remember it clearly: I was 10, sitting in the back of our car. It was a hot day and I had my face pressed against the window. I was watching my eight-year-old brother try out for Little League and I was jumping out of my skin. It was killing me that I couldn't try out. I could throw and catch pretty well ... and I was fast. Suddenly, my mom left the car and walked right up to one of the coaches. I watched as she talked, gesturing back at me. She ran back and opened the car door: "Okay, Karyn, you're on!" Within seconds I was on the field with the boys. I was in my element. I played well and made the team. It still is one of the happiest moments of my life. On the ride home my brother looked awfully glum. Oh, he'd made the team, too — but now his big sister would be the only girl.
I never thought about being the "only girl" on the team. I loved practice and the competition. We won a lot of games and I held up my end. So after a while, the boys — even my brother — didn't think about the only girl. I've never forgotten the moxie it took for my mom to get me that chance. It was a great summer.
A couple of years later my family moved from Salt Lake City to Montana. I was disappointed to find out that there were all-girls teams at my new school. I had loved playing with the boys. Most of the girls teams lacked the organization and rigor I had gotten used to. But girls basketball was an established sport in Montana and I quickly joined. During those harsh Montana winters — when there wasn't much else to do — towns literally shut down on girls game night. The gym would steam up and smell of farms and tractors. Parents packed the bleachers and watched their teenage daughters play full out. The entire town showed up and cheered. I was part of a special community.
For me, basketball has always been a pure, total experience. In the heat of an intense game, my body felt like it was on fire, almost numb. Muscle memory took over and I was on autopilot. I was a hundred percent engaged to the exclusion of everything else. I was in the zone. I defined myself in basketball terms and my self-worth depended on it. I'd be sky-high if my team won and I had contributed to the win. If I missed a crucial free throw, or played poorly, and we lost, I'd be devastated.