WNBA’s Ruth Riley Soars


The sky’s the limit (not just because Ms. Riley is 6’5″). That’s what Ruth Riley’s mother used to tell her as a child. Ergo the hard work, dedication and long journey that has directed Ms. Riley throughout her career to earn the Triple Crown.

Akin to hitting a trifecta, Ms. Riley did just that by winning the NCAA Championship in 2001 at Notre Dame, Gold Medal in the 2004 Athens Olympics, and WNBA Championship with the Detroit Shock in 2003 AND 2006. Which win was the BEST? I had to ask…hint: the luck of the Irish. Ms. Riley shares, “The spirit of sports, athletics and community at Notre Dame is all about helping others.” Speaking of Notre Dame, Ms. Riley is a celebrity back in South Bend and can’t go anywhere without being recognized.

Backstory…Ms. Riley, 33, was born in Kansas and raised in Macy, Indiana. Her work ethic comes from her mother, a blue collar worker who taught her respect, faith and hard work, as well as to believe in herself and have big dreams. In addition, Ms. Riley’s faith guides her through it all.

When choosing a college, Ms. Riley only focused on Notre Dame knowing that her mom would want to attend her basketball games and staying in Indiana would make travel affordable to and from the campus.

Did Ms. Riley have any sports icons growing up? Ms. Riley replies, “We weren’t allowed to watch television; my mom made us play outside all of the time.” However, she does remember the “Dream Team” and was inspired by them [1992]. And along the way, Ms. Riley said she was influenced by important people such as her summer basketball coach and college coach at Notre Dame.

Currently playing for the Chicago Sky, Ms. Riley is planning to retire in two years, but not before embracing the challenge of bringing the WNBA’s Chicago Sky up to a higher level of competition and play. This unselfish lady will continue her humanitarian efforts in Africa and the United States, which includes supporting Nothing But Nets and TRIAD Trust (Training to Reduce the Incidents of AIDS-related Deaths).

Now in the WNBA’s off-season, Ms. Riley traveled to Africa, conducting a basketball clinic for the Women’s Platinum All-Stars at Charora Sports Ground in the North Region of the Royal Bafokeng Nation with the NBA office. She followied with two days of clinics in Windhoek, Namibia, in partnership with the Namibian Basketball Federation and the German Basketball Federation, and finished with a week in South Africa, near the Swaziland border, conducting coaching clinics in the morning and basketball clinics in the afternoon for boys and girls ages 13 and under in the Nkomazi region.

What does coaching and teaching basketball in Africa mean to Ms. Riley? She shares, “I’m constantly amazed at the barriers that can be broken, the life lessons that can be learned and the relationships that can be built through the simple game of basketball. I’ve been coming back to South Africa to conduct basketball clinics since 2006, and I am encouraged by the progress I have seen. A country where soccer, rugby and cricket dominate the sports world, and where girls were only taught to play netball, is now boasting a wave of youth excited about the game of basketball. Increasing the interest in the sport and then using basketball to teach life lesson and create behavior change in an area rampant with HIV/AIDS are the goals of the programs I work with, but in order to do this you have to have consistency and make the programs sustainable within the communities. This trip was the first time I really saw things come full circle, as the players that I worked with on my first visit are now coaches and have invested their time into developing leagues for the local youth and for the first time I’ve seen an immense amount of participation from the girls in the community!”

What other causes does Ms. Riley spend time assisting? “Women and children. Especially young girls. Girls get left behind – they need to be educated and taught to have confidence.” One of Ms. Riley’s favorite organizations is Girl Up an original crusade of the United Nations Foundation. Their vision is “a world where all girls, no matter where they live, have the opportunity to become educated, healthy, safe, counted and positioned to be the next generation of leaders.” This girl’s got game!

Favorite things to do when not on the court? Beach volleyball, reading (especially Paulo Coelho), cooking (her favorite – risotto) and traveling to Massai Mara in Kenya (where her heart lies).

Photos courtesy of Ruth Riley



About Cindy Burns

Currently writing for TCW's 'Woman About Town' column, Cindy Burns covers Chicago's social scene, events, fashion, and interviews women and men who are making a difference in the world. With an M.A. in American History from DePaul University, Ms. Burns is an author, freelance writer, avid reader and researcher. Ms. Burns has spent over 20 years serving on charitable boards and organizations, and currently serves as a member of the Women's Board of the Joffrey Ballet and the Women's Auxiliary Board of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicago. She is also an Honorary Member of the Children's Service Board of Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital. When Ms. Burns isn't running around Chicago covering current events, you can find her biking, on the tennis courts, or hiking in a mountainous region of her choice.