Remembering Sally Ride

Photo courtesy of Sally Ride Science

Sally Ride's death has hit me hard.

And I know how weird it is for me to be writing a post like this on Cranky Fitness; this is not that kind of blog. So, kind readers, please forgive today's rather self-indulgent wallow in grief and know that normal whining about health and fitness aggravations will return soon.

The thing with Sally Ride and why the loss feels so personal...

She was one of the few role models I've ever welcomed and internalized into my own bizarre psychological  landscape--a spooky but ultimately hopeful place in which conventional "heroes" and "celebrities" don't tend to venture very often.  But kind, brainy, brave, self-effacing, determined gals who accomplish amazing things without ever getting big-headed or braggy...they tend to loom large.

Plus, I knew Sally Ride and she changed my life.

Seriously Crabby, Are You Maybe... Exaggerating a Little?

OK, so I didn't really "know her." I just hung out with her for a few weeks.  And, um, I was only 11 or 12 at the time.  And it's not like we were close friends... she was my camp counselor at a tennis camp in Lake Tahoe.  I had a predictably wild crush on her (along with our cabin's other counselor, Sally's best bud Molly, who was also awesome.) This was a good decade before Sally Ride roared off in the Challenger.

And, well, memory is not my strong suit and it's also possible the "Sally Rider" I'd remembered from the early 1970's wasn't even the astronaut Sally Ride at all, in which case this is the most embarrassing blog post in all of history but what the hell.  Even if Sally Rider and Sally Ride were two different people, their combined presence still changed my life.

(UPDATE: I've received kind confirmation that the "Molly and Sally" I recall from summer camp were indeed Molly Tyson and Sally Ride).

The Sally and Molly I remember were so... fun. And smart. And gentle.  And inclusive. And worldly... without being snotty or blase about it. They shared a lot of "grown up" observations in a casual way, as though we mature enough to appreciate it.

Molly broke her arm tripping over a tennis ball and had to get a cast. Sally washed Molly's hair in the sink and goofed for the camera (not mine, sadly), pretending she was in a Prell commercial.  Both of them helped us write tennis-camp specific parodies of Simon and Garfunkle songs for the "talent" show. One of them had a guitar and they sang for us and I still think of them whenever I hear "The Sound of Silence" "Leaving on a Jet Plane" or "We'll Sing in the Sunshine."

Molly and Sally seemed to honor their friendship as something important and integral, not something to pass the time until the right guy came along to whisk them off.   It was clear they were bright and wise and GOING SOMEWHERE. And they encouraged all us girls to feel the same way.

I was the most awkward adolescent imaginable.  I didn't have many friends. I wore the wrong clothes, had the wrong haircut, didn't know how to be a proper "girl" even had I wanted to, which I wasn't all that sure I did.  (This was not yet a time when "alternative lifestyles" were condoned).  Yet Sally and Molly made me feel... totally ok about who I was, at least for the duration of camp.  I had the vague sense (and they may have even said something explicit along these lines) that if I could hang in there through junior high and high school, that life would get a lot less miserable for a shy gangly nerdy tomboy who feared she'd never fit in anywhere.

So Sally Ride was not just brainy, brave, barrier-breaking Space Traveler and Physics Professor who inspired millions with her accomplishments; she was a role model for at least one anxious, confused, self-doubting dweeb who is forever grateful.


So, no lie, three days ago I suddenly decided I wanted to find Sally Ride again, hoping to secure some sort of email address for her. I knew the chances of a reply were minimal, but I wanted to do two things: clear up the mystery of whether she was the camp counselor I recalled; and, also, to let her know how much her inspiration had meant to me, whether she was the same Sally or not.

Once I discovered she'd left UCSD (also my alma mater, though years before she taught there) I lost my nerve and thought better of wildly querying her nonprofit, Sally Ride Science and bothering her. I thought, well, some other time. Perhaps, I fantasized, I might run into her sometime in San Diego, at a fundraiser or something and see if the whole Tahoe tennis camp thing rang any bells. (And yes, I have an active fantasy life.)

Clearly, it's too late now. And I'm actually glad I didn't send any bothersome missives adding to email box clutter during her final days. Though it does make me think about others, not celebrities, who have been hugely inspirational in my life but may not have any idea of the impact they've had.  Perhaps time to hunt down a few more emails?

Cancer Sucks

I can only imagine what Tam O'Shaughnessy, Sally's partner of 27 years, is going through right now, and to her I send most heartfelt condolences.

FYI: There is now a fund set up over at Sally Ride Science site benefiting the Sally Ride Pancreatic Cancer Initiative (Fund 4191) if you feel like sending a check off somewhere helpful.

Anyone else find themselves heartbroken when a personal hero passes on?

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