On April 21, the day she turned 32, Dallas native Rachel Lindsay was far from her hometown. As the star of the 13th season of The Bachelorette, Lindsay put her social life and career as an attorney on hold in hopes of finding one thing that had eluded her for years: love.
Reality TV may not be the first place many consider when looking for a partner, but it ended up being a worthwhile journey for Lindsay, she said recently. Ahead of the show's premiere on Monday, the woman known for bringing unparalleled charisma to the Bachelor mansion confirmed the season ends with a ring on her finger.
"Every morning I wake up and pinch myself, and I keep asking myself, 'Is this really happening?'" Lindsay said. "At times, I feel like I don't even deserve this because I'm getting everything that I want."
Ask her friends and family, and they'll say no one is more deserving of this kind of happiness. Lindsay's co-workers, in fact, signed her up for the ABC show The Bachelor before she was tapped to be the next star of the series. (Lindsay is notably the first black lead in franchise history.)
But long before she stepped foot in Hollywood and started dating 31 men simultaneously, Lindsay was an Oak Cliff gal known for her drive, generosity and a smile that could light up a room.
Born and raised in Dallas, Rachel is one of three daughters to Kathy and Sam Lindsay. As the middle child, she grew up the family's token tomboy who spent summers at swimming camps and at track meets running the 100-, 200- and 400-meter dashes.
In high school, she played guard and forward for the women's basketball team at First Baptist Academy, where she earned the nickname Big Rach.
"I was trying to sound bigger than I was," she laughs. "When they announced me as a 5'4" post, it didn't come off too well, so I had them call me Big Rach and it kinda stuck."
One thing viewers learned about Lindsay while she was on The Bachelor is that she loves to dance. That's been the case all her life, according to Erin Taylor, a school classmate and Lindsay's best friend of three decades. Lindsay was always the first person to break the ice at high school dances, Taylor recalls. And when they were young, the two girls learned choreography to all of 'NSYNC's songs before going to see the band in concert.
"We were big fans of Kirk Franklin," Taylor says. "We would go to his concerts together in which we would exchange roles, and I was one of the only white people."
When Lindsay asked for advice on whether she should follow through on participating on The Bachelor, Taylor said "absolutely do it." And good thing: Lindsay has since set a precedent for minorities on the series.
"African-Americans haven't done well on the show in the past, and I was telling my husband, 'If one will, she will. And mark my words, she will be first African-American bachelorette,'" Taylor says. "That's just Rachel."
Lindsay's passion for law struck at an early age. Growing up, she often watched Matlock and spent afternoons at Dallas City Hall where her father worked as an attorney. In 1998, Sam was appointed U.S. district judge by then-president Bill Clinton. Notably, he was the first black judge to serve on the federal district court in North Texas.
From 2003 to 2007, Lindsay attended the University of Texas at Austin, but even after she graduated with a degree in sports management, she knew she wanted to follow in her father's footsteps. She enrolled at Marquette University Law School and immediately became a leader, says Paul Anderson, professor and director of the college's National Sports Law Institute. Lindsay's maturity set her apart, he remembers.
"Law school is a very competitive place with students who are thinking they're competing against each other, so they don't treat each other the best all the time," Anderson says.
"Rachel is different. Rachel was above that."
In fact, Lindsay made a lasting impact on the program. Because of her, Anderson revamped a discussion series he'd hosted for years to give students the opportunity to direct and moderate panels with sports industry personnel.
"She was really one of the ones that proved to me students could lead these things," he says.
After graduating, Lindsay held several jobs in Milwaukee, including with the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team, before coming home to Dallas where she now works as a civil defense litigation attorney for firm Cooper & Scully. Earlier this year, the Dallas Association of Young Lawyers named Lindsay "one to watch," and that's no easy feat, says Nnamdi Anozie, a local commercial litigator who wrote Lindsay's recommendation.
"There are over 3,500 members of the AYL, so to get an honor like 'one to watch' ... it's because you've done something or you are truly making strides," he says.
Anozie not only acknowledges Lindsay for her hard work — she was reportedly back in trial after leaving The Bachelor and before The Bachelorette announcement — but also for being a joy outside the courtroom.
"Rachel is always showing her teeth; she is always laughing," he says. "But you never lose sight of the fact that she's as intelligent or more intelligent than you."
Though she's currently enveloped in media tours and public appearances ahead of The Bachelorette, Lindsay plans to return to Dallas, and to work, soon. Now that she's engaged, she's not ruling out the possibility of moving elsewhere, but her immediate plans call for wine and Monday nights, reliving her journey on The Bachelorette before writing the rest of her love story.
"I love Dallas. I am a proud, not Texan, but a citizen of Dallas," Lindsay says.
"I can't wait to come back home."
Plan your life
The Bachelorette, season premiere. 8-10 p.m. ABC (Channel 8).