Born and raised in Carson, Renata Simril grew up with a love for sports.

When the neighborhood boys would come knocking on the door, it was she they were looking for to play football, rather than her brother.

“I was the wide receiver du jour on Enslow Drive,” said Simril.

While money was tight growing up, she credits sports and outdoor activities for keeping her on the right track. Never one to see her gender as an obstacle, Simril served as a military police officer in the U.S. Army.

“That stuff in G.I. Jane movies is all true, it's all true," she said. "When he said, 'Girls can't do that,' it was all over. It was certainly a life-changing, formative experience for me.”

Today, as president and CEO of the LA84 Foundation, Simril uses her personal experiences to inspire children through sports and play. Created with the surplus leftover from the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, the LA84 Foundation supports youth sport programs in underserved communities by funding sports organizations, public education, coach training, and more. 

Through the foundation, Simril aims to bring access to sports and play for all children — no matter their race, gender, zip code, or socioeconomic status. On this episode of LA Stories with Giselle Fernandez, she explains the importance of sports for childhood growth and development.

“Sports is a must-have to really engage kids, and surround them with the conditions for which they need to be able to succeed and overcome their circumstances in many cases," said Simril.

For Simril, her fight for play equity is a fight against systemic racism. By creating equal opportunities for children in sports, she explained, you're laying the groundwork for a more promising future outside of sports.

"It breaks down racial barriers more than governments can do," she said. "Teamwork, excellence, respect, joy — it's those elements of what sports should be. When we take that approach off the field, into our daily work, I just imagine how wonderful this world can be, how wonderful this democracy could be."

New episodes of LA Stories with Giselle Fernandez premiere Mondays at 9 p.m. on Spectrum News 1.