Schwartz recognized for breaking barriers

Women have been making breakthroughs in many industries for decades, but something seldom talked about is how little appreciation even the strongest female athletes receive, from high school to the professional stage. To combat sexism in sports, many are going straight to the root of the problem by pushing women to be more involved and engaged in athletics from a young age.

One of St. Olaf’s very own alumni has admirably embodied this ideal in her high school athletics program at Mound Westonka High School in Mound, Minn. Sara Schwartz ’01 was honored at the 31st Annual Minnesota National Girls and Women in Sports Day Celebration on Feb. 1 with the 2017 Breaking Barriers Award. The award is presented each year by the Minnesota Coalition of Women in Athletic Leadership to individuals or organizations that have broken barriers, overcome challenges and provided athletic opportunities for women of all races, ages and levels of ability.

The goal of the National Girls and Women in Sports Day is to honor noteworthy female athletic achievement. Schwartz was named the most recent honoree for her work over the past decade at Mound Westonka. Beginning with a mere 15 student-athletes during her first year of coaching, Schwartz’ passion and exuberance rapidly accelerated the program to over 100 students participating in track each season. In 2016, that hard work culminated in the White Hawks winning the Wright County Conference Championship.

“I was really surprised and very humbled,” Schwartz said. “There are so many women and men who have made it possible for me to be a coach and an athlete. I really am in awe of all the people who have helped women’s sports come so far since 1972 and Title IX.”

Schwartz graduated from St. Olaf in 2001 after becoming a highly recognized three-sport athlete, specializing in cross country and track. She was coached by her mother, Chris Daymont, who remains the head coach of the St. Olaf women’s cross country team today. Schwartz notes that her time as an Ole athlete is what inspired her to coach and that she gained numerous life lessons from her time on campus.

“I learned the importance of athletics and what they can teach you, how important teamwork is and how much we can learn from each other,” Schwartz said.

She learned many of these virtues from her mother, whom Schwartz attributes as a key inspiration for her own coaching career.

“My mom has coached for almost the entire existence of Title IX and she has fought so hard for women to have opportunities in athletics … her love of coaching and her passion made me want to attend St. Olaf to run for her.”

Daymont provided her daughter the motivation to succeed, and Schwartz has taken every opportunity to make good on that inspiration.

Sports were always family affairs. Growing up with two parents involved in teaching and coaching, Schwartz seemed destined for a life in sports. She started assisting Daymont with coaching the St. Olaf cross country team by the age of ten.

“She remembered everybody’s personal best times and could figure splits faster than I ever could,” Daymont recalls of her young daughter’s passion for the sport.

Together, Schwartz and Daymont have become the first mother-daughter pair to receive individual honors within the Minnesota Coalition of Women in Athletic Leadership during the history of the awards. Both are excellent examples of how women continue to push the limits in sports. However, as they both suggest, there’s still an immense amount of work to be done.

“I think we have to work harder at making sure there are no more barriers to break,” Daymont said. “My hope is that someday it won’t be an issue.”

“It’s not just about giving females the opportunity, but also realizing that in order for us all to have a better experience in athletics (and life) we need both genders to be supportive of each other,” Schwartz said. “It shouldn’t be about gender – it should be about the fact that each and every human (regardless of gender, race, etc.) has the opportunity to be involved in sports, music and education. If we all could help each other have a great experience in athletics, school and life, the world could be a pretty great place.”