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Thanks for the Ride

August 1, 2012

Sally Ride
Photo from http://www.sallyridescience.com

When I was a little girl in school, it became pretty clear that I was interested in subjects that not all the other girls enjoyed.  I was (and still am) enamored with math and science.  Even today, I enjoy a good algebra or chemistry problem.  In fact, the first day of my high school physics class, the teacher announced, “Gentlemen, we are going to have a great year. Ladies (of which there were 3 of us) not a single one of you will be left in this class before the year is over.”  I was just stubborn enough to prove him wrong, even if I stood alone.

Sadly though, my physics experience wouldn’t be the last, and my education up until that point was pretty bereft of exposure to women in what would become my chosen fields of study with the dreams of being a teacher.  The only women scientists I knew were Sally Ride and Christa McAuliffe.  I cried for days when Christa and the other six crew members died in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.  Yet her courage, to go where no other teacher had before her, filled my little heart with soaring pride to be not only an American, but also a girl in America. My dream to someday be the “Teacher on the Trail” for the Iditarod stems from her pioneering spirit.

On July 23, 2012, we said good-bye to my other science role model, Sally Ride.  I thought she was the most amazing and fearless woman to walk the earth.  Sharing common interests, tennis and science, I always kept tabs on her career following her 1983 barrier breaking mission as the first woman astronaut.  She inspired me to push farther, to dream bigger, and to never settle for second best.  As an educator, I strive to find resources to expose children – boys and girls – to pioneering role models from whom they can learn.  Sally Ride was that inspirational person for me.

Last week was a crazy one for my family as I made two trips in as many days to take 2 of my children for appointments at the Mayo Clinic.  It is a four hour drive one-way from my house.  At the end of a road-weary and draining Day 2, my daughter asked me why all the flags were flying at half-mast in the town we were driving through.

I replied incorrectly, “Perhaps, it is because Sally Ride died yesterday.”  (I have since learned it was to honor the victims from Aurora, CO.  God bless them every one.)  My daughter had no idea who Dr. Ride was. I shared my story of how Sally Ride (along with Christa McAuliffe) was my role model in a time when women role models were not the norm, especially in the things I loved.  Hearing my enthusiasm and passion, my daughter learned a little bit about what inspired me in future career choices when I was her age.  Her response was priceless, “Wow! Mom, she sounds like an amazing person!”

Whomever Erin chooses to be her inspiration, hopefully she finds someone, like me, who encourages her to hook her dreams to the stars and to enjoy the ride.  So long, Sally – you will truly be missed.

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