When my daughter was 2 months old, with my lovely wife working a 12-hour shift at the hospital, I propped my little girl up onto my lap and we watched Annika Sorenstam tee off on the first hole to open her Thursday round at The Colonial.
Throughout the course of the day, from changing diapers to bottle feedings to running the gamut of Fisher-Price toys, the TV in the living room was tuned to Sorenstam’s first round in a PGA Tour event. We saw her pars, her bogeys and her first birdie, the one she putted from just off the fringe that prompted Sorenstam to rock back and give us a fist-pump.
I was OK with Sorenstam getting a sponsor’s exemption to play in a PGA Tour event. And even though I knew there was no way my little Allison was ever going to recollect what was happening on the screen in front of us, I made sure to have it on so that I could remind her any time that I needed to that she watched, in some form or fashion, Annika take on the men on Thursday and Friday.
I’ve already told Allison that story a couple of times over her 5 years, and surely, she will roll her eyes when I bring it up over and over again in the future. She knows who Annika Sorenstam is more from EA Sports’ Tiger Woods series of video games, and though she rather dress Natalie Gulbis in her blue outfit and use her at times, Allison understands that Annika is good, that Annika is a girl and that Annika once played against the boys and beat some of them.
So when I told Allison about Danica Patrick on Saturday, her eyes got pretty big. Allison knows what auto racing is — she sees the NASCAR races on at our house and roots for Reed Sorenson, not because she knows who or what a Reed Sorenson is, but because he drives the Target car. She likes Target, likes the color red and wonders why the Target car never leads a race.
That question isn’t an easy one to answer to the satisfaction of a 5-year-old.
But she caught on to Patrick’s story.
Patrick became the first woman to win a top-level motorsports race when her fuel strategy led to an IRL victory in Japan on Saturday. It was Patrick’s 50th race in her much-hyped career, and for Patrick and those in her corner, the victory generated more of a sense of relief than pure joy. The Anna Kournikova comparisons could stop.
Naturally, some critics have tried to downplay Patrick’s accomplishment already, claiming she only won because of fortuitous fuel mileage or that the IRL boasts a relatively weak field. Some have even criticized Patrick for crying in victory lane, as if Michael Jordan’s desperate clutching and weeping over the NBA championship trophy never happened, or that Woods’ shedding of tears following his winning the British Open weeks after his father’s death was an illusion.
Patrick’s accomplishment is real. One would need to look no further than in my daughter’s eyes when I told her that a girl beat all the boys in a race to know that. Patrick was the only girl out there, and yet she beat them all. All the boys.
Who cares exactly how it happened?
My little girl doesn’t.