• In the Old West, babysitters were sometimes hard to come by. Very young children were sometimes put on a gentle, reliable horse, tied to the saddle horn, and babysat by the horse. Of course, children learned to ride horses quickly. When Fannie Sperry was very young, her mother placed her on a horse and told her to be careful not to fall off. Young Fannie fell off anyway, so her mother picked her up, put her on the horse again, and told her to be more careful. Fanny quickly learned to ride, and eventually she competed at riding bucking stock in rodeos.
• Gymnast Tracee Talavera and her older sister, Coral, attended an elementary school in San Francisco that was attended mostly by African-American children. Sometimes, the black children taunted the Talaveras by yelling at them, “You white honkies!” Coral would run to and hold the hand of a white teacher, but Tracee shouted back, “I am not! I’m brown!” This was her way of telling the African-American children that her heritage was Chicano. In fact, Talavera de la Reina, which means “Tiara of the Queen,” is a town near Madrid, Spain.
• As an eight-year-old, future Pittsburgh Penguin hockey player Mario Lemieux had an excellent slap shot—even though most players don’t develop one until their teenage years. From the center of the ice, young Mario had the strength and power to send the hockey puck flying through the air and over the high plexiglass at the end of the rink. In one game, he scared the other team’s goalie into leaving the goal undefended simply by getting ready to hit a slap shot, but once the goalie had gone, he simply tapped the puck in for a goal.
• While growing up, Gail Devers used to race her older brother in their backyard. He always beat her, and he always made fun of her because he had beat her. This motivated Gail to practice running. She beat her brother the next time they raced, and he stopped racing her. However, he did set up races between Gail and other children in the neighborhood—races that Gail always won. The practice paid off. Ms. Devers won three Olympic gold medals—one (100-meter) in 1992 and two in 1996 (100-meter and 4×100-meter relay).
• When she was a little girl, figure skater Sasha Cohen was used to causing and getting into trouble, so she experienced a lot of time-outs. Once, before being punished, she tried to get candy from her father. As he carried her to the spot for her time-out, she said, “Dad, before my time-out, I want 10 candies.” He said no, so she lowered her request to five candies, then to three candies, but he answered no each time. Finally, Sasha said, “OK, Dad, my final offer: Give me one candy, and I’ll take a lick and spit it out.” He laughed.
• Chris Evert came from a family of tennis players. By the time she was seventeen years old, she had won 250 trophies. Her siblings also had earned lots of sports trophies: Jeanne had 150, Drew had 125, and 10-year-old John had 20. Clare didn’t have any, but the four-year-old was busy practicing with a tennis racket that had part of its handle sawn off so she could handle it. Chris and Jeanne shared a packed bedroom—packed because it was filled with their trophies.
• One of the best days in Wilma Rudolph’s life occurred just before her 10th birthday. As a child, she had been sickly, and polio had damaged one of her legs so badly that she was forced to use a leg brace. Members of her family massaged her leg each day to help her regain use of it. Just before her 10th birthday, Wilma was able to walk into her church without using the leg brace. Ms. Rudolph won three gold medals in track and field at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome.
• Kim Zmeskal started training in Houston, Texas, at age six, and the great gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi arrived shortly afterward. As a teenager weighing 71 pounds and standing 4-feet-5 tall, she competed for him. When the 14-year-old Kim won an award for Female Athlete of the Year in 1990, after becoming United States national champion, she amused the crowd by mentioning in her speech “people you’ve been with since you were little.”
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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