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'She plays, we win'

Christin Rose Palazzolo has a story of her own, but she would rather tell you about others.

To be more precise, the Los Angeles-based photographer, who was raised in Medford, would rather show you.

Palazzolo, who graduated from South Medford High in 2004, created the visual project "She Plays We Win" last November that aims at empowering young, female athletes. Her photographs of girls playing sports, along with quotations from them, have evolved into an impactful social media campaign that has been featured by ESPNW, The Huffington Post, Elle and Teen Vogue.

The 30-year-old Palazzolo was bouncing ideas around with fellow University of Oregon graduate Karyn Campbell through email around Thanksgiving of 2015 when a hashtag was suggested: #sheplayswewin.

"If every little girl out there plays, then the world wins," Palazzolo says. "We all benefit."

Her life hasn't been the same since.

"Once I had that, it was so simple and so clear what the message was that I wanted to get across," says Palazzolo, who is known as Christin Rose professionally. "It took over my life. It was like I couldn't stop. I so believe in the message to celebrate little girls and toughness in an authentic, true way."

Palazzolo quickly got to work, finding athletes around Southern California to photograph by reaching out to organizations that work toward gender equality in sports. Within two weeks, The Huffington Post featured her work online.

On Instagram, Palazzolo gained 15,000 followers in one day after the website showcased her project. Her phone buzzed so frequently with notifications that she had to turn it off.

Palazzolo’s pictures and stories of female baseball, skateboarding, ice hockey, running, basketball and golf participants were a hit.

"People from all over the country were reaching out," says Palazzolo, who now has 38,900 followers on Instagram. "Even women who no longer play sports were writing about the things they learned that carried over into adulthood."

For young girls, the project and its hashtag serve as a way to use social media in a positive way, Palazzolo says. It exists to encourage self-esteem during a transformative period of girls' lives, she adds, whether through an image that Palazzolo has captured or through a selfie connected to the #sheplayswewin hashtag.

The hope, she says, is to make the world a better place.

"If nothing else, the fact that some little girls are using that, I think it counteracts some of (the negative uses of social media)," she says. "They are posting a very powerful message."

The exposure helped Palazzolo land a two-year contract with Under Armour.

"The coolest part is that they hired me to do what I do," she says. "Photographing kids in an authentic way, as they are."

Palazzolo is now in the trademarking process of the project, adding that the business side remains secondary to spreading the message.

"I see it becoming a book someday and I could see it becoming a brand," she says. "But, really, I'm just enthralled by the movement of it all.”

During an Easter weekend return to Medford, Palazzolo photographed St. Mary's golfers Kamryn Ford and Kaylee Wu for her project.

"We were really excited," says Wu, a 14-year-old freshman. "(Palazzolo) was super fun and great to talk to."

Ford, a 16-year-old sophomore, says she felt honored to participate.

"I think it is a wonderful opportunity to encourage girls to go out for sports, try new things and be more creative and imaginative about their high school careers," she says.

Palazzolo says she would like to someday offer a camp or after-school program involving sports and/or photography for local girls.

"Any of us who grew up in Medford and played sports know how special a place it is," she says. "It's an incredible community. So many people believed in me."

At South Medford High, Palazzolo played softball, volleyball and basketball. She was a four-year starter on the diamond, playing at second base and third base and in right field.

Her dad is former Southern Oregon University football coach Jim Palazzolo, and brother A.J. was an all-conference quarterback for the Panthers.

"Growing up in such a sports family, it's what you do," she says with a laugh. "Just reflecting back, I think I had an incredible opportunity in Medford to be uplifted by sports."

The family moved to Oregon from Ithica, N.Y., when Palazzolo was young. It didn't take her long to make a splash athletically, Jim recalls.

"The night after we arrived from New York there was a track meet in Ashland and I think she won the long jump," he says. "She must have been 5 or 6. She had a bat and a ball in her hand by the time she was 3."

The passion she had then, Jim says, has stayed with her.

"I believe it is a merger of her beliefs as a young woman and her pursuit of photography," he says. "She's merged those two together beautifully. ... She believes any athletic participation lends itself to skills that can be transferred to school and the business world."

For her part, Palazzolo calls her parents her heroes.

"My dad and mom believed in me since Day 1," she says. "They gave me the confidence to pursue my dreams."

Palazzolo first started taking photos seriously when she was a young teenager. Jim gave her a camera before a class trip to Italy, and she fell in love with the art.

"I had an interest in photography, but I don't think I knew what that meant," Palazzolo says. "I gained a deeper understanding (later in high school) and really started to figure out that photography is what I want to do forever."

When Palazzolo arrived at the University of Oregon, she was at a bit of a crossroads. She had passed on a few opportunities to continue her softball career collegiately to pursue journalism.

The university's student newspaper, the Oregon Daily Emerald, provided the outlet she needed, she says.

"When I got to Oregon I was just like, 'What am I going to do with my life?' It wasn't until I got my job at the Emerald my sophomore year shooting sports that I realized it was such a big part of my life," Palazzolo says. "It really became that passion that took off, and that took the place of what sports did for me.”

After graduating from the UO in 2008, Palazzolo moved to New York for a six-month internship before arriving in 2009 in Los Angeles.

This year has been all about throwing fear away and dreaming big, Palazzolo says.

Lately, work has felt more like play for Palazzolo. And when she plays, everyone wins, Jim says.

"The possibilities of what she’s created are truly endless," he says.

For more information or to participate, visit christinrose.com, email hello@christinrose.com or find her online at hellochristinrose on Instagram or sheplayswewin on Twitter.

Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email djones@mailtribune.com. Find him online at twitter.com/danjonesmt

St. Mary's High golfers Kamryn Ford, left, and Kaylee Wu became part of Palazzolo's project when the photographer came home to visit this spring. PHOTO BY CHRISTIN ROSE PALAZZOLO
Here are some of the many photos Christin Rose Palazzolo has taken of girls in their athletic pursuits. The project by the 2004 South Medford High alum has attracted widespread attention and acclaim. PHOTO SUBMITTED BY CHRISTIN ROSE PALAZZOLO