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My unlikely path to NCAA basketball glory

Updated: Apr 17

The real winner of the 2024 NCAA basketball tournament was me.


While it’s true that I didn’t suit up and I didn’t even fill out a bracket, this year's NCAA tournament felt like a huge personal victory and I give full credit to one particular female basketball legend.


No, not Caitlin Clark.

Nope, not Angel Reese.

Not even Dawn Staley.


I’m talking about Audi Crooks.


On March 22, Audi, a freshman center for Iowa State, scored 40 points in their first-round game against Maryland. Even more impressively, she hit 90% of the shots she took from the field. Even if you don't know a lot about the game, you can understand that doing something perfectly 9 out of 10 times would be impressive (except if you're a pilot!). There’s only one other player in NCAA basketball history who has ever accomplished that same feat (future NBA Hall of Famer, Bill Walton, in 1973 for UCLA in case you were wondering).


And, that’s not even the most exciting part. When I saw the headlines on my news feed the morning after this record-making event, I stopped my scroll when I saw a picture of Audi:


Audi looked exactly like me.


OK, so we wear our hair differently and she’s 6’3 while I’m 5’6, but her body shape looked and felt so familiar to me. I thought back to my high school playing days and how self-conscious I felt in a basketball uniform, how out of place I felt in the locker room, and how, even though I was the team captain and a leading scorer, I never really felt like I belonged.

Greenhill Hornets women’s JV basketball team 1992-1993. I’m in the back row all the way to the left next to the coach.

If I had seen an all-star like Audi when I was a kid, I might have felt differently about my body type that the department stores called "husky," my mother called "big-boned," and my grandmother called "zaftig." I would have seen that regardless of the number on the scale, my body could be healthy and fit, and not just for shotput or powerlifting. I might have embraced my broad shoulders and strong thighs as assets and felt more confident on the court.


Off the court, it might have been easier for me to dismiss the pervasive messaging I internalized that “thin is in” and anything else means you’re lazy, out of shape, and lacking in self-discipline. You can’t watch Audi play and think that any of those descriptors is even remotely true.

I remember from Intro to Psych that this is what experts call cognitive dissonance. Our brains short-circuit as we try to reconcile what we’ve been told to believe with what we’re seeing with our own eyes. With this new information, something doesn't quite add up and we're left feeling confused and disoriented.

Maybe instead of beating myself up all of these years for not having enough willpower to shrink myself into size 8 jeans, I might have channeled all of that energy into something much more productive and generative for the world.


Once I saw the picture of Audi, I wanted to learn everything I could about her. When I typed her name into the search bar, this is what came up:

I guess mine wasn’t the only brain trying to make sense of it.


If I had seen players like Audi when I was growing up, I might have been able to see myself in high school not just as athletic, but as an athlete. Maybe as an adult that would have helped me to understand myself not just as someone who sometimes runs, but as a runner. It may have allowed me to believe a few decades earlier that yoga was for every body, including mine. Perhaps I would have believed before the age of 45 that it was possible to exist in a bigger body and be an absolute badass as a both/and instead of an either/or.

Thank you, Audi Crooks, for not just changing the narrative and inspiring the next generation of athletes, but for enabling this middle-aged mom of two to see herself in a new light too.  

If you (or someone you know) could benefit from working with a certified coach focused on personal and professional growth and a trained facilitator who will provide customized, holistic, and tireless support as you or your team identify and take action toward your goals, please reach out to One Eleven Leadership to set up a complimentary consultation.


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