The year was 1970. The women were Billie Jean King and Gladys Heldman. The challenge was changing conventional thinking that left women in the backcourt. The next challenge was in the arena of women’s sailing. The dream was an all women’s team winning the America’s Cup.
The seed was planted in the 1980’s when as pioneers; a women’s team competed in San Francisco Bay. Sailors from around the world were amazed at the prospect of competing against us. In 1990 I answered the call by leaving a managerial position with AT&T, my posh home in Tibruon, California, and invested my life savings to forge the team.
Everyone told me that it shouldn’t, couldn’t and wouldn’t be done. The mantra was that women were just not strong or smart enough to compete at that level.
After two years of rejection, I became disillusioned. The 1992 America’s Cup Committee treated me with disdain as they rejected my proposal. Finding my resolve, I re-created my proposal and set out to relentlessly pursue the 1995 event.
Once the media entertained the possibility, my effort was finally recognized by the America’s Cup. Adverse publicity, which had haunted them previously, threatened to drive needed sponsorship away. Yet, behind the scenes their requirements continuously changed, hindering my success. Sponsors were quietly contacted and told a women’ s team would never happen. Plans were made and federal monies given to all but the women’s team.
Privately, my proposal was hailed as brilliant. Publicly, however, it was announced a failure at all levels. I was commanded to transfer my assets to Dennis Conner, the self-proclaimed power behind the America’s Cup, who considered a loss to a women’s team as tarnishing his lucrative image.
My naiveté would not allow me to accept the fact that women would intentionally be excluded. As private yacht club, San Diego claimed it was their right to change the rules. I was emphatically told to shut the door and leave quietly.
I filed bankruptcy and inflated my story to the press in order to save face. I was on a huge downward spiral. It took every ounce of strength and sinew to file a dispute in both federal and state court. The basis of the claim was that once federal funds were used to fund the America’s Cup, then that event had to be open to all. Yet, the only way to gain entry was through their selective approval process.
I represented myself and staved off three motions to dismiss, but I was emotionally spent and chose to shut the door and leave quietly. I would try to begin anew.
The team was entered and competed successfully until their last race when fate prevailed in the name of Dennis Connor. As for me, my silence slowly destroyed me. Left with twenty dollars; I drifted from welfare to low paying hourly waged jobs. Blinded by emotion, I lost heart. All I could do was surrender to the massive wave of failure enveloping me.
Through the journey, the light beckoned me to hold on as I anchored myself with the spirit of endurance and let the darkness pass. Ten years later, I can acknowledge my own participation in my demise. I can also celebrate my success, but, more importantly, I celebrate my renewed belief in myself.
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