Anita DeFrantz’s inspirational Olympic life
From a front row seat for the birth of women’s Olympic rowing, to the front lines of pushing the Olympic movement into a more equitable future, Anita DeFrantz’s impact on the United States and global sporting world is hard to overstate. Her story is now captured in a new autobiography: My Olympic Life, A Memoir.
In it, DeFrantz describes her life’s journey as an African-American woman and the coming of age during America’s civil rights era. Rising above the barriers of both race and gender, DeFrantz found in rowing an opportunity. She found in the study of law a voice and drive for social justice, equality and fairness in sport and society. Through these she helped transform both the sport of rowing and the Olympic movement itself.
A glance at her life accomplishments is impressive. DeFrantz was the first female Vice President for both the World Rowing Federation (FISA) and the International Olympic Committee. She is a recipient of numerous honorary degrees and awards in sport and law, just to mention just a few and her book is more than a showcase of success. It is an example for all that with a clear eye on what is right, dreamers can change the world.
In her own words
World Rowing put in a call to California to talk with the 1976 Olympic bronze medalist about what it was like to put pen to paper and share her memories with the world.
“I think about things a lot,” DeFrantz says of the events in her life. With the long, rich memory of someone who has lived purposefully within each moment, DeFrantz thinks perhaps more deeply than most. “I remember significant moments all the way back to when I was three. People kept saying, ‘when are you going to write your book?’ And I thought maybe I should.”
“There were bad moments, but certainly a lot of good,” she says, “so many great folks to have met and worked with.” Narrowing down the most important moments to include, however, was hard work.
“It is important to me to give honour and respect to my ancestors and to have it in my words,” she says of the motivation to write. “That’s important. There are a lot of things in print and on the internet about how things have happened - this is my account for which I am responsible.”
Ultimately, it comes down to sharing her story with those who might find it helpful in their own lives.
“Why else do it?” asks DeFrantz. “Not to clutter up the airwaves, but to share experiences and ideas about things – about the Olympic movement. My views are probably not ones that people had heard before.”
Olympism and Opportunity
The idea of ‘Olympism’ is central both to DeFrantz’s book and her everyday philosophy. “To me the Olympic movement is based on the ideas of mutual respect and fair play,” she says. “In part this is the Golden Rule, which is important for getting on in this life.”
DeFrantz’s journey through the sport of rowing, pursuit of a successful career in law and return to the world of American and international sports governance and advocacy was anything but clear when she took her first strokes as an undergraduate. Four decades later, this game changer, who has and continues to command respect on so many powerful committees, is simply grateful for the opportunity she’s been given.
“It was the opportunity,” she says, speaking about the doors that sport nudged open for her. “I loved basketball and enjoyed swimming, but rowing is the ultimate team sport. It is remarkable in itself and I just rowed with a remarkable group of women.”
Helping to inspire that same sort of opportunity through all sport involvement for others is exactly what she hopes her legacy will be. “What I hope, what I believe I have done is provide opportunity – opportunity to take part.”
DeFrantz’s journey is far from over. She laughs when contemplating what comes next. “I was thinking maybe I should have called it My Olympic Life So Far,” she says. “We’ll see what happens; the [Los Angeles] 2028 Games are just around the corner.”