Golda shines at Women in Sports Luncheon

Earl Warren Showgrounds was home to plenty of girl power on Monday.

Just a few days after Barack Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to ensure women equal pay for equal work, about 500 members of the community showed up for the Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table’s National Girls and Women in Sports Day Luncheon.

“I’m looking out at stars in high school and stars in college, but I’m also looking at CEOs. I’m looking at women elected officials, and women who are going to drive our economy into renewable energy and other amazing feats in the years to come,” said Congresswoman Lois Capps, addressing the multitude of young female athletes in attendance.

Community West Bank President Lynda Nahra, Round Table Board of Directors member Joan Russell Price and Colette Hadley of the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara also took the podium. Many other accomplished women from the community, including Mayor Marty Blum, were in attendance.

Keynote Speaker Natalie Golda seemed to have that renewable energy thing figured out, at least for herself, as there weren’t any dull moments in her lively, enthusiastic and endearing half-hour talk. 

Golda is more than just a superior athlete, and she’s more than just a two-time Olympic medalist with the U.S. women’s water polo team.

“I cannot think of a more shining example of a complete woman than Natalie Golda,” said UCSB women’s water polo assistant coach Cathy Neushul, who introduced Golda.

Golda was a three-time national champion at UCLA and won the Peter J. Cutino Award (the Heisman of water polo) in 2005. She was on the bronze-medal squad in Athens and took the silver in Beijing this summer, scoring 12 goals for Team USA.

After losing the gold-medal match to the Dutch, Golda and many of her teammates (including Santa Barbara High grad Kami Craig) were sorely disappointed, with some of the women in tears while on the medal stand at the Yingdong Natatorium. It was certainly a disappointing moment for the gold-medal favorites, but the 27-year-old now looks back with pride on her Olympic accomplishments.

“I’ll be happy for the rest of my life with what I’ve done in my athletic career. My husband will love me without a gold medal, and my kids will too. People will remember you for the kind of person you are, and quickly forget the ribbons, medals and trophies you won,” she said.

She’s won plenty of all of those, and says that her time with the team is now over thanks to her desire to start a family with her husband, Eric Benson, whom she married in January. 

Golda’s speech was laced with humorous and touching anecdotes about the adversity she faced growing up as a tall, tom-boy type in Whittier. She talked about being ridiculed in school and coming home crying to her mother about it, and how she has now learned the importance of maintaining a positive self-image.

“Learn to love yourself without trying to adapt to what other people think you should be,” she said.

Neushul pointed out that Golda could have used her athletic accomplishments to obtain a high-paying job in the business world, but instead has become the acting athletic director at her alma mater, Rosary High School in Fullerton, which is an all-girls catholic school. Golda is also the head coach at the Huntington Beach Water Polo Club.

While she says she is done competing in water polo, she can never stop competing. Golda got a laugh after pointing out that when she and her husband play Nintendo Wii tennis that they have to be on the same team or else she ends up throwing the controller at him.

And she got an even bigger laugh when she was asked if she had ever met swimming superstar Michael Phelps. Golda had referenced the front page of USA Today which showed a recently released photo of Phelps smoking marijuana, using it as an example of poor judgment in a social situation. 

But when asked if she’d met Phelps, Golda said that it was the millions of women who consider him a sex symbol who have the poor judgment:

“Everyone always asks me that… Ladies, set your standards a little higher. Would you date rapper Lil’ Wayne? He’s successful and he’s good at something, but man — not attractive,” she said as the crowd roared.

All jokes aside, Golda had a strong message to the women in the audience which she summed up towards the end of her presentation:

“Have a positive self-image even though it can be hard… Risk and reap the reward, risk and fail in order to fully appreciate the reward, have balance in everything and always continue to discover yourself.”

Without question, more than just a few of the young women listening to Golda’s words Monday will risk and fail before going on to do extraordinary things in life.

ATHLETES OF THE WEEK: San Marcos girls water polo player Jade Fitzgerald was going to be at the luncheon anyway, so coach Brian Roth decided not to tell her she had been selected as this week’s award-winner. It couldn’t have been too much of a surprise considering she had two 5-goal games and a 6-goal match for the Royals at the Bonita Tournament. The team finished 13th on the weekend.

Luis Urbina was named Male Athlete of the Week for a pair of standout performances for San Marcos in wrestling. The heavyweight defeated his fourth ex-CIF placer of the season in last week’s loss to Dos Pueblos, then won his weight class at the Chaminade Tournament. All seven Royal wrestlers placed at the event, which is a first for the school. What’s more amazing is that Urbina is a first-year wrestler.

-NOTE: The luncheon will be aired on television in the coming weeks. See for more info.