Take some time this month to appreciate the many political, social, and financial advancements women have made in the U.S. We can buy and sell property; make financial investments and decisions; apply for and use credit; marry, divorce, or remain single; choose a career, become a business owner, to be a stay at home mom, or a myriad of combinations.
That doesn’t mean the effort is finished either. Women of color, of lower income, a religious faith that differs from the mainstream, and others are struggling to live the lives they want.
That includes women’s sports and healthy fitness activities. Despite increasing numbers of women who are running, cycling, participating in triathlons, and other sports, millions of girls and women lack the time, resources, and access to participating in sports and fitness activities. It’s up to us who are active to help others join in this healthy lifestyle in a way that works for them.
Title IX – Let Us Play
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 opened the door for girls and women to compete in sport. This groundbreaking federal law didn’t immediately end discrimination, change outdated thinking about the physical capabilities of the female body, or get girls’ sports on even par with boys’ sports. Girls and their parents fought to get them on basketball teams and leagues, to be part of cross-country and track teams, and to play “boys only” sports like soccer and lacrosse. We females just wanted to run, ride bicycles, swim, do all the sports by ourselves or with friends.
Title IX’s passage allowed me to play high school sports. I played girls’ volleyball and basketball. Despite being a Steve Garvey-type first base player, I didn’t make the softball team because I wasn’t a good slow-pitch hitter.
Today, girls have even more sports in school and club play than 50 years ago. But not all girls get to play due to lack of programs, money, proximity to venues, parental support, and more.
A Symbol of the Struggle for Women in Sports
Throughout the 1960s women worked together to advocate for change in a wide range of issues. This included the simple act of running. One of the most illogical myths for decades was that women’s uteruses would fall out if they ran, especially long distances. And gawd forbid if a woman sweated!
When I was a kid, the following incident angered me to my core.
As Kathrine Switzer ran the 1967 Boston Marathon, she was assaulted by an ass-of-a-man enraged to see a woman running in “his” race. I vividly remember the photo showing a big guy slamming into that creep, and Kathrine looking stunned. The mere act of doing something so natural for humans (running) would be so offensive and warrant a physical attack seemed so irrational, so vicious, so unbelievably wrong to me.
Many women would soon follow in Kathrine’s marathon footsteps, and go even further.
Run Like a Girl, Run Like the Wind
Fast forward to the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. For the first time, 50 of world’s best female marathoners lined up for the 26.2-mile race. American Joan Benoit, the world record holder, won gold in 2 hours, 24 minutes, and 52 seconds. The 1983 World Champion Grete Waitz of Norway finished a minute behind. Portugal’s Rosa Mota came in third, two minutes behind Joan. Forty-four other women finished the race on that very hot August day. I remember watching it all on television with commentators from ABC Sports.
Women haven’t stopped with marathon distances either. In 2012 Ellie Greenwood set the Western States Endurance Run (100.2 miles or 161 kilometers) women’s record in 16:47:19. In 2015 Gunhild Swanson set the women 70+ age record for the same event. Her time was 29 hours, 59 minutes, and 54 seconds.
Equal Play, Equal Pay
Women continue to strive for successful and profitable sports careers. Most recently the U.S. Women’s National Team won a settlement with the U.S. Soccer Federation for equal pay.
IMHO it’s insulting and disgusting that a consistently successful championship team has to fight for good pay. The consistently unsuccessful men’s team in World Cup play earns more in wages (and probably sponsorships, too). Did you know that the men’s team has *never* won the World Cup? I sincerely hope the team has its best year ever in 2022!
Becky Hammon will earn more than $1 million in her first year as head coach for the Las Vegas Aces. That’s more than any other WNBA coach in league history.
Women’s History Month, Sport & You
So what does this all mean for you and me? Simply this:
If you want to go play, run, swim, bike, or lift heavy weights, you can! No one has the right to tell you not to. Ignore your inner naysayers. Embrace your age. Tell your doctor what you want to do, and together make a smart, healthy plan to make it happen. Find a coach to guide you on your journey. You’ll meet others to share the fun, the aches, the successes, the shortcomings, and a few laughs. Be the role model for your children, grand kids, nieces, and those of your friends. Cheer them on as they, too, play team sports or go for individual pursuits.
Countless women fought for the ability to play in sports and enhance their physical abilities. Let’s honor that effort by being physically active, and being the role models for the next generation. May they go even farther!
Get out there and have fun!