Ever since I was young, I loved the thrill of heights: standing at the edge of a cliff, feeling the rush before the leap. A child of mountains and sky, I grew up nearer to the stars than to civilization -- quietly watching the world move below me from the hilltop that was home. I climbed to the tops of trees for a better view. In my dreams, I would run, raise my arms and lift off, flying up over the valley and into the wind. When I was 10, my parents did the smartest thing they could and enrolled me in gymnastics, where I learned to flip and twist, release and catch. I grew to love the squeak of the uneven bars and the smell of chalk dust as I left the ground behind and was, at last, airborne.
A decade later, I was a competitive college athlete: a 1 and 3-meter springboard diver, throwing myself into the air every day from 15 feet above the pool. It was terrifying and exhilarating and I lived for it. A product of Title IX -- which turns 40 this week -- I grew up in sports. They molded me into a disciplined young woman with passion, power and steely determination. As a girl, I remember watching a brilliant Gatorade commercial set to the song "Love Hurts" that showed athletes pushing through pain, including a gymnast who does a back flip on the balance beam and totally bites it. In my head, I heard my own coach's voice, "Get up. Do it again." I fall. "Again..." Until I learn to push, to keep going when I'm tired. To clear my mind of everything but the moment, as time suspends me in the air and I am the acrobat, the athlete.
When I reflect on girlhood, these are some of my favorite memories. Sports were my first love affair. It was through them that I learned to set goals, chart progress and witness the rewards of ambition and perseverance. Signed into law in June 1972, Title IX made these life-changing opportunities available for myself and millions of other girls around the United States. Joined by the Girl Scouts, this week the White House celebrates this American milestone that gave young women equal access in public schools to rewarding athletic programs as well as classes in math, science, engineering and more.
In doing so, the enduring legacy of Title IX has helped generations of American girls see the warrior within.
The author is a Seven Sisters Scholar Athlete and former captain of the Mount Holyoke College Swimming & Diving Team