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Westhem: Motivation spurs success for Ruthie Bolton

I don’t think that this year’s Super Bowl warrants much more attention than the column that was written yesterday, so instead, I’m going to quietly sidestep that typically momentous sporting event and move on to something else entirely.

I actually didn’t watch the Super Bowl because, by the time I got back from the Stanford women’s basketball game in Berkeley, the winner had already been decided and I had missed the halftime show – so not really worth it for someone who prefers college football anyways.

Instead, I want to talk about an inspiring story that I heard from women’s basketball head coach Tara VanDerveer on the team bus heading back from the game (I broadcast their games for KZSU). The team got to meet one of the players that Tara coached for Team USA during the 1996 Olympics.

The story of Ruthie Bolton is one of perseverance and resilience that can resonate with fans of all sports and with any of you who were told that you couldn’t or wouldn’t succeed somewhere along the line. This is the story that I got to hear straight from Ruthie and Tara themselves – mixed with a little research of my own because I was curious to find out more about this player that Tara admires greatly.

Ruthie is one of 20 siblings from McClain, Mississippi. She played basketball in high school with her older sister, Mae Ola Bolton, and was only recruited to play at Auburn University as part of a package deal with her sister. She sat down at Denny’s with the coach and was told that she probably wouldn’t get to see any action or be guaranteed a scholarship or even a spot on the team, so he offered to find her another place to play or suggested that she might want to play at a junior college.

Ruthie decided to stick it out and train harder than ever and actually ended up not only making the team, but starting during her freshman year at Auburn. She led the Tigers to back-to-back national championship appearances, averaging 8.9 points per game. She still had to pay her own way to her first USA Women’s Basketball Olympic Trials despite her strong collegiate play. After coming back from a knee injury, she was able to make it to the final round of tryouts for the 1992 team before being the last player cut.

Ruthie came back with determination and confidence and made the 1996 Olympic team, in which she aided Tara in winning a gold medal for Team USA. She started every game in the Olympics, averaging 12.8 points per game and hit consecutive 3-point shots late in the gold medal game to snatch the victory away from Russia. She also won another gold medal with the 2000 United States basketball team.

The Olympics star then went on to join the Monarchs in the WNBA’s fledgling years and in 1997 was named the league’s first Player of the Week. After that season, she finished as the second-leading scorer in the WNBA and made the All-League first team.

Now, though, she needed her resilience and perseverance yet again as she tore her ACL and lost her father. She overcame the hardships and came back for the 1999-2000 season, during which she averaged 13 points per game, returning just in time to be a defensive beast in the 2000 Olympics as well.

Finishing her career with two NCAA National Championship appearances, two Olympic gold medals and eight years in the WNBA, you would never have thought that Ruthie was told by her future coach at Auburn that she wasn’t good enough to play there and was less desirable than her older sister. Sometimes, it’s that added shove into the ground that motivates you even more to not only stand up, but to soar above the opposition to prove to yourself that you are good enough. This is something to remember in life and in sports.

I am so lucky that I get to be a small part of Stanford women’s basketball and to hear great stories like this one from one of the most celebrated coaches in the game of college basketball and beyond.

Ashley Westhem was told that she would never write a column at The Daily. To ask her about her perseverance in overcoming this struggle, contact her at awesthem ‘at’ stanford.edu and follow her on Twitter @ashwest16.

About Ashley Westhem

Ashley Westhem is the voice of Stanford women’s basketball for KZSU as well as The Daily’s beat writer for the team and aids in KZSU’s coverage of football. She has been a desk editor for three volumes and now serves as Managing Editor of Sports. She is an American Studies major from Lake Tahoe, Calif., and aspires to work in sports administration, to positively affect the lives of student-athletes and the relationship between the athletic and academic spheres of universities.
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