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As the North Miami High School softball team completed each step towards its recent IHSAA Class A softball state championship, there was no more adequate description for the emotions that many throughout Miami County felt than simply being proud.
The effort, spirit, and determination exhibited by those young athletes – even in the most trying of times - were abundant and impressive. It truly was a group to be proud of.
As I reflect on the announced retirement of former Warrior student-athlete Ruth Riley, I come to the conclusion that there is no better example of an individual bringing pride to all of Miami County, not just the northern portion, than this humble and intelligent woman.
Riley's story is the stuff of fiction. But it most certainly is the real deal.
Raised on the wrong side of middle class, amidst the fields and time-worn communities of northern Miami County, this now 34-year-old used her God-given physical stature as a foundation for a lifetime of achieving dreams – often unfathomable ones - even in hindsight. And what makes Riley uniquely spectacular as a human being is that despite a litany of accolades, her pursuit of greatness is just now hitting full stride.
“Success in life is never an individual accomplishment,” Riley wrote for WNBA.com in making her announcement. “It is always a culmination of those who inspire you to chase your dreams, encourage you along the long road of achievement, and who impart the necessary knowledge.
“There are also those who give you the physical tools, who grant you the opportunity, and last but not least, those who work alongside you every day in pursuit of mutual goals.”
The Lord did give Riley the “physical tools” to achieve some degree of success on the basketball court. But there are a number of 6-foot-4 female athletes that ultimately don't end up at the White House with a Forrest Gump-like regularity.
Riley learned early the benefits of diligence and intellect and those traits have taken her to too many countries to keep track of. She's played in the exotic (Greece and Miami) and the chaotic (Detroit), but in each location the common theme for her was success.
She's won at every level, leading North Miami to just its second sectional title (in a single-class tournament), Notre Dame to an NCAA title (2001), Detroit to a pair of WNBA championships (2003 and 2006), and the United States to a Gold Medal in the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
She was honored as the nation's best player (2001 for the Fighting Irish), as well as its best student-athlete (2001 NCAA Academic All-American of the Year). And it is that last honor, which should resonate the most with people. For Riley never allowed basketball to define her. She allowed the sport to empower her.
She allowed basketball to be a conduit to better the world – and that statement isn't an exaggeration.
Riley has impacted millions in Africa, as she helps to fight the spread of malaria through the United Nation's Foundation Nothing But Nets program.
Riley has used her platform to speak against childhood hunger in America through the Share Our Strength program.
She's written a children's book (“The Spirit of Basketball”) and has served on the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports after being appointed by President George W. Bush. There is little that she hasn't done, yet she is the type of individual who believes that there is so much more left to do.
In the short-term, Riley will continue to challenge herself intellectually by studying at Notre Dame this fall in the school's Executive M.B.A. program.
In the long-term, with her skill set, the possibilities are absolutely limitless. She is capable of anything and everything.
Riley could be the first female commissioner of the NBA, just as she could be the first female President of the United States (do the research and you'll find that statement isn't hyperbole).
“If I had to come up with one word to describe my entire career,” Riley wrote, “it would be 'blessed.'”
That word is apropos, but not for her. It is descriptive for those that have followed Riley's journey, as it is us that have truly been blessed. And it is us, who have become better and more driven individuals because of her example.
Thank you, Ruth.
Thank you, for all that you did – and will do.
Thank you, for allowing the people of Miami County the opportunity to beam with pride.
The accolades earned by Ruth Riley are many and memorable. Here is a look at some of the honors bestowed upon her:
1996 IHSAA Girl's Basketball Sectional champion (North Miami High School)
1997 Indiana All-Star
1999, 2000, 2001 Big East Conference Defensive Player of the Year (Notre Dame)
1999, 2000, 2001 Big East Conference All-Tournament Team
World University Games Silver Medalist (United States)
2001 Big East Conference Player of the Year
2001 NCAA Academic All-American of the Year
2000 and 2001 NCAA First Team All-American
2001 NCAA Champion
2001 NCAA Finals Most Valuable Player
2001 Naismith National Player of the Year
2001 Selected 5th overall in WNBA Draft (Miami Sol)
2003 and 2006 WNBA Champion (Detroit Shock)
2003 WNBA Finals Most Valuable Player
2004 Olympic Gold Medalist (United States)
2005 WNBA All-Star
2005 Named Vice-President WNBA Players' Union
2010 Number (00) retired by Notre Dame
2010 Henry P. Iba Citizen Athlete Award (WNBA)
2011 Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award (WNBA)
2012 Capital One Academic All-America Hall of Fame inductee