“It was one of those meetings by ‘fate’ as you could say,” said Sharnee’ Zoll-Norman, describing the moment she first met her wife, Serita “Rita” Norman. Fate? Well, how else do you explain what Sharnee’ describes as “a chance encounter that started a lifetime commitment?”
As a professional basketball player, Sharnee’ was home for a month before starting her first European professional season while Rita was home visiting family. Simply by chance … or fate… both wound up at a party Rita’s cousin was holding on August 6, 2008. Neither woman was expecting to meet the love of her life that night. Who are these lucky women?
Currently living in Wroclaw, Poland, Sharnee’ plays point guard for Ślęza Wroclaw and just last month was named the Most Popular Foreign Athlete of 2016 by Słowo Sportowe. Rita often travels with her for most of the season. However, with a master’s degree in education, Rita is passionate about child advocacy and continues to be involved with non-profits that champion this cause.
While Rita ran track back in high school, earning a spot all four years in the Penn Relays (the oldest and largest annual track and field competition in the U.S. since 1895), she’s now into running 10Ks and strength training. And Sharnee’ says “if living together isn’t enough, we work together with personal and basketball training as well as assisting in coordinating U.S. Junior National Basketball tournaments throughout the East Coast.” They are a busy couple committed to giving back.
But it’s always interesting to know how love stories unfold, especially since this couple tends to be more private than most. The only in-depth interview Sharnee’s ever given was in 2013 to Ross Forman of the Windy City Times (WCT) during her rookie year with the Chicago Sky during her second WNBA season. Sharnee’ had often referred to Rita in interviews but had never said they were married; she’d never even confirmed that she was a lesbian until that time.
And in what was an unprecedented move, with the support of Chicago Sky former GM and head coach Pokey Chatman, Sharnee’ believes she was the first woman in the WNBA to have her surname and her wife’s surname legally added to her jersey, saying, “I think that’s a pretty cool feat!” The Sky even gave the OK for the couple to represent the team in the Chicago Pride Parade riding on Chicago’s KPMG double-decker bus. At this point, they had already been together for five years and married for almost four. But she said that to go and represent herself and her family as well as her Chicago Sky family was an amazing opportunity.
Sharnee’ has said that being lesbian is something she’s proud of. However, she’s never felt the need to be public about her life, telling Forman, “‘I never felt whether I’m gay, straight, bi, [or] whatever that my sexuality had anything to do with me as a basketball player, and I don’t think it necessarily has anything to do with me as a person,’ she said. ‘If I was straight, I wouldn’t have to come out and say that I was straight. So I’ve never had an official coming out or something where I felt I had to announce that I was gay. But everyone knows. I wear my wedding ring proudly; I have matching tattoos with my wife, and also have her name tattooed on me. We go a lot of places [together] and I surely don’t hide it.’”
Talking about meeting Rita back in 2008, in that same interview she shared that she thought she and Rita had a connection, although she wouldn’t go so far as to call it love at first sight. But once they had their first date at a Philadelphia restaurant, she says they’ve talked with each other every day since then, and by telephone, text or Skype when they’re apart. And that magic date? August 25, 2008.
Sharnee’ also talked with Forman about what she called the couple’s “rough patches,” saying she believes that’s what makes relationships work. “’If everything’s perfect, you don’t know that you can get through the adversity. When you get through adversity with somebody, then you can really see what they’re made of, what you’re really made of and if you’re meant to be together.’” Part of their adversity was being apart for extended periods of time during their first three years when Sharnee’ was playing overseas and Rita was working in New Jersey. But she concluded that it was that time apart from each other that “’… helped us see where we stood in each other’s lives, how committed we were to each other, how we were going to grow individually and as a couple.’”
And grow, they have. Sharnee’ says a turning point in her life “… was finding an amazing partner who showed me love and allowed me to thrive through every fiber of my being! She made me stronger, tougher, smarter, and simply put, a better person. It sounds like the perfect definition of love; may we all be so lucky!
By Connie Wardman
Photo courtesy Sharnee’ Zoll-Norman