The UCSB Women’s Center sponsored Olympic water polo player Maureen O’Toole to speak at the sixth annual Distinguished Woman in Sports lecture on Wednesday night.

UCSB Sexual Harassment Complaint Resolution Officer and Title IX Coordinator Paula Rudolph said the event, held on National Women in Sports Day, brings different women to campus each year to celebrate the achievements that women have made in athletics. O’Toole was named Most Valuable Player of the U.S. Women’s National Water Polo Team 15 times. Before speaking to a nearly full audience in Corwin Pavilion that included members from the UCSB women’s water polo team, O’Toole took part in a small reception of about 50 people in the Women’s Center Library. The “Up Close and Personal Reception” cost $25 per person, Rudolph said, and the money goes to supporting the Distinguished Woman in Sports lecture series.

O’Toole spoke about her training leading up to the 2000 Summer Olympics, which was the first to include women’s water polo as an event. O’Toole said she became more motivated to make it to Sydney after one coach told her that she was too old and she would be lucky to make the team.

“I drove home so mad,” she said. “I said, ‘I will prove you wrong. I’m gonna give 110 percent at every practice. And if at the end of the day, I’m cut, I’ll still know that I gave it my all.'”

After training seven hours a day, six days a week, for three years, O’Toole qualified for the U.S. Olympic team at the age of 39, making her the only Olympic water polo player over the age of 30 at Sydney. The team defeated Holland, which O’Toole said was a longtime rival of the United States in international competitions, and made it to the gold-medal round against Australia. At a tie in the last quarter, Australia managed to score one last goal against the United States after a very low-scoring game. Despite the initial disappointment, O’Toole said she was not bitter at the loss.

“It’s not about the last one second. It’s about the whole experience. We had three years of torture and made it to the first-ever gold medal match,” O’Toole said.

On June 23, 1972, Congress passed Title IX as part of the Educational Amendments to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and President Richard Nixon signed the amendments into law July 1 of that year. Title IX forbids discrimination against women in any educational program receiving federal funding. In 1997, the U.S. Dept. of Education published Title IX: 25 Years of Progress, which states that currently more than 100,000 women participated in intercollegiate athletics and 2.4 million participated in high school athletics.

O’Toole said Title IX was very important for women and girls in this country, socially as well as mentally.

“The fact that Title IX gave what it did allows women to have these opportunities and it even gives them self-esteem,” she said.

Rudolph said she thought the event went well.

“Lots of people got to talk to Maureen that wanted to. They had easy access to speak with her. She was very approachable,” she said.

Undeclared freshman Aimee Stachowski, a two-meter defender on the women’s varsity water polo team, said she understood all that O’Toole had gone through and enjoyed the lecture.

“It was cool. I’ve known her [personally] for a long time [and] I can relate,” she said. “My sister is going to the Olympics this year, so I know it’s always a lot of hard work, but definitely worth it.”