COLUMBIA — At the age of nine, Vonetta Flowers had a dream of one day being an Olympic champion. Flowers said her dream, like other female athletes, did not happen overnight and that, "you have to set goals in order to reach them."
The dream of being an Olympic champion was finally realized for Flowers at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Flowers won the gold for women's bobsled and became the first black person to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics. Flowers said after that day she knew that anything is possble.
Flowers told her inspirational story at Columbia College on Thursday for the annual Women's Intersport Network awards luncheon. The luncheon, in its 11th year, recognized girls and women's achievements in sport both on and off the field.
Flowers, like WIN, has a goal of promoting recognition and equality in women's athletics. Flowers stressed to her audience to never give up on their dreams.
"At times when you feel like you want to give up, you should always surround yourself with positive people who won' let you," Flowers said.
Flowers says she almost gave up on her dreams. After her fifth surgery in eight years and after twice failing to qualify for the summer Olympics in track and field, Flowers felt like moving on. That is when her husband showed her a want ad for bobsledding.
"If I didn't have my husband in my corner, I wouldn't have the opportunity to bobsled,"Flowers said. "He was the one who said this was another opportunity, and this would be a way to go to the Olympics and live out my dream,"
Her speech also focused on the idea that a coach's support is a crucial part of an athletes motivation.
"In middle school my coach, he was the one who told me I could be the next Jackie Joyner-Kersee," she said.
Flowers said support is something women's athletics has gotten more of lately, but the still needs to grow.
"So many great things have come from Title IX, so now women can dream about competing in sports past middle school and high school,"Flowers said. "However, women do not receive the same amount of money, but I think that will come with time,"
Flowers said the lack of funding for women's sports is why it is important for organizations like the WIN to exist.
President of WIN Candy Whittet, who also spoke at the gathering, said it is important for women not to be forgotten in the athletic community.
"Our goal is to recognize the outstanding girls and women in sports in the Columbia Community," Whittet said.
One of the winners at this year's event was Fiona Asigbee, who competes in track and field. Asigbee, a MU graduate, won Sportswoman of the Year, which is awarded to a female athlete who is playing past college. Asigbee is currently training for the qualifying meets of the 2008 Summer Olympics.
During her acceptance speech, Asigbee said Flowers' story of dreams and perseverence resonated with her.
"Well, it's funny, because I thought Vonetta was speaking to me, because I could relate to her so much," Asigbee said.
Other winners included: Jill Nagel (Rock Bridge Girls Basketball Coach)-Female Coach of the Year, Judy Knuston (Advocate for Physical Fitness and Health)-Mentor of the Year, Katie McMahon (Columbia College softball player)-Collegiate Spotswoman of the Year, Yvonne Anderson (Hickman girls basketball)-High School Sportswoman of the Year, Nicole Mello (Smithton Middle School cross country)-Youth Athlete of the Year, Katherine Caldwell (Rock Bridge High School swimming)-Courage Award and Susan Gray (WIN)-Kent Heithold Memorial Award.
If you are interested in getting involved in the Women's Intersport Network there is an annual fee of $25 and you should contact Susan Gray. Gray's number is 573-442-4736 and for more information on WIN you can check out their Web site at www.winforcolumbia.com