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Where Are They Now? Ronnie Laughlin ’80

Then: Women’s basketball team forward/center
Now: Speech-language pathologist in Saudi Arabia

Ronnie Laughlin was a forward and center for the NC State women's basketball team in the late 1970s. Now she works in Saudi Arabia as a speech-language pathologist.
Photograph courtesy of Ronnie Laughlin ’80

By Sarah Lindenfeld Hall

Milestones along the journey Ronnie Laughlin ’80 took from rural North Carolina to NC State and, now, Saudi Arabia are often punctuated by one word, “OK,” and, as she calls it, a lot of intestinal fortitude.

“OK” was her answer when her high school coach, Debbie Yow, the future Wolfpack athletics director, suggested she play for Peace College after graduation, a possibility she’d never considered. A year later, she said, “OK,” when Peace coach Nora Lynn Finch transferred to NC State to coach with Kay Yow (Debbie’s sister) and offered to take Laughlin with her. The Wolfpack women quickly rose in the ranks, winning the ACC’s regular-season championship in 1978 and both the regular season and tournament championships in 1980.

A picture of Ronnie Laughlin from her days with the NC State women's basketball team.

Years later, that same outlook launched her to Saudi Arabia as she built a career as a speech pathologist. When a friend asked if she wanted to train Middle Eastern students to become speech pathologists, she said, “OK.”

“I’ve just always had the attitude . . . to just step out of your comfort zone,” Laughlin says. “And moving to Saudi Arabia was way out of my comfort zone.”

After a year-long stint in the late 1990s, Laughlin returned to Saudi Arabia in 2010 and stayed. Her clients are primarily Saudi Arabian children having trouble with articulation or putting sentences together as they learn English. Early on, there was some culture shock, and she’s still learning Arabic. But Laughlin has found friendships in the large expat community and traveled across the Middle East and Africa. Most Fridays, you’ll find her playing golf.

And she’s still saying “OK,” amid challenges, including her breast cancer diagnosis in 2020. Laughlin drove herself to treatment and continued working, despite severe cancer-related fatigue. She pushed through, researching a treatment for the fatigue and convincing her doctor to prescribe it. Now healthy, she is sharing her experience in a book, An Atypical Journey.

“None of this is a plan, not in my head,” Laughlin says of her life trajectory. “The man upstairs had a plan, but he didn’t peep me on it. He just said, ‘Trust me,’ so I did.”

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