Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Interview with Tamika Catchings

Back in 2011, I interviewed Tamika Catchings for Phenomenal Healthstyle, who I was writing for at the time. Since then, Tamika won Gold at the 2012 London Olympics, became WNBA Most Valuable Player, and won a WNBA Championship with the Indiana Fever.

Excusive Interview with Tamika Catchings

This week on Phenomenal Healthstyle, I have been blessed with the opportunity to interview one of the world’s top female athletes. Slam Magazine listed Tamika Catchings as one of the top 3 women basketball players in the world.  She is a two time Olympic Gold Medallist with Team USA, 2002 WNBA Rookie of the Year, 4 time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year, 7 time WNBA All Star and All Team WNBA.

When my daughter was 10 and early in her basketball journey, the world was full of male basketball icons and such posters adorned her bedroom walls. I really wanted female role models that she could relate to. I stumbled across an article on a young woman who had just won Rookie of The Year in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA).  The article described how Tamika Catchings had overcome many challenges in her life, not least through having severe loss of hearing, and how through basketball and sports her confidence and self-esteem grew. From becoming one of the greats on the basketball court, off it she began her foundation Catch The Stars to help disadvantaged youth and has received numerous accolades for her work with young people.

Her story as a woman and as a ball player touched my daughter and me, so I did something I don’t tend to do…. I sent an email care of her pro-team the Indiana Fever, just to say what it meant to have such a positive role model in a sport that my daughter could relate to, not least because my daughter has a sibling with autism, which meant she too grew up knowing “difference”.

To my surprise I got a warm response from Tamika, and we have maintained email contact ever since. In 2004, I took my daughter to Spain, where the Women’s Team USA were in a pre-Olympic tournament. There we met Tamika and had a chance to chat basketball and watch the team train (hard!). The experience left an indelible image on us both of the humbleness and strength of women whose passion is not only basketball, but in knowing that they are trail blazing a path for girls and women to follow them in a man’s world.

You will know from my previous articles that passion means a lot to me. In basketball, I’ve never seen passion more than in women who play for the love of the game on a fraction of what men earn. And I’ve never seen it more on the court than in Tamika Catchings.

Sloetry: Tamika, a warm welcome to Phenomenal Healthstyle. I have to know, can I claim this to be the first UK interview you’ve done, and have you ever been to the UK?

Tamika: Thanks so much! I’m really excited to be doing this interview with you. I have been to the UK before, but this is my first UK interview  : )

Sloetry: We’re looking forward to seeing you at the London Olympics next year, unless of course you end up playing against Team GB!! This will be your third visit to Olympic competition, each time with a very different mix of players around you, and you will really be an established veteran presence. What excites you about the talent and youth of Team USA and how that will appear on the world stage?

Tamika: Lord willing I will have the opportunity to join Team USA in the London Olympics next year. The thing that excites me the most about this team is the weapons that each player has. The players on this team are young and so it will be awesome to watch them grow up, like we have, on this level and establish a name for the next group of Olympians. I love how the torch is carried from generation to generation and we all kind of intertwine together to mix the young with the old but keep the tradition alive.

Sloetry: The WNBA now has women joining the league that have grown up with the league as an aspiration from when they were very young. Girls now have access to female basketball stars on TV, and they can emulate their play and grow. As they enter the league, there seems a continuous improvement in the standard of women’s basketball. For veteran players like yourself, who are still regarded as the very best in the league, how have you managed to constantly elevate your game to remain at the top?

Tamika: For me, the desire to be the best “Tamika Catchings” that I can be is how I have elevated my game. It’s cool to see the ladies coming in being so inspired by a league that started 15 years ago. They have had role models to come up behind and they are coming in full force. I love the ones that work hard and are like sponges open to listening and learning everything they possibly can to elevate their own games for the team’s sake.

Sloetry: How important is nutrition and a healthy diet to fitness and sport?

Tamika: Nutrition and a healthy diet are really important to fitness and sport. I’m not going to say that I am the most nutritious person, but the night before games and especially game days are really important to me as far as what I eat. One analogy that was given to me about the food we put into our bodies is the gas that we put in a luxury vehicle. If we put the cheapest gas in a luxury vehicle over time it may ruin the engine. It’s the same thing with our bodies. If we put a lot of junk food, candy and stuff with high fat in our bodies, over time our bodies will change and obesity may be the result of our earlier actions.

Sloetry: Many people reading this won’t appreciate what the formation of the WNBA 15 years ago meant to women basketball players. I read several biographies of players who prior to this had to play overseas or leave the game all together as there was little opportunity to make money at home. You and many players still travel abroad to play outside of the WNBA season. It sounds like it used to be a very nomadic experience. Do you think that is still the case and how do you cope with the pressures of being away from family and loved ones for so much of the year?

