By Chris Olsen
Before she discovered basketball, Minnesota Lynx point guard Lindsay Whalen thought she’d grow up to be a physical therapist or P.E. teacher some day. But like most middle schoolers, Lindsay’s career path was yet to be determined.
At the time, the Hutchinson, Minnesota native’s sport of choice was hockey. But everything changed after fifth grade. There was no varsity hockey for girls at the time, so Lindsay shifted her focus to basketball. She went to open gym every chance she got, she played in every possible pickup game, and she spent endless hours shooting baskets at home. Within a year, Lindsay realized she really liked basketball. And she was really good at it.
“I’d set a goal for myself to get to a certain level, and I’d get to that level,” Lindsay explained. “And once I got there, I’d set a new goal, and I kept practicing to take it to the next level.”
While Lindsay worked hard to develop her emerging gift, her parents provided the encouragement she needed. But they didn’t push. When their oldest child set her mind to something, pushing wasn’t necessary. In fact, there was no stopping her. Lindsay went on to lead her team at Hutchinson High School to three consecutive basketball championships.
After high school, she became the all-time leading scorer for the University of Minnesota women’s basketball program, breaking numerous records—both her own and the university’s. But her impact at the U of M far exceeded her abilities on the court. Lindsay helped bring new energy to Williams Arena. Fans showed up in droves, in large part to cheer on their hometown hero. During Lindsay’s college career, average attendance increased from just over a thousand to nearly 10 thousand fans per game.
Fast-forward to this fall, Lindsay, along with her Minnesota Lynx teammates, continued to demonstrate outstanding leadership on the court. And it just happened to be at Williams Arena, where Lindsay first rose to national recognition. The Lynx earned their fourth WNBA title since 2011, and claimed their place in history as the second team in the league to rack up four championships.
Those who know her well, like former University of Minnesota Coach Pam Borton, are not surprised by Lindsay’s continued success. “Lindsay is a natural leader,” said Pam. “She has the ability to see the big picture and influence everyone—teammates, coaches, fans—with her energy, her passion and her dedication to the sport of basketball.”
Lindsay credits her great coaches, like Pam, along with her Midwestern roots, and her mom and dad for helping develop those skills. “I am the oldest of five kids and my parents are my biggest role models,” she said. “They are the hardest working people I know—they taught me about setting an example for my younger siblings, and about discipline and values.”
Linsay knows that young girls and women look to her as a role model, and she takes it seriously. She demonstrates her values off the court as well, donating her time and talents to several organizations focused on youth development such as Timberwolves Lynx Basketball Academy and Athletes Committed to Educating Students (ACES).
She also serves on the board of directors for former coach Pam’s Empower Leadership Academy for Girls, a nonprofit dedicated to developing girls’ leadership skills. Empower offers daylong and half-day academies, and one-on-one coaching for girls focused on building several areas of leadership including confidence, wellbeing and resilience.
Lindsay says teaching girls confidence is critical, though it is a skill that doesn’t always come easy. “Girls need to believe they can do whatever they set their mind to, and that they are good enough, no matter what.” She noted that girls can build confidence by raising their hand in class, helping a classmate who is struggling, volunteering to assist a teacher and practicing public speaking.
As a professional athlete, Lindsay is big proponent of teaching girls about wellbeing. “It encompasses so many different areas of their lives—eating well, exercising and getting enough rest.” She said, and noted, “It also includes taking care of your mind, and doing things that make your parents proud, like giving back to your community.”
As for resilience, Lindsay and the Minnesota Lynx embody physical and mental toughness. “Things aren’t always going to go well, sometimes there are injuries and hard losses,” she said. “But you have to believe that something positive will come from every tough situation, and find the strength to face every new day, no matter what happens.”