The Annual National Girls and Women in Sport Day has been a special day for me for many decades because of my support of and leadership role at the Women’s Sports Foundation, one of the founding organizations of National Girls and Women in Sport Day.
This year’s celebration was yesterday, and carried on the aim of bringing national attention to the importance of women’s sports for all girls and women. I recall joining other elite female athletes as we hosted a press conference and reception at the Capitol in Washington DC, visited various congressional representatives for photo ops and to remind them of the importance of protecting Title IX (the federal civil rights law that prohibits sexual discrimination in any federally-funded school or education program), and often visited the White House to meet Presidents and First Ladies.
As President of the Women’s Sports Foundation in 1989-91, I was honored to join elite athletes such as Olympic swimmers Donna de Varona and Nancy Hogshead, tennis greats Chris Evert, Pam Shriver and Martina Navratilova, basketball great Nancy Lieberman, and so many more. I was even able to take my daughter with me one year when we walked along the Mall as part of the celebration, and she was able to meet then-senator Joe Biden. Some great memories indeed. Due to COVID this year’s celebration was virtual, but no less important.
I was proud to represent motorsports, but sometimes questioned how Title IX affected women in racing since it’s a sport not offered in the traditional educational systems around the country. But women’s sports is a community; a large and powerful community, and the importance of equal opportunities goes far beyond traditional sports. I’m convinced that because we now have moms and dads who were influenced by Title IX during their educational experience, they are now more open and supportive of their daughters doing things, like competitive racing than in the past, when they would have only expected to support their sons.
Research on women in leadership in business documents that the majority of them will have stories about their participation in sports, and how much that influenced their ability to succeed in business and in life.
When eyes and minds are opened by seeing women succeed, it doesn’t really matter in what area, because it sends a message that affects everyone. I’ve always felt racing is a gender-neutral sport, but there is no denying that women have had a harder time getting the best opportunities to allow them to reach their potential and excel. Racing is also a unique sport because men and women compete on an equal level. By collectively working for equal opportunities, change can happen, and is happening. There’s momentum for women in racing now as never before, and we’re seeing them succeed in karting, drag racing, off road racing, rallying, and oval track and road racing.