Tamika: I’m definitely a homebody and enjoy being with my family. So, going overseas tends to be hard for me because I feel like I’m missing out on my nephews and niece’s lives. However, playing overseas is an opportunity I feel like players should experience at some point in their lives. It is an opportunity to travel the world and experience different cultures that you used to read about in history class. Plus, you get paid to travel and see the world while you’re at it. 

Sloetry: As someone who has been encouraged to play sports in their youth and follow your passion, what advice would you give parents of young girls, or boys for that matter, who are concerned that playing sports to realise their passions and potential, may have a detrimental effect on their academic studies?

Tamika: I believe that playing sports teaches us so much about life overall. The combination of sports and academics allows us another tool to work on prioritizing our lives and learning how to give the best effort in both. I am so thankful that my parents put me in sports when I was younger because it definitely has helped with my self-confidence and my presentation for who I am. I don’t know what type of person I would be if I had not opted to continue to play sports throughout my childhood years.

Sloetry: What are your ambitions for your Catch The Stars Foundation once you retire from basketball and do you have ambitions to extend that overseas?

Tamika: My ambition for CTSF is for it to still be standing strong even beyond my playing years. I am really passionate about helping kids and providing opportunities for others so I hope to keep my vision alive. I definitely would like to expand my foundation overseas. We have hosted 2 basketball clinics in South Korea and 1 in Poland while I played there a few years back. My goal is to continue growing and go wherever I am welcomed : )

Sloetry: How do you see sport as a positive influence for children and young adults, and particularly for girls, and how can we increase girls participation in sports?

Tamika: Sports is a positive influence for children and young adults because of the outlet it provides for them to be focused on fitness and maintaining their bodies. When we look at girls in particular, the pregnancy rate amongst girls who play sports over those who do not is significantly lower. A young girl participating in sports tends to have higher self-esteem, learns how to work with other people and can be more goals oriented as they have a goal to focus on. I believe that with all of the positive aspects that come from playing sports, we can show girls how much fun sports can be and that can be a way to reel them in. When you have fun participating in something you enjoy, it tends to become something that you would like to continue doing.

Sloetry: As a father of two daughters, I get very puzzled by how femininity is portrayed in the media, certainly in the UK at least. Strength and fitness or the aspects of beauty represented by female athleticism seem very overlooked here, and without a dominant female presence in UK sports there seems little to counter balance the publicity afforded to, shall we say “low weight” celebrities in the media. Do you think the WNBA has a role to play in redefining what is perceived as feminine or even feminine beauty, and do you think it has made a difference to how young girls might see themselves?

Tamika: I believe that there are quite a few WNBA players who can, have and are redefining feminine beauty and that will play a role in how young girls see themselves. I think that so much can be perceived from a woman that is able to excel at a certain level and maintains her beauty along with strength and fitness. I know for me I used to be real self-conscious when it came to my arms and how cut they are. But, after receiving so many compliments on how strong I look while still maintaining my beauty, it has become a “special” part of me.

Sloetry: We both share a love of good poetry, and I hope you get the opportunity to sample the strong London spoken word scene next year or in future visits to the UK. Writing poetry is often an outlet for people. Basketball seems to have been that outlet for you. Does poetry have a therapeutic influence in your life and is that as a writer, reader or both?

Tamika: Great question!! Poetry is a therapeutic influence both as a writer and reader for me. While I haven’t written as often as I would have liked, it still is an outlet that I revert too when I have a lot going on and just need to unload my mind. From the reader aspect, sometimes it’s so cool how we can read the poems and it can take your mind to so many different places. I love the fact that there’s a connection from the words and our lives no matter who we are.

Sloetry: Assuming much of your travel is basketball related, are there places you would like to visit when you retire from the sport?

Tamika: Right now on my bucket list is Africa. I have heard so many wonderful things about the continent and would love to experience it myself.

Sloetry: For those who don’t follow women’s basketball in the UK, what message would you give them for the 2012 Olympics and why watching women’s basketball will be a good thing for them to do?

Tamika: I believe that the 2012 Olympics are going to be amazing and that overall you are going to see some great competition through all of the sports. I would say that coming to a women’s basketball game would be a great thing for people to experience because it truly is the women’s game at the highest level. You have so many people that would love to represent their country on this platform so it is the best of the best players from each respective country and it is a celebration that expands through all cultural barriers.

Sloetry: Tamika, many thanks for taking time out of your busy season schedule to share your thoughts with us.

Tamika: Thank you. I wish that one day I could meet each one of you. But, since that’s a little unrealistic, I hope that you will come and support women’s basketball next year in the 2012 Olympics. It is going to be a great time and we are grateful for the opportunity to be the stage that the whole world will be watching. If you would like to learn more about me you can go to my website catchin24.com and/or my Catch the Stars Foundation website at www.catchthestars.org. I look forward to hearing from you. Best wishes and God Bless!!

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