The impact role models have on our youth is in a way comparable to that of a parent or guardian. For many young sports fans, the athletes we look up to define our character as we age and have the ability to set an example by working hard with what they are given. Chicago Sky center and Ransom, Kansas native Ruth Riley can easily be looked at as the perfect role model because of her accomplishments on the court and her endless efforts off of it that she puts forth to better the world.
An Olympic gold medalist, Finals MVP and 2-time WNBA Champion, Ruth Riley has proved to bring a positive impact within her game and has contributed to every team she has played for throughout her career. The one-time All-Star also contributes to various causes worldwide and works tirelessly to improve the lives of others as much as she can. From providing hungry young Americans with food, to assisting in malaria aid relief in South Africa, Riley never shies away from sharing her blessings with those less fortunate through the number of causes she supports.
“I am involved in quite a few different things here in the US and globally. In Chicago I’m just getting affiliated with some of the charities,” explained Riley. “Big Shoulders is one I look to work with here in Chicago because it provides scholarships for inner city kids to go to Catholic public school to get an education.”
Not one to overlook the problems many face on her home soil, Ruth understands the poverty and struggles many American families and children face every day.
“Kids are going hungry in the United States and people don’t even recognize that or think about it, I think most people think that only happens in the developing world,” stated the 5th overall pick in the 2001 WNBA Draft.
“No Kid Hungry is something that I just recently got involved in and it is making sure that kids are provided with meals that their families can’t afford, so free and reduced lunches that happen during the school year are available through the summer as well and we want to make that clear to them,” she elucidated. “It’s a great organization that even throughout the summer makes sure kids are provided a meal and also educates their parents on what is healthy and how to make sure that even if you’re on a budget you can provide a healthy meal,” she added.
“I’m also a spokesperson for Nothing But Nets which is the United Nations Foundation’s malaria initiative. The NBA and WNBA are founding partners for that so I create awareness for different events here in the United States because a lot of people don’t realize malaria is one of the leading killers of children in Africa so it’s just really been a unique experience for me,” she explained.
Ruth says that growing up in a home that held strong Christian beliefs and the assistance of friends and neighbours instilled the good nature and caring heart Ruth carries with her today.
“I think the values of helping others were instilled in me at a young age. My mom raised my brother, sister and I with very limited resources so I’ve been living in a situation of so many people helping me and helping my family throughout the years so I became so grateful for what others did for me that I wanted to make sure I was passing forward that action to people I can help,” stated Riley.
“I’ve been so blessed in my life because I get to play sports for a living, I’ve been on great teams, I’ve had success, but I think there’s a greater purpose in life than just basketball itself and so I enjoy having the opportunity to help others,” She added.
We often see many athletes donate and create awareness for causes in which they believe in and truly care about, but hardly do we see athletes so dedicated in a relief project that they can watch it grow before their very eyes. Riley’s work in South Africa is admirable on so many levels but it is her commitment, interest and willing to learn that truly makes her work something special.
“I’ve gone to South Africa four times in two years and lately it’s been every year and a half because I’ve been playing over seas, but I really try to go as much as possible because I love those organizations that are different. I think in South Africa it’s cool because you really get to invest in that community and go back to the same area and really create change on a grass roots level by assisting wherever malaria is really relevant at the time,” Ruth expounded.
In 2005, Ruth, along side co-author Paul Hickey and illustrator Christopher Hiller, wrote a children’s book called The Spirit of Basketball which celebrated the unity within the sport of basketball regardless your race, language or place of birth.
“I thought it was a great way to encourage education in literacy and talk a little bit about basketball and how sports transcends a lot of barriers,” she said. “There are a lot of great lessons through sports and you know you may not be able to speak the same language but I can go to an African country and not be able to communicate verbally but we can still play the game of basketball and there’s a mutual respect, a lot of life lessons that can be learned through that,” said the former member of the Fighting Irish.
Ruth Riley continues to be a significant and positive role model for not only today’s youth, but also citizens of all ages all over the world. Her passion and determination for improving the lives of others is admirable at the least and she continues to love her work on and off the court. In 2009 the highest form of authority in the United States recognized her involvement in the community and her pro-active lifestyle, as President Bush appointed Riley to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports; an honour which Riley credits the platform given to her by the NBA and WNBA to help others.
Now having over 10 years of being a pro under her belt and multiple awards and accolades, Ruth Riley has no plans on slowing down on or off the court.
“I think it’s part of my purpose here in life. Basketball gives me an amazing platform to do that and I’m just so grateful for the people who have invested in me and the fact that God gave me the opportunity to reach out and show love and compassion for others. My faith reflects the decision I make in my life.”
To stay up to date with what Ruth Riley is up to, visit http://www.ruthriley.com/