Gender Bender

113th Boston Marathon April 20, 2009, Boston, MA Photo by: Lisa Coniglio 631-741-1865 www.photorun.NET

Kara rewrites the narrative. Wear pink and kick ass.

The topic of gender in sport has been on my mind in recent weeks, and I have a lot of thoughts on the issue.

  • I always pursue equality in my life, whether in running or in general. We’ve recently posted about it on the blog, and while I think we all want the same things from our beloved sport, I come from a different school of thought. However, the one thing we can universally agree on is this: men and women are wired differently.
  • A couple weeks ago, I was in Seattle watching the ECNL soccer playoffs. At the tournament, I saw a lot of girls, from all over the U.S., playing soccer. They are the very best players in the country, and they proved that on the field. They were fierce, competitive and, yes, feminine. Their uniforms fit their bodies because they were women’s uniforms cut for a woman’s body. But my husband’s teams looked a little different. Their shorts were longer, the tops boxier. So I asked, and I found out that his girls wear boys’ uniforms. Wait, why? “To even the playing field.” Wait, what? What’s wrong with wearing a woman’s uniform? I mean, as long as it’s not pink. Right? But why is pink the enemy?
  • Isn’t the great equalizer being able to embrace our differences and share the same power? Why do we have to measure ourselves against maleness to be equal, even in sport? Why can’t wearing a pink tutu in a race be empowering, if that’s what you love? I don’t need to be like a man to feel strong, capable or competitive. I don’t need to set aside my femininity in any area of my life — sport, career or relationships — I am a woman and I seek equality by embracing who I am, not by setting it aside.

Fierce competitors, but not genderless.

  • I don’t think the world of sports perpetuates a specific “girly” stereotype to attract women. From my vantage, women’s sports are intense, powerful and exciting. Did you watch the Women’s World Cup? Have you seen Kara Goucher compete?
  • Parents don’t sign up their daughters for softball so they can wear cute uniforms. They sign them up to play softball because their daughters want to play softball. If appearance were the motivator, they’d probably sign them up for pageants. My gut tells me that these girls want to play the sport and be allowed to be girls. We can’t deny that girls like Elsa, so why not let them wear Elsa and play the game they love? Girls playing sports doesn’t lessen what is means to be a girl, and it doesn’t lessen what it means to play sports.
  • Then there are race T-shirts. We complained until we got the right fit for our shirts, but we now complain if they’re pink? It seems inconsequential to me. Sexist sayings aside, I see nothing wrong with the women’s tees being different than the men’s at the same race.

I think you can absolutely love your sport while absolutely embracing who you are, and if that means wearing an asexual outfit, great. But if you want to rock a pink shirt and tutu, you’ll still be a badass in my eyes. — Amie


But What About Your Knees?

Nike-Women-My-KneesIt seems that no matter what, I’m always faced with the same question from non-runners when they find out that I’m a runner: “But what about your knees?”

Yes indeed, what about my knees?

I grew up playing an inordinate amount of basketball and soccer, and no one ever, NOT ONCE, feared for my knees the way they do when I’m running. And you know what? I really wish they had.

Thanks to the cutting, diving, spinning, falling and full-body contact that is a part of both soccer and basketball, I’ve had three knee surgeries that will never replace my old, busted cartilage.

In fact, running is one of the few athletic activities I can still participate in, given all of the injuries I sustained playing other sports. And yet, time after time, I get the age-old knee inquisition when running comes into the conversation.

We spend too much time as a society hemming and hawing about how much people run, at what age people can start running, and how often it’s OK or not OK to run. Man, this is a lot of wasted energy.

So I say, let’s spend less time worrying about how running affects the ol’ knees and more time encouraging healthy habits all around. Are you listening to me non-runners? I’m looking at you.  — Aidz


Adrea’s Origin Story

Every superhero has an origin story, and so does every runner. Here, Bad Angel Adrea shares hers.

It’s hard to pinpoint when my transformation into a “runner” actually happened because I’ve had a tumultuous relationship with running for a long while. In the beginning, running validated me. It gave me an identity. And, to a large degree, it still does.

When I was eighth grade, my family moved halfway across the great state of Iowa. It was a long, lonely winter, but when spring arrived, so did track tryouts. On a cloudy March afternoon, they lined us up for the 50-yard dash, blew the whistle, and I left everyone in my dust.

The new kid had skills. Who knew?

Immediately, people treated me differently. I wasn’t just the new girl anymore. I was the fast chick. The athlete. Miss Jock. It changed the remainder of my experience at Pleasant Valley Junior High entirely.

Long ago, when I was speedy.

In high school, track and soccer both fell during the spring sports season. So every day from 2:55 to 3:40, I did sprints by myself during eighth-period study hall. It was the only time I could squeeze track in before soccer practice.

Just me and two coaches.

Alone on the track.

All. By. Myself.

They made me run ’til I barfed on more than one occasion. It paid off, though. I won the 50-meter dash at state that year and added a slew of medals and ribbons to my trophy case.

Then, a funny thing happened. I’m not sure if it was puberty or sports injuries or both, but somewhere along the line, I stopped being so stinkin’ fast. Sure, they could count on me for a solid 200- or 400-meter dash, but I didn’t have the blazing speed that used to come so naturally. I actually had to *gasp* work for it.

Away I went to Saint Louis University to play soccer, never having run more than two, maaaybe three miles in my entire life. I was a sprinter, after all, not a runner. The first day of preseason, they sent us out on a five-mile “fun run.” In the heat and humidity of a St. Louis summer, there was nothing fun about that run. I was so exhausted, I peed my pants halfway through the run. Not one of my finer moments.

I realized I had to start actually running. This was a problem. I’d never really “run” before, never had to work to build fitness, and worst of all, I didn’t like running. Ew. Not at all. I mean, who just goes out and runs for the sake of it? Not me. I certainly wasn’t one of those “runners.” Those people were wired differently. They were crazy.

Post run, on spring break.

No less, I got myself a sports Discman (!) and started venturing around campus. Once I got over the initial pain of that first mile or two, running was nice. Relaxing, even. My roommate, Katy, was one of those “runner girls.” So, from time to time, I even had a running buddy.

A few knee surgeries and two ankle reconstructions later, I hung up my soccer cleats and what I thought was my identity as an athlete. I escaped it all and spent a semester in Spain. I didn’t exercise during the five months I was over there. It was the longest I’d ever gone without some sort of organized sports practice.

When I came home, I was ready to get back to my beloved sports again. However, without cartilage or ankle joints, I didn’t have many options. So I picked up running. For real this time. It became a habit. That summer, I trained for my first race, the Bix 7. I ran it with my dad, and it was a great experience. At that point in my life, though, running was just a form of exercise, not a lifestyle. I still didn’t think of myself as a runner.

Running my first Bix with dad.

Then, I got hitched, moved to Cincinnati, started my first job out of college, slacked off with working out and ate. A LOT. Yeah, I got rather chubby.

I finally got fed up with the fattiness, signed up for the St. Louis Half Marathon and learned how to cook. Somewhere in the throes of half marathon training, something changed within me. Running became a necessity. Not only did it make my pants fit better, but it also made me a nicer person, a better wife and a more balanced woman. I felt fit and strong and athletic.

I wasn’t fast or good or particularly talented, but running still validated me, just like it did that fateful day in junior high. Once again, I had something to identify with. I had a group of peers — fellow runners — to support and nurture me. Once again, running saved me.

And this time, it stuck for good. — Aidz