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When Sandra Stosz first arrived at the Coast Guard Academy in 1978, a member of the third academy class to admit women, there were no sports for female athletes.
In fact, the senior class that year was the last in history which included no women, a detail the members proudly trumpeted, according to Stosz, assigning themselves the class motto "LCWG," for Last Class Without Girls.
Stosz, meanwhile, the Maryland state discus champion while at Mount Hebron High School in Ellicott City, as well as a former Junior Olympic-caliber swimmer, competed for Coast Guard's sailing team, which became co-educational, and for the men's swimming team.
"It was too early to be able to take advantage of scholarships," Stosz said. "Scholarships as a blue-chip athlete were not in the realm of possibility."
It is a different Coast Guard Academy over which Rear Adm. Sandra L. Stosz presides today.
Named the academy's 40th superintendent, Stosz became the first woman ever to lead a U.S. military academy during a change of command ceremony on June 3, 2011.
During the last year alone, Stosz has watched as the Bears' women's volleyball team won the ECAC championship, the softball team reached its fourth straight NCAA tournament and the women's varsity eight finished seventh in the nation in Division III including a rower, Sarah Jane Otey, who is now a nominee as NCAA Woman of the Year.
Stosz is prideful of the Coast Guard Academy's male and female cadets every day, often taking the time to watch them compete.
Yet this week, the 52-year-old Stosz has been given a unique platform, one which had her recalling her own experiences as an athlete and which saw her give testimony before the U.S. Senate alongside tennis hall of famer Billie Jean King and gold medal-winning swimmer Nancy Hogshead-Makar, two of Stosz's former heroines.
The occasion? Today marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX, legislation enacted on June 23, 1972, which for the first time gave women status as equals in all educational opportunities, including athletics.
"Title IX had a huge, positive impact," Stosz said Tuesday, speaking to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. "We owe it to those who worked so hard to provide us with these priceless opportunities to reflect back with thanks for what they did and to look forward with conviction to do our part to make this great nation even better for the next generation."
Also as part of the week's ongoing Title IX celebration, Stosz was named to the Women's Sports Foundation's distinguished list of "40 FOR 40," honoring 40 women who made an impact on society after playing high school or collegiate sports during the Title IX era.
Stosz, who attended a celebration in Washington, D.C., Thursday evening, was joined on that list by sports greats Mia Hamm, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Pat Summitt and Venus Williams, as well as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, comedienne Tina Fey and astronaut Sally Ride.
Stosz, in a telephone interview Thursday, said she believes athletics is what gave her the strength to apply to the Coast Guard Academy in the first place and to persevere in what was then a male-dominated corps.
She began her sporting career playing football at home with her three younger brothers, "roughhousing," she called it. She developed her love of the outdoors, too, thanks to her father, Max, who often took his children hiking.
"Without sports, I wouldn't be where I am today," Stosz said. "There was something about winning and being good at something; academics are more slow and steady. It gave me the confidence to go there. I played varsity basketball. I was used to pushing people around.
"That's important. All that keeps you prepared for what you're going to face in life."
It is a delicate balance for Stosz. She has constantly tried to "blend in" during her 30-year career, to earn the respect of her male counterparts as well as female.
In a People Magazine story in 1991 - when Stosz achieved another first, becoming the first woman to command a U.S. icebreaker - she told the story of an address she gave to the Upper Great Lakes Captains' Association. To break the tension before she began, Stosz pulled out a cigar and asked if anyone had a light, something one would expect from a ship's captain, if not from a woman.
"I've always shied away from something that's gender specific ... or sex or race. You're never going to find someone that looks exactly like you," Stosz said. "I'm not just a role model for women. I'm hoping it shapes (the male cadets') perspective, too, that it will make them more accepting.
"I try to play it down and make light of being the first. I try to break the ice. People would not know how to take you otherwise."
But the farther Stosz advances in her career - she is the lone remaining woman from her class still on active duty - the more firsts there have become.
Stosz was the first female academy graduate to reach flag rank, achieved by less than one percent of career officers. She was still surprised last year when instead of being referred to as the academy's 40th superintendent, it was overshadowed by the fact she was the first woman to hold that post. She was named by Newsweek this year as one of "150 Women Who Shake the World."
"I can't outrun this," Stosz said. "When I was younger, I would think, 'I'm going to do my duty, but I'll outrun this.' But as I keep moving up in seniority, I can't outrun it."
This week, however, Stosz has been proud to be a strong proponent for women's sports, for women in the Coast Guard, for women everywhere who have dreams.
She referred to King's testimony, in which the tennis great told the story of working two jobs to get through California State College at Los Angeles in the 1960s, while men's counterpart Arthur Ashe was on scholarship at UCLA. King received no financial assistance, despite having already won a Wimbledon title. King choked back tears as she finished her speech to the Senate committee.
Stosz said there's a small bit of regret at not being able to see what might have been for her in sports. She recalls one former competitor she could beat in the breaststroke going on to swim at the Pan-American Games and Olympic Trials.
"I do wonder (what would have happened if I continued in sports). It's part of what developed my character," Stosz said. "But I've always taken pride in being a person that's a jack of all trades. I've never reached the highest level of any one thing, but I've always liked thinking of myself as broad."
Stosz may still recall the dances from when she was a cadet at the Coast Guard Academy; they bussed in women from Connecticut College with whom the male cadets danced.
