Decorated international sports writer from Mill Valley tackles new challenge in book with softball champion Jennie FinchAuthor: AnnKillion | Filed under: Uncategorized
This article appeared in the Marin Independent Journal on October 3, 2011.
ANN KILLION HAS COVERED nine Olympics, five World Cups and more than a dozen Super Bowls. Along the way she became one of the pre-eminent voices in the national sports scene, while thoughtfully studying the evolution of women’s athletics.
So when softball superstar and Olympic gold medal winner Jennie Finch wanted to write her first book, it made sense to make a pitch to the award-winning sports writer and Marin native.
“The publishing company found her, and when they told me Ann had covered the Pac-10 and the Olympics — and I found out she was a mother of a young female athlete in high school — it was too good to be true,” said Finch, whose book “Throw Like a Girl: How to Dream Big & Believe in Yourself” had long been a dream of hers. The 31-year-old pitcher recalls her own childhood when there was virtually no information available to young women aspiring to be athletes.
“Who she is in her profession and all she has done “… it was a tremendous honor for me to work with her. It really came together magically,” Finch said. “She’s a true game-changer and a pioneer in the sports world and all that she’s done and accomplished. It was truly a perfect fit all the way around. “… I couldn’t have dreamt for it to have been any better, or be written by anyone else.”
The book is more self-help than memoir, written as a “motivational and practical guide to health, fitness and sports for girls and young women,” said Killion, adding it’s not solely for softball players. In fact, much of the book, about 90 percent said Killion, relates to any young athlete — girl or boy.
As a mother of two, Killion knows the importance of youth sports. Her daughter Kaitlin Gillespie, 16, plays for the Tam High girls varsity soccer team and even helped proofread a few chapters. Her husband, Matt Gillespie — also a Mill Valley lifer — coaches the Red-tailed Hawks JV girls basketball team and the freshmen football team. Their son Connor, 20, graduated from Tam in 2009 and lives in Colorado where he is an avid snowboarder.
“(Jennie) had a real specific vision. It’s more like an inspirational book trying to say ‘what are the lessons that you learn in sports and how do they apply to the rest of your life,’” said Killion, a Tam and UCLA graduate with a master’s in journalism from Columbia.
“There’s not a lot of literature out there for girls interested in sports. There’s a lot for boys and there’s a lot of easy-reader books about athletes, and biographies and autobiographies that are aimed for even the adult population,” she said. “But there’s not anything that really pops to what girls might be interested in, and you can’t treat girls and boys the same — at any regard — but in sports as well. They come to it from different places and different things push their buttons.”
Killion described her first book project as an intense experience, but “Throw Like a Girl” was exactly the type of opportunity she envisioned conquering when she made the choice to leave the San Jose Mercury News — a Bay Area News Group paper — in 2009.
“I’d been trying to figure out an exit strategy for a while. The job had changed,” said Killion of her decision. “It’s fun, I’ve been able to be involved in stuff like this (book), be involved in different ventures, and “… who knows where things will take me. It’s exciting to kind of be able to direct your own path and utilize new media and be proactive on your own account.”
A contributing writer for Sports Illustrated and CSNBayArea.com, Killion has also become a familiar voice — and face — for the Bay Area audience. She’s a weekly guest on the nightly television sports talk show Chronicle Live and can be heard often on KNBR radio.
This summer a freelance assignment for Stanford Magazine offered her a behind-scenes-look into Giants outgoing managing general partner Bill Neukom. It was the type of takeout piece a feature writer could sink one’s teeth into. It also hearkened back to a time when long and thoughtful contemplation of a story or subject was seen as an asset, not an expense.
“I enjoyed getting to know him through the course of that story and I’m kind of disappointed about what happened to him,” Killion said. “I think, obviously, every indicator would tell you the Giants were on the right track under his stewardship. He’s a very smart man and it’s never a good thing to get rid of smart people. I do think he affected a lot of important change throughout the organization.”
Her two decades as a scribe provided a great seat to a legion of historical moments, like the 1999 Women’s World Cup — which she said “really felt like a historical moment in the evolution of women’s sports” — Lance Armstrong winning the Tour de France, a jaunt to Edmonton with Kristi Yamaguchi and San Francisco’s first World Series title.
But it seems a move toward fiction may be on Killion’s horizon.
“The fun part of writing this book was I got to be a 6-foot-2, gorgeous blond for a while, it was great,” joked the diminutive Killion of co-authoring the book with the tall Finch. “I would like to write fiction at some point. The world keeps changing so fast, it’s hard to know where we might be. But it’s nice to have the flexibility to try different things.”
It’s likely opportunities will continue to knock on Killion’s Mill Valley door. Said Finch, “It was an honor to work with her, and I would be extremely honored to have the chance to do it again.”
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Mill Valley’s Ann Killion is a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated and Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.
• First book: “Throw Like a Girl: How to Dream Big & Believe in Yourself” by Jennie Finch with Ann Killion ($14.95, Triumph Books, 256 pages), a motivational and practical guide to health, fitness and sports for girls and young women athletes of any sport.
• Where: Amazon.com, barnes andnoble.com, jenniefinch.com and local bookstores.