Between The Covers | June 2015

Course Correction: A Story of Rowing and Resilience in the Wake of Title IX

Photos courtesy of Ginny Gilder.

By Terri Schlichenmeyer, June 2015 Issue.

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Course Correction: A Story of Rowing and Resilience in the Wake of Title IX by Ginny Gilder. Beacon Press, 2015 | $26.95.

The song went ‘round and ‘round in your head. Maybe that’s why it’s called “a round.” You know how it works: one group starts to sing and, when they get to a certain point, the next group begins anew and so on, until the endings lap like waves.

But, as in the new book Course Correction by Ginny Gilder, the things we plan don’t always go merrily, merrily, merrily.

The first time Ginny Gilder ever saw a rowing team in action, she was 16 and didn’t quite know what she was seeing. Everything about that boat, its rowers and the motion spoke of serenity and control – things Gilder lacked in her young life.

Two years later, while enrolled at Yale, she finally got a chance to try the sport, though the women’s rowing coach strongly discouraged her. Gilder was physically shorter than is optimal for a rower and, because Title IX (ensuring an end to gender discrimination at federally funded institutions) had only recently passed, she’d never seriously engaged in sports before.

She was out of shape and inexperienced, but determined. She started training, running and practicing. Within six weeks, she was competing.

“Everything hurt,” she said, “including my butt. My hands sported new blisters, my lungs felt like they had been rubbed with sandpaper … I had never felt happier.”

For the rest of that year, Gilder threw herself into her newfound love, barely socializing except with teammates at workouts, training and competitions.

Rowing helped her focus and forget about the home life she’d escaped: her family’s wealth, her father’s infidelity and her mother’s mental health issues. Rowing helped hide her self-consciousness and lack of self-esteem. She saw her teammates swagger and confidence, and she saw two of them try out for the U.S. Olympic team in Montreal. At least one teammate was gay and didn’t try to hide it, Gilder recalled, “I couldn’t imagine being that bold or comfortable…”

Her self-doubts were exacerbated by family naysayers and by Gilder’s own inner critic – a voice she had to silence before she could excel at the sport she desperately needed. Eventually this sport enabled her to come to terms with all aspects of herself – including her sexuality.

I’m very happy to say that, while sometimes a little rough in a first-time-author way, Course Correction is a nice surprise overall.

Within the intimate making-of-an-athlete narrative, Gilder writes of the past that caused her to lose faith in herself, even as she was gaining strength, physically and intellectually. That uncertainty of self – a big part of this book – led to many regrettable decisions and is portrayed so well that it’s hard not to feel empathetic. That empathy leaves readers to wanting more. Add in heart-pounding accounts of races and trials and you’ve got a historic memoir about a subject that’s largely unsung by an author to watch.


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 Athlete-Turned-Author Shares Inspiration For Memoir

By KJ Philp,  June 2015 Issue.

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Ginny Gilder.

She is a mother, a daughter, a rower, a lesbian, pioneer in the world of women’s sports, an Olympian, a CEO and, this year, Ginny Gilder adds author to her list of accomplishments.

Echo caught up with Gilder following the release of her memoir Course Correction: A Story of Rowing and Resilience in the Wake of Title IX.

Echo: The logical place to start seems to be the famous Title IX naked protest of 1976 (by the Yale women’s rowing crew); at that time did you have any idea your actions would define a movement?

Gilder: No. I was a college freshman, doing what my captain suggested and my teammates decided was right. [It was] fun when contemplating, nervous right before, exhilarating and glorious in the aftermath.

Echo: You came to terms with your sexual identity at age 40; how long did it take for you to feel comfortable discussing it with teammates or other athletes?

Gilder: Once I decided to come out, I was comfortable right away discussing my sexuality with anyone who wanted to talk about it, even my parents, once I had cleared the hurdle of telling them.

Echo: At what point in your journey did writing a book become a realistic consideration?

Gilder: In 2009, a few years after my mother died and as my second child was graduating from high school. It seemed like I had a bit more time for reflection and was in a more reflective mood. I had also gotten out on the water again and done some rowing, which triggered a lot of memories.

Echo: You’ve traveled the world for sport and business; where do you consider home and at what point did you make that realization?

Gilder: Seattle. I moved there in 1985. I thought if I took my Type A personality out of the Type A environment, the Type A personality would dissipate, but I was wrong. I didn’t want to have my professional work define me, I wanted to have a family I could spend time with, and I felt the prospects for that in the northeast were slim. I also thought I’d never stop rowing at a high level if I remained in Boston.

Echo: When did you step away from regular training for competition?

Gilder: I had planned to train for the 1988 Olympics, but my first child died the day before she was born in 1986. It took me two years to recover from that tragedy and in the process I lost my passion for training.

Echo: How did you translate what you’d learned in sports to business?

Gilder: I never thought about translating what I learned in sports to anything, it just happened. Rowing taught me to work hard, to dream big, not to listen to naysayers, the importance of teamwork … I could go on. Those practices and beliefs saturated my approach to life in every domain.

Echo: The WNBA has come a long way since its inaugural season in 1997; how much of that do you attribute to Title IX?

Gilder: Title IX was passed in 1972 and the league started 25 years later. Girls’ participation in high school sports, then college sports, skyrocketed during those years. Without opportunities at those levels, there would have been no call for professional opportunities, much less athletes sufficiently skilled to be interesting to watch. Since the league started, the increasing caliber of players entering the league has strengthened its future and the continued opportunities available to women to play sports in college is certainly critical to the league’s future.

Echo: Tell me a little bit about Force 10 Hoops and how that enabled you to become co-owner of the Seattle Storm.

Gilder: Force 10 Hoops is the partnership entity that owns the Seattle Storm. We specifically formed Force 10 Hoops to purchase the team. Lisa Brummel and Dawn Trudeau are my partners. We bought the team in early 2008 after Clay Bennett bought the then Seattle Supersonics and the Storm, planning to move them both to Oklahoma City. We managed to convince him to leave the Storm behind.

Echo: Given all the progress made in the part 40 years, how will Course Correction resonate with readers today?

Gilder: Those who lived through it will remember the era I wrote about; those who followed may learn some of the historical procession of women’s sports. Hopefully, my writing will help people think about the importance of struggling through failure and of challenging/questioning one’s fears before just simply giving into them.

Echo: Is there a certain demographic it’s geared towards?

Gilder: No. I wrote part of my personal story, which is not just about my success as an athlete, but my struggles as a person. For anyone who struggles with apprehension about the future, with fear about her/his ability to translate dreams into reality, this story could possibly help them. This is not really a sports memoir … rowing was part of my education, helped me grow into the person I have become, but it’s not all about which races I won and how sparkly my medals were.


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