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She was born too early to catch the Title IX train


THE MOVIE GRACIE IS THE story of a 15-year-old girl who, in the wake of the death of her soccer-playing brother, seeks to take his place on the high school team.

The story takes place in New Jersey in 1978, a time when girls played sports, but stopped in high school when they started paying attention to boys.

In any case, their athletic opportunities were limited to girls' sports, such as field hockey and gymnastics and, of course, cheerleading. In Gracie, there is no girls' soccer team, just a boys' team.

Gracie is an earnest, if predictable, empowerment movie lightly based on the life of actress Elisabeth Shue, who plays the role of Gracie's mother in the movie.

It came and went in the movie theaters pretty quickly, but if you have a young daughter, you should rent it when it comes out on DVD and watch it with her, whether she plays soccer or not. The lessons of Gracie may seem trite to us, but they are good lessons for a 10- or 12-year-old.

In the movie, the lead character, Gracie, is forbidden to try out for the boys' team, appeals the decision, citing Title IX, and is then given a chance to play.

It is hard to imagine such a circumstance now. It is more likely that you would see a movie about a determined young wrestler who is fighting to save his team from being cut by school administrators as they try to balance the sports scales for boys and girls.

But watching Gracie made me think about what I, and women my age, missed by being denied an opportunity to play sports in the time before Title IX.

It wasn't just that we never had the experience of being a member of a team, or that we never learned the lessons of winning and losing, or that we didn't have lots of trophy hardware in our bedrooms.

What we missed was a real relationship with our bodies, especially at a time in our lives when those bodies were shocking us or betraying us or embarrassing us.

We didn't know what it felt like to sweat buckets, to breathe so hard our throats burned, to work so hard our muscles felt like they were on fire.

We didn't know our own physical limits, or what it was like to stretch them or to exceed them.

All these years later, I have participated in every kind of exercise from tennis to aerobics to yoga and back again, but I still have no sense of my physical boundaries and when I am coming up against them.

I don't push myself to my limits because I don't know where they are or what it would feel like to do so.

I have no way of knowing, of course, but I think that is something that might be second nature to me now if I had learned it as a youngster.

My son was a wrestler and now he races bicycles. His military life requires that he be in peak physical condition. My daughter has played sports since she was just out of toddlerhood and recently complained after taking a yoga class with me that she didn't "feel anything."

I don't think -- but again, I can't know -- either of them has any outstanding questions about what their bodies can and can't do. I don't think they are afraid of physical challenges the way I am. Afraid some part of me will pop or break off.

It could be just me. Perhaps I would have been a timid and fearful high school athlete. Or a weak and uncoordinated one. I might never have been as tough as Gracie turns out to be. I might never have wanted it as badly as she does. I might never have learned to trust my body enough to test it the way Gracie does.

But, of course, that's something else I will never know about myself.


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