Madison Winstead, my Cousin Keith’s daughter, signed on with her local university to swim with their team as a high school junior last year. This year as a senior she asked her future college coach and then the NCAA the unthinkable—permission to suit up and swim with the team in competition this year.
Why did she ask? Why did they say “yes” for the first time in NCAA history?
THE ANSWER TO WHY
Madison’s mother, Shane, has a terminal diagnosis of cancer. Her mother wanted to see Madison swim just once in college competition. So Madison after talking to her dad, but months later secretly went to her future coach and proposed an unlikely scenario. The coach and Madison took the request to the NCAA and got the answer everyone wanted.
She suited up and swam as a high school student with the college team, before entering college, Saturday, April 22, 2016.
This is a classic example of “agency” in the growing life of Madison. (See her story aired on NBC’s Today Show.)
Other sites tell the story from different viewpoints, if you are interested.
Madison decided her mother’s desire was worthy of pursuit. The family, which also includes her brother Clayton, has dealt openly and proactively with the outcome of this medical diagnosis. They are a remarkable family.
In researching the concept of agency, I found that there are three different angles on agency: business, philosophical, and sociological. As I have written before there is the business side of agency, in which one entity works on the behalf of another entity, like a health agency or advertising agency. This definition fits Madison, as well, because she became the agent of making her mother’s wish come true.
MADISON’S OWN STYLE OF AGENCY
On the other hand, Madison has learned to make decisions for her own life. She chose, using a careful and thoughtful selection process, the college-swim team she wanted. She knew the coming years would be difficult, some of which may be without her mother. She wanted a team that would support her during the anticipated loss.
Madison also had the courage and determination to ask the improbable question and enlist the appropriate assistance. She did this on her own without her dad’s knowledge at the time. She went prepared to her coach. She followed guidance of a mentor and helper, her coach. She did the follow-up work with the NCAA. She waited patiently and respectfully.
Agency as I use the word here is not a business term, but as Wikipedia says, “In social science, agency is the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices.” Wikipedia goes on to describe agency as “one’s independent capability or ability to act on one’s will.”
Some of us develop a sense of agency growing up and others of us after we are adults. Some of us develop it in one area of our lives and not others. Some of us develop agency for good outcomes and others of us for illegal, unethical or immoral outcomes.
Madison has developed a sound sense of agency at a young age in making things happen for herself and her family. May she learn to master the sense of agency in other areas of her life that prove as useful as it has in this part of her life.
Cheers to Madison who gets it—agency!