Gannon takes young female athletes to Twilight zone

If wealth was measured by the positive impact someone has had on young people, Christa Gannon would be on the Forbes 400 list.

It’s fitting, then, that she used one of the most popular brands in youth pop culture today, the “Twilight” series, to impart lessons to over 500 young female athletes at Monday’s Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table Women in Sports Luncheon.

The former UCSB women’s basketball All-American and founder of the non-profit Fresh Lifelines for Youth (FLY), said she’s still not decided on “Team Jacob” or “Team Edward” from the uber-popular vampire saga, but she’s very clear on the keys to her success.

FLY, which began in 1998, helps thousands of troubled teens in the Bay Area to turn their lives around each year. It’s not the glorious path to riches that many of her Stanford Law classmates took, but, as she said repeatedly on Monday, “it all worked out pretty well.”

Before Gannon, an all-star cast of successful, driven women in the community took turns at the podium. Among them were Congresswoman Lois Capps, SBART Board Member Joan Russell Price, SBART President Catharine Manset Morreale, Colette Hadley of the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara and Annette Jorgenson, Vice President of the event’s main sponsor, Community West Bank.

Gannon was introduced by her former UCSB coach, the legendary Mark French, who brought her up as if she were a starter being introduced before a game.

Gannon’s “Twilight” acronym was actually missing the first “I” but packed plenty of motivation within the seven-letter version — “TW-LIGHT.”

She had the entire room’s attention throughout, staying away from the podium or any notes to deliver her message.

T – Tenacity.

Gannon said that she was never brilliant, but it was just hard work that helped her earn a 3.9 GPA while at UCSB. She then related to the volleyball contingent in attendance by telling the story of her own high school volleyball career.

“I was horrible,” she admitted.

Her coach openly agreed with that observation on her first day of practice, but said if she went home that night and did 1,000 practice approach jumps she would be on the team. Gannon was up until 2 a.m.

“When I walked into the gym the next day my hip flexors were so out I couldn’t even walk,” she said. “The coach took one look at me and said ‘you’re on the team.'”

W – Walking towards balance.

Gannon is the mother of two young children and has too much on her plate, like many young women do nowadays. So she stressed the importance of finding balance, and asking for help when necessary.

“It’s hard. Here’s the thing that women don’t tell each other: it’s hard,” said Gannon. “It will always be hard, and it’s always a challenge.”

L – Listen to your inner voice.

Gannon turned down an opportunity to play for the University of Utah, a top-20 team, because she had a hunch after visiting UCSB and meeting French that becoming a Gaucho was a better fit.

She ended up playing a key role on the program’s first Big West champion squad in her sophomore year.

Yeah, it worked out pretty well.

“I want you to trust your intuition and your gut,” she said to the crowd.

She did just that after finishing at Stanford, telling her then-boyfirend (now husband) that if he truly loved her he would understand and wait as she went to San Diego to work for a judge she had a hunch about.

That judge ended up helping her draw out the plans for FLY.

I – Individuality

She’s obviously one of the sharpest tools you’ll find in any shed, but Gannon said she was never good at standardized testing. In fact, she said her individuality was somewhat forced upon her as a kid.

“I’ve never fit in, ever,” she said. “I didn’t fit in in high school. I wasn’t a great enough athlete to kind of fit in with the jocks, I wasn’t smart enough to fit in with the nerds. I just didn’t fit in anywhere.”

Once again, it worked out pretty well.

“It’s okay to be different, because you end up finding a place. Now at FLY I work with 25 staff and 90 volunteers, and most of the time I think they like me,” she said. “We’re a team.”

G – Go with the flow.

The Division-I forward enjoyed playing hoops with her husband in a rec league up until a few years ago, when suddenly after a game she couldn’t walk. It was a chronic form of arthritis that took her off the hardwood.

“My mom always told me ‘Athletics are great, but something in a moment can happen to your body that can make it impossible for you to do sports. So what do you have in your back pocket?'” she said.

Her way of going with the flow was to join a choir. There, she’s able to feel a sense of facing a challenge in a team setting just like she did on the court.

H – Happiness

Not everyone can feel happy all of the time, but Gannon said that being truly happy for one another is vital. She sees it every week as she coaches her daughter’s 6-year-old basketball team.

“It is the best part of my week, and I have a point guard that I think we should start scouting now,” she joked. “When my girls score a basket, if you miss it for a second and don’t see who scores, you would have no idea who it was, because they’re all screaming and celebrating as if they had scored it themselves.”

It’s a quality she thinks us old folks should try to emulate.

“I think sometimes we get so caught up in our own stuff, and our own performances and our own careers that we forget what if feels like to be super happy for somebody else,” she said.

T – Teachable

Coach French used to tell his players that if he wasn’t yelling at them, something was wrong. So Gannon used that to realize that being yelled at (French did it in a positive way, she said) was an opportunity to learn.

In fact, she said that everybody who crosses your path in life is there to teach you something. It’s important to be open to those lessons.

One of her 6-year-old hoops players is so eager to learn that she stops dribbling and stares at her when she shouts advice from the sidelines.

It also goes the other way, of course. Gannon stressed to all the young women listening that they are being watched by someone else. Not in the “Big Brother” sense, but as role models – whether it’s a younger sister or a younger player on a team.

“You are powerful and you have so much to offer,” she said. “You have a spark, and there is a reason that you were sent to this planet, and somebody’s watching you… What are they going to see?”

What the hundreds saw on Monday was a woman whose toughness as an athlete has seamlessly meshed with her sense of compassion and unwavering dedication.

Thousands of troubled kids are sure thankful that happened.

FEMALE ATHLETE OF THE WEEK: Caitlin Wallace was Ms. Clutch for the Carpinteria girls basketball team in the fourth quarter against Bishop Diego, going 6-for-6 on free throws and hit a back-breaking 3-pointer as the Warriors won 43-39. She had 17 points in the game, and then went on to score 17 more in a blowout over Malibu that put the Warriors alone in second place in the Frontier League.

Honorable mention: Rose Koper, San Marcos water polo; Mekia Valentine, UCSB basketball; Francesca DeAngelis, SBCC basketball.

MALE ATHLETE OF THE WEEK: Dos Pueblos handed Ventura its first Channel League loss of the season last week. Larinan scored a game-high 19 points and had a string of big steals. He also hit the Chargers’ only two treys, both coming in the first half.

Honorable mention: Gregg Pelicci, Westmont baseball; Luther Tarver-Burks, Laguna Blanca basketball; Jeff Menzel, UCSB volleyball.