Jessica Sink, Columnist

Many of today’s celebrity female role models emphasize the glamour of fame and the importance of image and sex appeal. Young women increasingly idolize people like Kim Kardashian, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, who all, to some extent, represent bad morals and shallow ideology.

The real female role models should be those women who rise to meet challenges with integrity, depth and conviction. Penny Chenery may not be considered one of the great figures in women’s history, but her story is important. She had the courage to fight for her dream against all odds while remaining true to her values.

Penny Chenery Tweedy, most often referred to as Penny Chenery, was a housewife and mother who agreed to take over her ailing father’s Virginia based Meadow Stables. Her incredible story begins when she gained ownership of a young chestnut colt in a coin toss, which she lost. Called “Big Red” by his trainers, this remarkable horse is most known by the name “Secretariat.”

Secretariat, believed by many to be the greatest racehorse who ever lived, and the subject of a recent Walt Disney movie, was born in a meadow in Doswell, Virginia, on March 30, 1970. From the moment Secretariat was born, Penny knew he was special. However, the finances of the horse farm were unstable and the idea of investing and funding the rise of a racehorse, especially one with what many saw as little potential, was not a popular one. Yet, Penny believed in her horse and chose to put everything she had behind him, even though it meant risking financial ruin.

With the help of veteran horse trainer Lucien Laurin, Penny fostered the young colt into a talented racing machine. In 1973, he became the first Triple Crown champion in 25 years, setting not only national records, but world records as well. According to a June 1973 New York Times article, Secretariat was “cheered in the post parade, and cheered as he entered the gate, exultant thunders raising gooseflesh.” He became what jockey Ron Turcotte once called “the people’s horse,” not only winning ribbons, but also winning hearts.

Although his racing record propelled Secretariat to greatness, it is the story behind the legend that is truly inspirational. It is the story of a woman who took a risk, believed in a dream and gave it all she had. The story of Penny Chenery, owner of Secretariat, has meaning because it represents a determination to fully pursue a passion to its fullest, to never give up.

While the success of Secretariat led to a happy ending, there could have just as easily been heartbreak and loss. In many ways, Penny got lucky. She had the right horse at the right time, and everything fell into place.

However, Penny Chenery is also to be admired. As a woman, she maneuvered the cutthroat, male dominated world of horse racing, and stood her ground. She faced critics and setbacks at every turn, yet continued to move ahead. She was challenged to manage a demanding business while trying to maintain a normal life as a wife and mother. She believed in something and gave it her all, never letting anyone hold her back.

What is your definition of a true role model? Who do you respect and admire? What do you stand for?

We all have people we look up to. It may be a parent, a movie star, a politician, a religious figure or someone who is just famous for being famous. Living in a world of constant change and challenge, I recommend you pick your role models well. It says a lot about who you are.

Penny Chenery did not cure cancer, run a country or win a Nobel Prize. She is simply a good role model who overcame many obstacles to achieve her goal with character and integrity. The challenge for young women and all people today is to not be afraid to stand up for what you believe and be true to who you are.

Kim Kardashian, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry are famous for being famous, but what do they really stand for? We can’t all be famous, but we can stand for something and in some way make the world a better place.

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