Olympic champion Gail Marquis made her mark on the basketball court during the 1976 Summer Olympics. Today, she’s motivating other women to find their own success.
In May 1976, just before her finals at Queens College in New York, Gail Marquis had to make a difficult decision: stay and complete her exams, or head to Missouri to try out for the U.S. women’s Olympic basketball team. “I preferred to go and try out,” she says, simply.
Making the cut
Trying out for the Olympics was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Marquis to be part of history. It was only in 1976 that women’s basketball became a medal sport at the Olympics. If she was selected, she would be breaking new ground for female athletes across the country and around the world. “I made the regional cut,” Marquis explains, “and two weeks later, I had to go to the national trials to [qualify for] the U.S. Olympic team.”
Though Marquis had the confidence befitting her experience as a two-time All-American team member, there was no guarantee that she’d make the team. “I wasn’t a shoe-in,” she says. “It wasn’t automatic.”
In fact, she had enough doubt about her performance that she was preparing for the trip back home when the results were posted that night. “I was in the room packing my bags,” she admits. She didn’t realize she had made the team until some of her fellow players came and told her. She took her time absorbing the news. “I snuck off at around midnight to call my mother and father in New York,” she says. “’I told them, ‘I am not coming home. I am staying.’”
She and the rest of the team began training intensely for the games, which would begin later that summer. “It was fantastic to be selected,” she says. “And then the hard work came.”
Let the games begin
The U.S. women’s team traveled to Canada to play in a series of qualifying tournaments before finally heading to the Olympic Village in Montreal in July. She will forever remember the opening ceremonies, marching in formation with her fellow Olympians as they entered the stadium. “It was a huge entrance, 10 stories high and dark like a half moon,” she says. “As we entered, it was like the power went on in the bright Olympic stadium. In French and English, they announced the [United States], and it sent such a chill through us all.”
Marquis and her 11 teammates went on to become champions. “We beat Czechoslovakia to come home with the first [silver] medal ever won by women in women’s basketball,” she says, proudly.
Life after the Olympics
After Marquis emerged victorious in the Olympics, she played basketball professionally in Europe before coming back to the United States to play briefly in a women’s league. Then the time came when she had to find something else to do. She completed her deferred bachelor’s degree and found her footing in financial services.
In 2004, while she was working as a vice president for JP Morgan Chase and traveling frequently on business, Marquis decided to return to school to pursue her MBA. “University of Phoenix fit my schedule,” she explains. “I did my papers in Aruba or Mexico—all I needed was a laptop and an Internet connection.” She graduated in 2006 and found that the skills she learned in her degree program were a real asset to her career. “Even to this day, when I do my projects, everything falls into place,” she says.
Today, though she continues to earn her living as a financial services professional, Marquis is using the skills she learned on the court to help other women find their own success. Among her other community commitments, she volunteers for two nonprofit organizations: Dress for Success Worldwide, which provides interview suits, confidence boosts and career development to low-income women in more than 75 cities worldwide, and PowerPlay NYC, which works to educate and empower girls through sports, teaching life skills and building self-confidence and self-esteem for life.
“Dress for Success is for more mature women, and PowerPlay deals with young women,” she says. “What I enjoy is that they empower women and young girls to stand on their own.”
Through these organizations, Marquis encourages these women to set goals for themselves, urges them to pursue a healthy lifestyle and teaches them the basics of finance so they can secure their own futures. She also teaches them the “three D’s” that have guided her in her own life: desire, dedication and discipline. “I know all of that came from being an athlete,” she acknowledges. “That’s what helped me to be ready for the Olympics.” This spirit has also earned her kudos over the years. Most recently she was honored with the Title IX Trailblazer Award from the Arthur Ashe Institute of Urban Health in New York.
Whether she’s advising clients, inspiring other women, or branching out into acting or sports commentating in her free time, Marquis strives to be a role model. “I always consider myself an ambassador for basketball, for America and for women,” she says. “I’m always looking to put my best foot forward.”
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