Ask her daughter Angela, and she’ll tell you the best word to describe Rita Colman is determination.
Rita Alexander Colman was born and raised in a small town in Oklahoma. Because it was the only sport available to girls, Rita played basketball as a young woman – and WOW, she could play! After graduating high school in 1953, she was offered the opportunity to play basketball for Wayland Baptist College (now Wayland University) in Plainview, Texas and had a hugely successful four-year run on the women’s team. Wayland was the first college to provide full athletic scholarships to students. She attended Wayland from 1953 through 1957.
After not starting the first game of her freshmen year at Wayland, she started the second game and all the rest until she graduated – and they won them all – 104 straight games! The women’s basketball team was known as the Hutcherson Flying Queens because they were sponsored by a local businessman and Wayland alum named Claude Hutcherson. Mr. Hutcherson had a fleet of four small aircraft and used those planes to fly the team as they traveled to junior colleges and opponents in Denver, Tennessee, Missouri, Iowa and more. The Hutcherson Flying Queens played teams that were sponsored by companies like Hanes Hosiery and Nashville Business College. Although they held a win streak record of 131 straight games, you probably never heard about it because they preceded the NCAA, so it’s not an official NCAA record. Rita is the only undefeated player during her time at Wayland and was selected as an All-American both her junior and senior years. She was determined to excel at basketball, and she did just that.
After college, Rita moved to Houston and began teaching. Soon after, she was invited to join the US team in a world tournament in Rio de Janeiro. She and another former teammate from Wayland traveled to play on the team. There were two bachelors who always escorted the team. One of those escorts was a 6’3” political officer named George Colman. After much encouragement from her teammates, Rita met George and when he saw her sink mid-court shots at that tournament, he declared “that’s the girl for me”. They met in October of 1957, saw each other back in the U.S. in January and married in June of 1958. The very next day, Rita was back on her way to Rio on a ship to start a new chapter in her life. Rita and George raised two daughters, Phyllis and Angela, and lived all around the world because of George’s career.
In the early 1990’s, Rita was diagnosed with macular degeneration, and she eventually needed to have cataract surgery, which was very successful. Later on, she suffered a dislodged lens after surgery to repair the lens, the pressure in one of her eyes was sky-high. Her doctor walked her from his office to the office next door — Glaucoma Associates of Texas. It was there that she met Dr. Tosin Smith. After consulting with Dr. Smith and trying a treatment with eye drops and two subsequent laser procedures to keep her eye pressure down and prevent vision loss in her stronger eye, Rita decided to have a stent placed in her eye to relieve the pressure. She went into surgery hoping to regain her full eyesight, but unfortunately vision loss from her macular degeneration is irreversible. Rita’s optic nerve is healthy, and the pressure is managed, but she can only see peripherally, just not straight forward.
Today, Rita is determined to find solutions that allow her to live her life as normally as possible despite her vision limitations. She uses tools that help her in her daily life such as audio books and a program called Vocally for phone calls. Vocally dials numbers with a verbal command. Rita also uses Amazon Alexa for help. She tried a tool that fits on top of eyeglasses and shifts the peripheral vision to the area of the eye that cannot see as clearly. Unfortunately, this tool did not work for Rita, but she’s always looking for something new that might be helpful. Rita’s newest quest is to find something that allows her to change the television channel with a verbal command. Her daughter Phyllis is doing research so that Rita can implement a tool once she and her daughters decide on a direction. She’ll try anything that provides hope for better vision.
Keeping a good attitude is important to success as well. Rita believes in a clean diet and understands that her vision issues are probably less severe due to her eating habits. When she was diagnosed with macular degeneration, she started eating broccoli every day and still does – every single day.
Her daughters, Phyllis and Angela are her “gems,” and Rita says her granddaughters (both in their early twenties) are very attentive to her as well. Rita’s best advice is to find a doctor you like and follow the doctor’s orders. If you receive a diagnosis indicating that your vision will decline, look for ways to handle the challenges ahead. From audio books to magnifiers, there are many tools that are available for the visually impaired.
Rita’s long list of accomplishments include being named a collegiate All-American, representing the United States in the Pan American Games, being inducted in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as part of the 1048 – 1982 Wayland Flying Queens and being named in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame as a Trailblazer of the game as group for the Wayland Flying Queens who held a 131-game winning streak from November of 1953 to March of 1958.