Title IX in the early 1970s.) In order to join a boys baseball team, she would have had to cut her hair short and disguise herself, which she refused to do. She eventually caught the eye of a coach of a softball team of 22-year-olds. Dot was 10 at the time.
After she won the 1996 gold medal, Dot visited a sick child at the hospital where she worked. The child had brain surgery four days earlier, and half her head was shaved. Dot showed her the gold medal, and the kid asked, "Is that real gold?"; The heart-wrenching part of the story was those were the kid's first words since the surgery.
"Seize the gifts. Seize the opportunities. Make a difference,"; Dot told us.