I have always been an athlete (and am striving hard now to return to that though godnose what my sport will be). I was a runner in junior high and high school, played softball, hit practice balls for my little bro’s baseball team, played field hockey. I have hiked and run thousands of miles of trails. All this took its toll on my joints, and I have had two hip replacements. I’ve been cleared by my orthopedic surgeon to run and ski, but I don’t know if I will get my mind to the place where those will happen. I hope so.
I think some people are designed so that their brain works better with hard physical exercise. I had rheumatic fever as a kid, developed a heart murmur, and while we lived in Colorado (where I was born) I wasn’t very physically active. But when we moved to sea level when I was 8, that all changed. I discovered baseball, ice skating, high-jumping and running in the forest. I felt free, strong, happy. By the time I was 13, I could hit a ball farther than anyone in my town of 10,000. I could catch anything. I could outrun everybody.
My parents didn’t encourage me — well, my dad did. He’d play catch for hours with me after he came home from work. My mom was an inanimate object who thought physical activity was bad for women. When I ran an incredibly fast 400 meters, my coach called my mom to see if she would sign a permission slip for me to go to Olympic Training Camp for the 400 meters and 400-meter hurdles. Mom refused, saying running would make it impossible for me to have children. I was 13! I think that was the moment I decided I’d rather die than have a baby, and I have no children. Parents who tramp on their kids’ dreams might be killing their own — my mom wanted to be a grandmother.
Back then, there was the idea, also, that sports were “masculine” and girls and women who played them were not very feminine. Sure, there were some sports that were OK for girls — tennis, figure skating, softball, gymnastics, swimming — but otherwise? It was iffy. I grew to hate the word “feminine” because it limited me. Female, OK. Feminine? No thanks. Back then, many people thought that if you were any good, you were overburdened with testosterone like a female Russian weightlifter who’s been caught juicing. Sports are gender neutral and people should do — play — what they love.
When I was a university professor, one of the high points of my time teaching was attending the Scholar Athletes Award Banquet with one of my students, a girl on the soccer team. Her boyfriend — who played on the men’s soccer team — was being honored, too. At our table were two petite young women who ran 400 meters and 400-meter hurdles. I loved that, enjoyed talking to them about their sport, and took it as a sign from wherever signs come from. A gift for me. “You couldn’t have this, Martha, but these young women can.” ❤
The vast majority of the scholar-athletes receiving awards that night (B+ GPA and above) were women. It was (surprisingly) a very emotional evening for me. I got to see the results of Title IX, the law that requires schools to put as much into women’s sports as it does into mens. On the surface it’s an equal opportunity law:
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
But it opened a door that, when I was young, didn’t even exist.
Athletics programs are considered educational programs and activities. There are three basic parts of Title IX as it applies to athletics:
- Participation: Title IX requires that women and men be provided equitable opportunities to participate in sports. Title IX does not require institutions to offer identical sports but an equal opportunity to play;
- Scholarships: Title IX requires that female and male student-athletes receive athletics scholarship dollars proportional to their participation; and
- Other benefits: Title IX requires the equal treatment of female and male student-athletes in the provisions of: (a) equipment and supplies; (b) scheduling of games and practice times; (c) travel and daily allowance/per diem; (d) access to tutoring; (e) coaching, (f) locker rooms, practice and competitive facilities; (g) medical and training facilities and services; (h) housing and dining facilities and services; (i) publicity and promotions; (j) support services and (k) recruitment of student-athletes.
I know not everyone is designed as I am, but everyone should have the right to reach for the highest level of their abilities if they want to. My mom’s decision didn’t make me stop running and who knows? Maybe I wouldn’t have made it to the Olympic team. That I didn’t get to try is, ultimately no big deal, but the fight I had with my mom after she got off the phone with my coach was, for good or ill, a determining moment of my life.