In her new memoir, the Seattle Storm co-owner recalls the Title IX battles of her days on the Yale rowing team.
Ginny Gilder calls her new book a memoir, but it’s more of a training manual for becoming an Olympic-caliber rower.
Or for breaking long-standing gender barriers at an Ivy League university.
Or for growing up with family dysfunction, and thriving just the same.
Ginny Gilder with Marcie Sillman: ‘Title IX’s Personal Impacts, Lasting Legacy’
7:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 5, Town Hall Seattle, 1119 Eighth Ave., Seattle. Tickets: $5, at townhallseattle.org
Ginny Gilder in conversation with ’The Boys in the Boat’ author Daniel James Brown
7 p.m. Saturday, May 23, The Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave., Seattle. Free.
Or for realizing one’s true sexual orientation, and falling in love.
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Or for listening to the voice in your head that tells you you’re supposed to be something you know you’re not — and shutting it down.
“Course Correction” does all that, and in just 250 pages that barely mention Gilder’s part ownership of the Seattle Storm WNBA team, and her regular job as CEO of an investment company.
But that is typical Gilder — packing everything she can into one thing, and moving on to the next.
Gilder, 56, will be discussing her book on May 5 at Seattle’s Town Hall; and then again with “The Boys in the Boat” author Daniel James Brown on May 23 at The Elliott Bay Book Company. (“Course Correction” has been called “Wild” meets “The Boys in the Boat.”)
“I’ve been thinking about Daniel’s book,” Gilder said the other day, calling from a bench in the Grand Army of the Republic cemetery on Capitol Hill, not far from her home. “I find it interesting how one sport can encompass one aspect of American history.”
The two books are set 50 years apart, she said. Hers is a memoir, while Brown’s is a work of historical nonfiction. Both put rowing against a political and global backdrop.
But Gilder’s book is about the battle she fought not just to earn a spot in the boat — but the one she and her teammates fought in their own boathouse against the men’s team and the hidebound paternal culture of Yale.
And then there is the quiet struggles she had at home. There was vast wealth, but there was also plenty of dysfunction.
She grew up the second of four children on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Her mother was a master of decorating and planning but left the child-rearing to the help. Her father, Richard, an investment banker, was equally distant. (They have since become close.)
When Gilder was a teenager, her father left the family for one of their summer nannies. Her mother attempted suicide. Gilder escaped to Dana Hall, an all-girls boarding school in Wellesley, Mass.
Her last year there, she watched the Head of the Charles Regatta in Cambridge from the sidelines and deciding that it was her sport. Once at Yale, she joined the team, despite being a novice.
“I thought rowing gave me another opportunity to distance myself,” she wrote, “to swerve off the expected route and run in a new direction.”
She liked that she could count on it, when so much of her home life was unknown and volatile.
“Rowing provided me stability,” she said. “If I can row this boat forward, there’s a certain self-confidence that came from that.”
But she was short, just 5 feet 7 inches, and suffered from asthma. It only made her work harder.
In 1976, she was the youngest of a group of 19 female rowers who famously walked into the office of Director of Physical Education Jodi Barnett and stripped, revealing “Title IX” painted on their backs and sternums. The idea was to show Barnett the bodies that Yale was exploiting — they were taunted in the weight room by the men’s team and didn’t have their own showers.
A reporter and photographer from the Yale Daily News were in the room. The reporter was also a stringer for The New York Times, so one team’s protest spoke for a nation of female athletes.
“We had a sense of history, but in terms of individual courage,” Gilder said. “I felt like I was taking a huge risk.”
It was just one of many.
She fought hard and won a spot on the 1980 U.S. Olympic team, but never competed, because the U.S. boycotted the Games that year. She made the women’s quadruple sculls team for the 1984 Games, and won silver.
In 1997, she and her husband started taking tennis lessons from a woman named Lynn Slaughter — with whom Gilder fell in love. Another risk. They eventually married, blended their families. There’s even a grandchild.
Ten years later, Gilder joined a group of women in buying the WNBA Seattle Storm — but didn’t know a thing about the game. She was invited in by co-owner Dawn Trudeau, and already knew co-owner Lisa Brummel from Yale.
“I am not a huge basketball fan in and of itself,” she said, adding that when she bought the team, Slaughter got her a copy of “Basketball for Dummies.”
“There’s an emotional ownership,” she said. “I wanted to get reconnected with the community and work with women because the investment community is heavily male.”
Gilder had always written (she started a novel when she was about 12) but “Course Correction” was the unplanned result of her training for the Olympics — in her forties.
She had seen swimmer Dara Torres earn a place on the 2008 U.S. Olympic swim team at age 41, and wondered if she could do the same with rowing. She hired a sports psychologist, Dr. Michael Gervais, to set her mind to the task.
“But after six months, I was done,” Gilder said. “I had done what I wanted to do in that endeavor. I had trained hard. I had gotten to the top of my sport. To do it again wasn’t appealing.”
Out of her desire to compete came a desire to write instead.
“It was a new frontier,” she said. “An intellectual challenge.”
But “Course Correction” is where she steps far out on her own.
“My father could not look backward,” she said. “He could not reflect on what he did that worked, what he did that pained people, the choices he made.
“Whatever I do, at the end of the day, I hope he thinks I represent him well,” Gilder continued. “I wanted to be able to give this book to my father and have him say, ‘Nice job.’”
The message of the book, Gilder said, is captured in the last chapter, when she counseled her daughter, Sierra, after she was cut from a soccer team.
“Don’t let anyone tell you, or decide for you, who you’re going to be,” Gilder told her. “I get to make that decision. You get to make that decision. Every day.”