Venus Lacy is a huge fan of the movie “Forrest Gump” because the early life of the hero in the Academy Awards’ Best Picture of 1994 so closely resembles her own.
Like Gump, portrayed by Tom Hanks, Lacy had to wear leg braces as a child. But once they came off, both the movie character on the football field and Lacy on the Louisiana Tech basketball court blasted off to sports stardom.
Lacy will culminate her journey when the Class of 2014 is inducted to the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday in Natchitoches.
Lacy, 47, had a brilliant college career, leading the Lady Techsters to the 1988 national title and two other Women’s Final Fours before earning more honors on the 1996 U.S. Olympic team and in professional leagues in Japan, Europe and the United States.
Growing up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in the 1970s, a sports career seemed like a dream to Lacy, who was one of 10 children in her family.
“My knees were almost turned backwards,” she said. “I couldn’t run and play like the rest of the kids. I wore braces, even at night. My mom and my grandfather would massage my knees for me. Then one day I was watching TV and saw a show on Wilma Rudolph. I said, ‘I want to be like that.’ ”
Rudolph, the gold-medal-winning sprint star of the 1960 Olympics and also a Tennesseean, had to wear braces as a child, too.
“I was probably in the fourth grade before I could take the braces off,” Lacy said. “I wish I could have burst out running like she and Forrest Gump did.”
Instead, she grew and got stronger — a lot stronger. When she arrived in Ruston as a raw transfer from Old Dominion, she stood 6-foot-4 and weighed 190 pounds.
“From start to finish, she was maybe the most improved to ever come through Tech,” ex-Techsters coach Leon Barmore said. “She became the biggest, strongest and most powerful Tech post player ever.”
Her Tech statistics prove that. She is still the school’s all-time leader with a 20 points per game average. She had 1,125 rebounds in her three years at Tech.
She had a monster 1989-90 season as a senior, averaging 24.2 points and 12.7 rebounds as Tech went 32-1. Despite getting into early foul trouble, she recorded game highs of 26 points and 15 rebounds in the Final Four loss to Auburn.
Lacy was named a Kodak All-American and National Player of the Year by Champion and the United States Basketball Writers Association.
Following that stellar season, Lacy signed to play professionally for a team in Japan for $200,000 per year, one of the highest salaries ever for a female athlete.
Lacy made the all-star squad her two seasons in Japan before moving to Europe, where her teams won titles in Italy and Greece. In 1996, coaches from the U.S. national basketball team believed they needed more muscle, so Lacy was added. All she did was help the Americans win Olympic gold in Atlanta.
Lacy’s pro career likely was shortened by injuries suffered in auto accidents. After a stint in the American Basketball League, she went undrafted by WNBA teams in the post-ABL consolidation draft. She played 17 games for the New York Liberty in 1999 and two more in 2000, then retired.
After her pro career, Lacy worked in various capacities with children and young adults and for a time was employed by Tennessee-Chattanooga at its rec center. She also worked with the school’s cheerleaders and dance squad.
Now she’s raising 11-year-old son Seth and writing a book about her life, hoping to finish it this year.