By Nicholas Ibarra
Alice “Ruthie” Bolton ran through wall after wall to get to the Olympic winner’s podium as a two-time Gold Medalist on the USA Women’s Basketball team. In 2011, Bolton was inducted into the WNBA’s Hall of Fame.
Constantly faced with adversity, Bolton managed to persevere and play basketball at the collegiate (Auburn), professional (Sacramento Monarchs), and Olympic levels and continues to inspire people everywhere through her books, presentations, activism, and music.
The U.S. Women’s National Basketball team, led by Bolton and others, became the USA Olympic Basketball team that competed in the Olympics of 1996 in Atlanta, GA, and 2000 in Sydney, Australia.
In the gold-medal games of ‘96 (against Brazil) and ‘00 (against Australia), Bolton played some of the best games of her career. With the help of her lock-down defense—making the opposing teams’ lives miserable, the USA Women’s Basketball team defeated Brazil 111-87 and Australia 76-54. Bolton said in an interview via Zoom, “What we did changed the trajectory of women’s basketball forever.”
Now, the USA Women’s Basketball team has won 7 gold medals in their last 7 Olympic appearances, making the 2020 Olympic team the most recent gold medalists. The streak was started by the ‘96 Olympic team and has continued for the last 25 years and carried throughout 6 Olympic Games.
“It means so much to be able to create this space for women,” Bolton said, “we were allowed a gateway to change the trajectory of women in sports and women in general. I’m thankful for how the game has grown and I’m thankful for where the game is going.”
Bolton expects the future teams of USA Women’s Basketball to continue to pave a way for themselves, work hard, and keep the streak of bringing home gold.
“I love the new generation,” Bolton said, “they’ve carried on the torch very well.”
Born in Lucedale, Mississippi, Bolton, 54, is the 16th of 20 children—8 boys and 12 girls. She played basketball at McClain High School where she won 2 state championships playing alongside her older sister, MaeOla, and cousins. Bolton went unrecruited out of high school, but her dad always told her, “When a door closes, find a window to get through,” so she took a 10 hour bus drive to Auburn University in Alabama for a chance to try out for the women’s basketball team where her older sister also played.
The coaches told her that she wouldn’t play until her senior year, but would still honor her scholarship. Bolton made the tough decision to stay. Through her dedication and determination—training with ROTC in the morning, practicing in the afternoon, and doing beyond what her coaches asked of her—Bolton proved them wrong and became a starter her Freshman year. With the help of the Bolton sisters, Auburn transformed into a powerhouse and made women’s basketball relevant throughout the 80’s.
In 1989, getting ready to graduate from Auburn, Bolton met Mark Holifield, who was a police officer. Shortly after becoming boyfriend and girlfriend, Bolton left to play basketball overseas in Sweden. Bolton and Mark maintained a long-distance relationship for 2 years, and upon returning, married in 1990.
A month into the marriage, their relationship became very abusive, Bolton said—Mark would constantly hit, yell, and humiliate Bolton, leaving her physically, mentally, and emotionally scarred. It turns out, Bolton had an abortion while dating Mark, and believed that it cursed their relationship. As much as Bolton wanted to, they never talked about what happened and she took that as his way of expressing his frustration. From that point on, whatever bad things Bolton experienced, she thought she deserved. “It was God’s way of punishing me.” She put up with the abuse for the next 12 years. Bolton eventually divorced Mike in 2002 with the help and support of her friends and family.
In 1990, Bolton was hoping to be invited to play for the World Championship team or U.S. Olympic team, but was not. She decided to pay her way—a plane ticket and 3 nights at a hotel—to participate in an open try out for the U.S. National Women’s Basketball team in Colorado Springs, CO. There were 165 women trying out for 24 roster spots with 2 teams. After 3 days of training, they gathered all the girls together, sat them down, gave them a speech, and explained that if they saw their name highlighted on the door, then they had made the team. Alice Ruth Bolton walked outside, saw her name highlighted, and realized that this was her first step to becoming an Olympian.
“I was hungry and relentless,” she said.
She continued to evolve and grow her understanding of the game. She and her team won gold at the 1991 World University Games, as well as bronze and gold medals at the 1994 and 1998 World Championships. She also had a 7 year career in the WNBA with the Sacramento Monarchs—from 1997 to 2004—where she played 218 games, averaging 10 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game.
Her time spent playing basketball has led to memories that she will carry for a lifetime. Bolton is always looking to provide her knowledge and experience from on and off the court. She gives back to the game and her community through basketball and social events, corporate and community presentations and talks, books she has written (From Pain to Power and The Ride of a Lifetime), implementing a social emotional learning program called “Aim High” into schools, music (Dream Big) she has recently released, and a website for all other things Ruthie: dreambigrb.com.
She is an advocate and inspiration, not only for women, but people all over the world, and continues to spread her message of: “Be Bold. Be Mighty. Be You.”