"We'd be sitting there in our uniforms with no one to dance with," Stosz said. "They rejected us early on, that we were not real girls. It would give you low self-esteem."
Yet the face of the academy this week was a striking picture of confidence with a well-spoken Stosz, her uniform bearing a neatly stacked row of military bars on the left lapel of her jacket.
Stosz, who commanded two cutters during her tenure, has also served as commanding officer of the Coast Guard's recruit training center in Cape May, N.J., and was once the social aide to president George H.W. Bush. She has achieved three Legion of Merit Medals, four Meritorious Service Medals, two Coast Guard Commendation Medals and two Coast Guard Achievement Medals.
She makes it clear, however, that her service is not about her.
"I take it back to the cadets," Stosz said, speaking of her testimony this week regarding Title IX. "I'm very proud of our girls. That's my biggest accomplishment, not myself, but these young women coming behind."
It seems also that Stosz is no longer trying to outrun the mantle of being a trailblazer.
Sometimes, when she just wants to be plain Sandy, she'll put on her sweat pants and go for a run - she'll compete in the Ocean Beach Triathlon in New London, July 15, and recently hiked Mount Washington with her nephew - or don civilian clothes and go out for a bite to eat with her husband, Bob Volpe.
"I go on liberty and go to a restaurant where no one knows who I am," Stosz said, before adding with a laugh, "But we see people we know sometimes then, too. It's a small town.
Said Stosz: "I feel very privileged to represent the Coast Guard Academy, to represent the United States of America. ... I've been so blessed."
Following is the The Women's Sports Foundation's list of "40 FOR 40," honoring 40 women who made a significant impact on society after playing sports in high school or college during the Ttle IX era:
Val Ackerman - First president of the WNBA
Cynthia Breazeal - Founder and Director of the Personal Robots Group at MIT Media Laboratory
Christine Brennan - Award-winning print and broadcast journalist
Beth Brooke - Global Vice Chair of Public Policy at Ernst & Young and named one of Forbes 100 Most Powerful Women (2007)
Ann Cody - Member of the International Paralympic Committee's governing board.
Ellen DeGeneres - Comedienne and talk show host
Jean Driscoll - National spokesperson for the ASPIRE project (2001-03), a national outreach program for the American Association of Adapted Sports Programs, whose goal is to provide sports opportunities for children with physical disabilities
Nancy Dubuc - President of Lifetime Network and History Channel
General Ann E. Dunwoody - First female commander of the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division and first female four-star general
Lynn Laverty Elsenhans - CEO, Sunoco, and named one of Forbes 50 Most Powerful Women (2011)
Tina Fey - Award-winning writer, producer, actress, comedienne and bestselling author
Julie Foudy - Former Olympic soccer player, advocate for women's and children's rights, including Title IX
Irma Garcia - Only Hispanic female to head a NCAA Division I athletic program
Alice Gast - President, Lehigh University
Jodi Gillette - White House Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs
Kirsten Gillibrand - U.S. Senator and two-term Congresswoman from New York
Mia Hamm - Played on four NCAA championship teams, two World Cup Championship teams and two Olympic gold medal teams in women's soccer
Flo Hyman - Volleyball standout; national Girls and Women in Sports Day was posthumously established in recognition of her contributions to growing sports for girls and women
Kristina Johnson - Holds 43 patents; CEO, Enduring Energy
Jackie Joyner-Kersee - Olympian in track and field, ranked among all-time greatest female athletes in the world
Ellen Kullman - Chair and CEO, Dupont, and ranked as Forbes fourth most powerful woman
Michelle Kwan - Olympic and World Champion Figure Skater; ambassador for Special Olympics, member of the President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition
Queen Latifah - Actress, singer, author and production company owner
Kathy Levinson - Managing Director for Golden Seeds, a national network of angel investors dedicated to investing in early-stage companies founded and/or led by women
Mary Bono Mack - Seven-term Congresswoman from California
Sandra Magnus - Astronaut on crew of final Space Shuttle mission
Linda Mastandrea - Attorney and leading advocate for persons with disabilities; member, legal committee for International Paralympic Committee
Brigadier General Loretta Reynolds - First female commander at Parris Island and one of only two active female generals in the Marines
Dot Richardson - Softball star; Executive Director and Medical Director of the National Training Center; former Vice Chair of President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports
Condoleezza Rice - Former U.S. Secretary of State and Stanford University political science professor
Susan Rice - Current U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations
Sally Ride - First female astronaut
Robin Roberts - Renowned broadcast journalist and anchor of ABC's Good Morning America and ESPN's "In the Game with Robin Roberts"
Irene Rosenfeld - CEO of Kraft Foods
Mary Shapiro - U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chair
Rear Adm. Sandra Stosz - First female leader of a U.S. military academy
Pat Summitt - Success as all-time winningest coach in NCAA basketball history with Tennessee basketball team expanded recognition and opportunities for women in basketball
Jill Vialet - Social entrepreneur recognized as part of Forbes Impact 30 list for Playworks, an organization devoted to improve the health and well-being of children by increasing opportunities for physical activity and safe, meaningful play
Meg Whitman - CEO of Hewlett Packard and former CEO of eBay
Venus Williams - Three-time Olympic medalist and seven-time Grand Slam tennis champion who helped lead a successful effort to gain equal prize money for women at Wimbledon