Whitney Houston inspired greatness

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Whitney Houston sang an unforgettable rendition of the national anthem before Super Bowl XXV.

In 1990, I got the break of a lifetime: a chance to sing "Greatest Love Of All" at my preschool graduation. Whitney Houston's version of the song had topped the charts. Five years of listening to soul music on Sundays with my mother would finally pay off. This was my time to shine.

But there was only one problem: I was tone deaf. Weeks before the concert, I pranced around the house practicing my out-of-tune notes. My family knew I wasn't a gifted singer but they couldn't build the courage to tell me. Occasionally they would ask me, "Do you think you should sing a little bit softer?"

But this little superstar wouldn't budge. I just knew I was selected for the coveted solo because of my angelic voice. Not because I bullied the teacher into giving me the part.

No, I was talented and I would prove it.

When showtime came, much to the surprise of my family, I killed it -- in a good way. My facial expressions and the emotion in my voice -- I was a miniature Houston. To this day, family members still talk about my performance. I experienced my first "I can do it" moment with Houston as my soundtrack.

And that experience isn't much different from what other women of my generation, including female athletes, felt at the time. Houston was found dead in a Beverly Hills hotel Saturday at the age of 48. Her music taught me and more than a few female athletes to look inside ourselves and believe.

Houston's music was the soundtrack to the groundbreaking careers of Serena and Venus Williams, Dominique Moceanu, Sheryl Swoopes and everyone in between. They came of age as Houston reigned with her girl power anthems.

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Serena Williams was one of many athletes who was inspired by Whitney Houston's music.

"#OneMomentInTime has propelled me to many of my grand slams victories. #whitneyhouston," Serena Williams tweeted Saturday night after Houston's death.

Little girls in gyms and on courts across the nation drew inspiration from Houston's ability to rock stages and screens. Her powerful vocals and take-charge attitude fueled their drive to win.

Fem-friendly anthem "I'm Every Woman," which topped the dance charts in 1993, was great in-arena music for Manon Rheaume's debut as the first, and to this day only, woman to play in an NHL exhibition game.

And in 1995, as "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)" hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts, Anne Donovan was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame, Swoopes became the first woman with her own Nike shoe, and the UConn women's basketball team breezed to a 35-0 record and national title.

"Been a fan of Whitney Houston since 1987. I remember writing her a letter & sending her a picture of me to her fan club when I was a kid," tweeted Rita Williams, who played for UConn from 1995-98.

"When The Preacher's Wife soundtrack came out, I had it on constant rotation on our road trips. On the plane, bus and everywhere else, I was listening to Whitney."

There were other moments when Houston crossed paths with the sports world. She performed "One Moment In Time" at the opening of Arthur Ashe Stadium in 1997. The same song became an anthem for the 1988 Summer Olympics in South Korea. In 1999, she blessed the inaugural WNBA All-Star Game with her voice before a sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden.

Her most spectacular sporting moment may have come in 1991, when she serenaded a Gulf War-weary America at Super Bowl XXV with an unforgettable rendition of the "The Star Spangled Banner."

But it was Houston's silent impact on female athletes of the day that really shaped the sports landscape.

Houston had an unprecedented seven consecutive No. 1 hits, was the first woman to debut an album at No. 1 and had the second-highest grossing movie worldwide in 1992 with "The Bodyguard". On a scale of 1-10, Houston's woman power was a 10, and that struck a chord in female athletes searching for a hero.

Houston's fame was at its height when our sisters were rising up in sport. They were no longer waiting in the wings for their chance to play. They were playing hard and earning the respect they always knew they deserved.

Although Houston's career may have been marred by controversy later in life, that's not how she should be remembered. Her legacy should be her voice -- which provided the soundtrack to so many lives -- and will play on forever.

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