It’s not everyday that a double Olympic gold medal winner; a four-time Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) All-Star player; and a three-time WNBA champion graces Mumbai. Swintalya “Swin” Cash, the 34-year-old, 6ft 1-inch tall, star player for Chicago Sky is here, as part of the Reliance Junior NBA Program that promotes health and fitness among India’s youth through a school-based project. Swin is doubly happy to be far away from windy Chicago — “I’m loving it here,” she chuckles.
“As a 11-year-old, I was skinny, awkward and not co-ordinated (in my movements). Yet I got equal opportunities with my brothers to play basketball. I was supported by my family, friends and organisations around,” she recalls, when we ask about growing up in a country where basketball is a national obsession. “Back then, I didn’t think of the fame; it was only about having a better life,” she shares. When I was 15, our team went to Paris; it was the first time I realised that there was a world out there, beyond my neighbourhood. I wanted to experience the game but also give back.”
Throughout our chat, Swin’s mother, Cynthia Cash Smith, would crop up. She credits her mum as the grounding force despite all the silverware at home, “I’ve got a great mum; she always said, ‘To whom much is given, much is required.’ Our family wasn’t well off, yet, she taught us to be charitable. Today, her values — of educating young girls of our society and keeping them healthy resonate in my charity work.” After tasting Olympic gold glory in 2004, she tore her Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) in the knee and couldn’t play for nine months. It was a frustrating time. It’s when her mum told her to “get off that couch!” and realise that this wasn’t about her.
She plunged head-on to start the Cash for Kids foundation in May 2005 and renovated a resource centre at Detroit’s Ferguson Academy for Young Women, an alternative high school with more than 400 students who either have a child or are pregnant. Swin’s trip has loads in store for Mumbai’s aspiring cagers. She’s excited about playing hoop with them at the city championships that begins today at Andheri’s Dominic Savio School. International coaches will teach Indian physical education instructors and coaches across schools. Kochi and Kottayam are their next stops.
This programme was worked upon for three months and hopes to reach 1,00,000 Indian youth. Already, 100 Mumbai schools have been identified. Free equipment, 5,000 basketballs and other coaching goods form part of this initiative.
Being in a man’s world: My mum works in public housing till now, which is what I call a “man’s job” -- maintenance, electrical work, fittings, wiring. She would wear her overalls and slip into her Timberland boots. But she’d always apply lipstick. Mum felt that as a woman it was the classy thing to do, to stand out despite being in a man’s world.
Writing her biography: It was therapy -- to pour out my emotions, and scary too. People have an image of you, and then, you decide to share it all. But I felt I was in a good space and I needed to share my journey with young people.
Why the US is a basketball giant: We train at a high level, focus on nutrition, sports and fitness from an early age. Only we can be the CEO of our bodies.
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