There’s no better way to learn than from somebody who’s been through it already.
Students gathered for a special assembly on Wednesday, Jan. 31, to listen and learn from Ruthie Bolton, a two-time Olympic Gold Medalist, WNBA champion, and member of the USA Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.
Bolton visited Mercy as part of the school’s learning series to raise awareness about fostering healthy relationships and preventing relationship violence. February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month and Bolton courageously shared her story of unparalleled success in sports overshadowed by an abusive marriage.
“My story is something I wanted to share out of love and it's been over 10 years since it happened,” Bolton told students. “I didn't realize how hard it was to share, I could barely articulate the pain the first time I started talking about it.”
Students watched a 50-minute ESPN documentary called “Mighty Ruthie” detailing Bolton’s life growing up the 16th of 20 children in Mississippi with a religious family whose father served as pastor for six churches. The film chronicles her rise as a college basketball star at Auburn University to her career as a gold medalist on the USA Women’s Basketball Team and as a WNBA champion for the Sacramento Monarchs. Underlying all that success were the off-court terrors of an abusive relationship with her first husband.
Following the film, Bolton was joined on stage by Sheri Sam, Mercy’s athletic director. Sam led a question and answer session with students following the film. Bolton described how her family and friends around her called her “Mighty Ruthie” and that she was known “as a fighter and somebody who never quit on anything.”
“I tell the basketball portion to set the stage for the rest of life,” she said. “The first time he hit me was three months into our marriage … I didn’t know how to leave, I didn't know how to quit and walk away, I didn't know anything about that. That's what I wanted to do in my marriage - if I could keep fighting for it, everything would be OK. My strength in my basketball life became my weakness.”
When asked what advice she could share with students about healthy relationships, Bolton said “everything starts with you loving yourself and recognizing the signs before it gets bad.”
“You can start early with setting the standards of how you want to be treated because people treat you the way you let them treat you,” she said. “There's a lot of girls and a lot of women who are suffering from abuse and domestic violence. It’s not just physical violence, it’s also emotional and mental, that I’ve seen affect countless women as I visit different places sharing my story.”