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Olympian: Women athletes must be dreaming pioneers

Softball star Dr. Dot Richardson shares her inspiring story and urges, "Ladies, follow your heart."

By STEVE LEE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 9, 2003

ST. LEO -- As an orthopedic surgeon and Olympic softball hero, Dr. Dot Richardson personifies the model student-athlete.

Nowadays, the 10th annual recipient of Saint Leo's Women In Sports award heals the injured and shares her passion -- for life, for sports.

As the guest speaker for the school's Women in Sports banquet Thursday at the Lake Jovita Golf & Country Club, Richardson spoke of her rise in the medical field and of her achievements on the softball diamond.

"Succeed in sports, lead in life," said Richardson, echoing this year's theme. "When (Saint Leo softball coach Christi Wade) told me that, that's why I knew I was here."

Juggling hospital residency duties with Olympic softball games, Richardson realized her dreams by becoming a physician and leading Team USA to gold medals in 1996 and 2000.

"Ladies, follow your heart and your passion, because you were given something special," Richardson imparted. "And you were given it so you could share it with others."

Richardson credited Title IX, a gender equity ruling in 1972 that opened doors for women in athletics, for providing opportunities. But, she noted, today's female athletes should still consider themselves pioneers so future generations also can pursue their dreams.

Richardson enthusiastically described how she lived out her dream, how she played on adult traveling teams as a 10-year-old and moved up through the ranks to play in five Pan-American games and win five gold medals for being part of the U.S. championship teams.

Then came the ultimate, making the U.S. Olympic team in 1996 and becoming the first Olympian to hit a home run.

"God, I wish everyone could feel what I was feeling right there and then," Richardson recalled of her famous trot around the bases.

Alexis Esquia, a freshman from Wharton High School who is on Saint Leo's fledgling women's golf team, was one of seven recipients of a $1,000 Sodexho Marriott scholarship presented Thursday. Like many in the audience, Esquia was inspired by Richardson's speech.

"I liked how she talked about passion," Esquia said. "Her dream finally came true.

"My goal is to go on the LPGA tour, and hopefully it will come true."

Denyve Duncan, who last season as a freshman at second base made the All-Sunshine State Conference first team, received Saint Leo's Spirit award for her community activities. Those included organizing a clothes drive for a domestic violence shelter, Duncan's involvement in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and a summer trip to the Dominican Republic to spread Christianity and play charity softball games.

Like Richardson, Duncan is a lead-off batter. Unlike Richardson, she has never homered.

"I've always been told I'm not the long-ball hitter," Duncan said, "so now I'm going to hit a home run."

While displaying one of her Olympic gold medals Thursday, Richardson recalled visiting a children's ward and showing it to a young girl recovering from surgery for cancer. The girl asked whether the medal was gold. Richardson replied that although it was made mostly of silver, "It was gold to me."

Bewildered that the girl's parents and nurses were crying afterward, Richardson asked why and was told that the girl's query was her first spoken words in a month.

"That touched me," said soccer player Kimberly Ciliberto, one of the seven scholarship recipients. "It was a miracle."

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