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An 11-year-old girl went in search of her favorite WNBA star's shoes. She found her voice instead.

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WASHINGTON - A recent drive past a suburban mall rekindled hurtful memories for 11-year-old Adi Topolosky. In January, she had been searching unsuccessfully at sporting goods stores for Washington Mystics star Elena Delle Donne's signature shoe. At this mall, Adi said, she was insulted by an unnecessarily cruel Foot Locker employee.

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Now she's speaking out in hopes of bringing awareness to women's sports and preventing others from suffering a similar fate.

"It was really painful," Adi said in a recent Zoom interview about the incident at Foot Locker, where she says the clerk had no idea about Delle Donne's signature Nike Air Zoom UNVRS shoes. He mockingly told Adi and her dad that he would "rather watch paint dry" than women's sports.

"I was just hoping that they would apologize," Adi said. "Driving by the mall six months after it happened, I realized it still hurt so much."

Her mom, Dahlia, a psychologist, encouraged Adi to journal her feelings. The result was a first-person op-ed published last week by the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance blog that got Delle Donne's attention and prompted responses from other girls who have been similarly frustrated in shopping for women's athletic apparel.

"The stories keep coming in," Dahlia Topolosky said. "It's really unbelievable. You realize you're a part of this really big issue."

Adi, who has been training with a basketball coach this summer, watches the Mystics on TV and attended a playoff game last season, when the team won its first WNBA title. She has read every installment of Delle Donne's children's book series and considers "My Shot" her favorite.

"She's such an amazing basketball player, but she's also an incredible person," Adi said of Delle Donne, who has battled Lyme disease for 12 years and has missed the entire season while rehabbing after back surgery. "I'm so inspired by her. She talks about all her struggles in life and also to be positive and never give up."

When Delle Donne released her innovative, laces-free Nike shoes - their design was inspired by her older sister, Lizzie, who was born blind and deaf, and with autism and cerebral palsy - Adi had to see them in person. Maybe, she thought, she could even convince her dad to buy the shoes, which feature a magnetized heel that folds down, making it easy to put on and take off without using one's hands.

In her op-ed, Adi, a rising sixth-grader at Berman Hebrew Academy in suburban Rockville, Md., where she lives, said Dick's Sporting Goods at Westfield Wheaton mall didn't carry the shoe or any Mystics apparel. (Three weeks after the Mystics won the title, Lindsay Gibbs, author of the "Power Plays" newsletter about sexism in sports, drove to eight sporting goods stores in the Washington area in search of any Mystics championship gear. None of them had any.)

It's one thing for a store not to carry WNBA apparel or a pair of shoes but quite another for an employee to ridicule a customer. Adi said her dad confronted the clerk at the Foot Locker at the Wheaton mall, and later called and emailed the company's customer care department, which said it would look into the allegation. Foot Locker did not respond to a request for comment, but Adi said it wasn't until after her story published that a director at the company called her and her dad to apologize.

Delle Donne shared the link to Adi's story on Twitter and Facebook and called upon Dick's and Foot Locker to do a better job recognizing the WNBA audience and young female athletes.

"Adi, thanks for sharing your experience," Delle Donne tweeted. "Speaking up is the first step, and I'm proud of you! I fell in love with the game through shoes in some ways, so I know what that's like, and I want kids to be able to get my shoes."

"I was really excited and it was such an amazing feeling that my role model had heard me and cared so much about what I said," said Adi, who eventually found Delle Donne's shoes in size 11, though she wears a size 7.5. "Everyone's just been so supportive. It's just been a great week."

Dahlia Topolosky said she has been overwhelmed by the response from people both in the community and from all over the country who saw Adi's story.

As Adi prepares for her bat mitzvah in March and continues "thinking about the responsibility it takes to be a Jewish adult," she has been brainstorming ways to get more women's athletic apparel in stores and shine a spotlight on diversity training for employees to ensure other girls aren't ridiculed. She has considered approaching Dick's about creating a pop-up Mystics store.

"She has so much creativity and ideas, so we're just trying to follow her lead and support her, wherever this takes her," Dahlia said.

Meanwhile, the pandemic has made it nearly impossible for Dahlia and her husband to plan Adi's bat mitzvah ceremony.

"We have a lot to process and figure out," she said with a laugh. "We keep telling Adi, regardless of what ends up happening with the celebration, the fact that she is speaking up and using her voice like this, this is what it really is about."

 

Published : August 27, 2020

By : The Washington Post · Scott Allen · BUSINESS, FEATURES, SPORTS, BASKETBALL