Trailblazing Joetta Clark Diggs Passes Dreams On To Daughter

* Talitha Diggs after winning the NCAA 400m national title this month for Florida

Photo Credit: Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports

"When you dream of something, you hope it comes. But the opportunities are here now for her dreams to really become a reality now. Not 20 years from now, but now."

By Ashley Tysiac -- MileSplit

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Today marks 50 years since the passage of Title IX, which opened the gateway to equal opportunity for women in various landscapes, including athletics. Joetta Clark Diggs, a four-time Olympian and an all-time great in the women's 800m, witnessed first-hand throughout her nearly 25-year career how the historic law gave women more opportunities to make their own way in sports, athletic administration and other avenues. Now, she sees how Title IX has evolved over the years and has given her daughter, Talitha Diggs, an opportunity to create her own success in track and field, too. 

At just 19 years old, University of Florida sprinter Talitha Diggs has already achieved many high feats.

She has two individual NCAA titles under her belt -- the indoor and outdoor 400m. She is the fifth-fastest collegian ever over 400m thanks to her impressive 49.99 second winning time at the outdoor championships. That also made Talitha the youngest American female to ever run under 50 seconds for 400m.

This weekend, Talitha heads to Eugene, Oregon to the U.S. Outdoor Championships to try her hand at making her first World team.

That's important because she now has an opportunity to chase after her highest goals in track and field, and the sports industry. That's indicative of an advancement in women's opportunity envisioned years before her by her mother, four-time Olympian and women's middle distance icon Joetta Clark Diggs.

"When you dream of something, you hope it comes," Joetta said. "But the opportunities are here now for her dreams to really become a reality now. Not 20 years from now, but now."

For Talitha, success in track and field doesn't fall too far from the tree. Joetta accomplished numerous feats throughout her storied career spanning over two decades -- four trips to the Olympic Games, nine national championships and 15 All-American awards, to name a few.

But those goals Joetta accomplished couldn't come without trailblazing at the hands of herself and other women in sports. 

It's been 50 years since the advent of Title IX in 1972, and in the '80s and '90s during the prime of Joetta's career, females were just beginning to see their sports opportunities flourish like those of their male counterparts.

Joetta witnessed first-hand the gradual progression of women's sports opportunities throughout the course of her 25-year track and field career. Now, she sees the benefits of the work put in by herself and her female peers paying off for young women like Talitha.

"What I wanted to do could not happen now back then," she said. "It had to happen in time, in the future."

Her freshman year at the University of Tennessee, roughly 40 years ago, brought significant new realities for a young Joetta. 

Women's sports were sanctioned separately from the NCAA through the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women. Full collegiate athletic scholarships didn't cover all expenses. Recruiting visits to prospective schools didn't come out of a program's budget, but rather out of the pockets of female recruits and their families.

"What I wanted to do could not happen now back then. It had to happen in time, in the future."

Yet collegiate athletics immersed Joetta in a culture of women beginning to take charge in successful ways, especially once the NCAA began governing women's collegiate athletics during her sophomore year.

Tennessee had female coaches leading the helm of athletic programs. Women's student-athletes began competing at the same stage as the men at NCAA championships.

It was a time that marked the start of something special, introducing a wave of female athletes invested in advancing opportunities for themselves and future young women to come. 

"If you look at people my age, we got invigorated and we got bit by the bug as college students, and many of us are doing great things in the sports industry now," Joetta said. "That all came out of Title IX."

Joetta won her first NCAA indoor title in 1982, and then went on to win nine national titles while at Tennessee before competing in four Olympic Games and numerous U.S. Indoor and Outdoor Championships.

Image Credit: Joetta Clark Diggs

Flash forward many decades and Joetta sees the spirit of Title IX live on through Talitha and other women involved in the sports industry.

Talitha may be a two-time NCAA individual champion, but she didn't truly hone in on track and field as an endeavor until her sophomore year at Saucon Valley (PA) High School. As a prep, Talitha won multiple indoor and outdoor state championships at the 200m and 400m distances, along with AAU age group titles in the 100m, 200m and 400m.

She earned her first NCAA title at the indoor championships in March as a sophomore -- the same age Joetta was when she won her first title forty years prior in 1982. 

Talitha went on to successfully defend her indoor title at the NCAA outdoor championships just weeks ago, running 49.99 for the win in front of the roaring crowd at Hayward Field.

That effort was the No. 5 collegiate all-time women's 400m performance. She was the youngest American to run under 50 seconds for the 400m. And in achieving that title, the Diggs' entered into a special kind of history: They are the first mother-daughter duo to both win NCAA individual national titles.

At 19 years old, Talitha has already begun making her mark on women's track and field, just as her mother did before her. 

But Joetta says she expects nothing less from her daughter, a young woman she says understands the platform in front of her -- especially considering the advanced opportunities now afforded to current athletes thanks to Title IX trailblazers like Joetta.

Just as she learned for herself in the midst of Title IX's advancement over the course of her track career, Joetta has passed those lessons down to Talitha.

To some, Joetta said, Title IX and women's equality may just be a buzz topic -- but not for Talitha. Joetta has made a point to explain the background behind women's struggles to her daughter. Joetta took an active part in that process years ago to make sure the women that came after her would be in a better position to succeed.

"She knows why it started, how it started, how she has to stay involved," she said, "How that group has to continue to change and make things different and make sure there are policies and procedures in place to succeed to make sure it doesn't fail."

It's a source of pride for Joetta, she says, seeing Talitha accomplish such high feats with such poise and character. 

"When I look at her run now, it's just amazing to see the development, the confidence and the growth," Joetta said. "I think she will be one of the faces of the future, and she's prepared for that."

But Talitha's story doesn't have to end with track and field championships and world-ranked times.

Joetta envisions her daughter using her platform to not only create a culture of success within women's track and field, but to expand the scope in which success is defined for females in other sports and beyond. 

"She's not going to win everything, but if she doesn't win, it's not going to be the end all because she sees a bigger picture," she said, "And I think Title IX and me being the mother and directing helps her see the bigger picture."

This mother-daughter duo may have obvious track and field success in common. But behind the collegiate titles and track honors lies a history of trailblazing, beginning with the dreams pursued by a women's running icon and later realities reached by her up-and-coming track star and daughter.

Joetta knows Talitha and other women in athletics can continue to turn even bigger dreams into new realities for the young women that follow behind them.

"It should be standard," she said. "At this point 50 years later, we still shouldn't say, 'Well if the guys are getting, say, two rings, we should get two rings.' Two rings should be standard. That's the narrative that needs to be used as we move forward."

Photo Credit: Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports