Glory Days

“Come in here right now.”

“What did I do?”

“Showing your panties to all the boys in the neighborhood? Do you ever think?”

I guess what I was doing was tantamount to the can-can. The way I saw it, I came home from school, didn’t change my clothes, went out to the backyard to play with my friends. I was on one team with four others, and across the yard were five more. We were playing touch football, and I was doing a kick-off. We were small enough that a big backyard was good enough for a football field. 

“What?”

“You don’t kick straight up in the air like that, not when you’re wearing a skirt! That’s WHY the boys want to play with you. They can see your panties!”

I felt stupid and humiliated. Part of me didn’t believes that was why “all the boys” wanted to play with me. I told her, too, but my mother just scoffed. I believed it was because I was a good athlete and could out-run, out-hit, out-kick all of them. In my possibly benighted perspective, the boys just wanted to win. That’s why I was picked first. But maybe my mother was right.

“Go change. Sooner or later you’re going to learn that boys don’t like girls who play football.”

I went to my room and changed into jeans, but when I went back out, everyone was gone. They all figured they’d be in trouble, too.

***

I don’t dispute that boys want to look at girls’ panties. I learned that to be true. But I still think it’s possible for fourth grade boys to want to play football even if one of the players is a girl. Of course, I don’t really know that for sure. I’ve never been a boy. But there is the thing about women — girls — and sports.

I was lucky that from sixth grade through junior high I had supportive coaches even though I didn’t have a supportive mom. My 8th grade track coach had sent home a permission slip for my mom to sign giving me permission to try out for — and go to — Olympic training camp. My dreams of running middle distances and sprints in the Olympics was shot down when my mother refused, saying that 1) if I ran too fast the boys couldn’t catch me, 2) running would make it impossible for me to have children someday, 3) men didn’t like women who were good at sports. 

The year before, I had run a 57 second quarter mile, on grass, barefoot. My coach and his assistant, both looked at their stopwatches in amazement, Coach Larson, said, “I want to talk to you.” I don’t remember the conversation, something about my time being very fast.

Back then, I ran everywhere. My hero at the time was Wilma Rudolf, Olympic Champion in the middle distances.

When I was in college, 1970/72 at a girl’s school, it wasn’t easy to play a sport. Girls’ sports teams were not well supported and getting a decent season line up wasn’t always easy. It was difficult enough to find two field hockey teams in the same conference, never mind enough for a track meet.

That was pretty much it for me and running. 

***

The Good X, whom I married when I was 30, was a runner, and ran a lot of 10Ks. I’d learned that distances like that on roads were not interesting to me, nor was starting off with a crowd of people wearing numbers, even if there was a T-shirt at the end. I tried. It wasn’t until I was 35 — and had a dog — that I rediscovered the joy of running and found that running on trails was incredible fun.

***

Meanwhile, back when I was in junior high, other women were fighting the good fight. I didn’t even know about it until a couple of years ago when I learned of Bobbi Gibb. In 1966, when I was fourteen and had given up fighting with my mom, a 23 year old woman, Bobbi Gibb ran the Boston Marathon, unregistered.

“… Gibb famously hid in the bushes near the starting line in Hopkinton and jumped in the middle of the pack wearing her brother’s shorts and a blue-hooded sweatshirt to disguise herself…The men on the course vowed to protect her if race officials tried to intervene.”

She ran it even though she couldn’t register, and in doing so proved that women had the strength, endurance and will to train for and complete a long race. I have never run a marathon (my dog, Molly, and I walked one), but as a (former) runner I cannot imagine that Bobbi Gibb didn’t LOVE running. She had to have loved running. 

Researching her today I found that she is an artist and was commissioned to create a sculpture of herself at the starting line, in clay, that will be cast in bronze. Of the sculpture she said, “I know how it feels to run from the inside and I know what it is like to run a marathon…I work from the inside out getting the feel. It has to be alive.” (Source)

That’s pure love of running (and love of art).

When Bobbi Gibb ran, women’s track shoes did not exist. She wore a small pair of men’s. As I read that I thought about my own seventh grade track shoes which were, also, a small pair of men’s. I loved them. They were real racing shoes, with the three stripes of Adidas. Were they Adidas? I don’t know…

Bobbi Gibb 1966 Boston Marathon

In 1967, the year after Bobbi Gibb ran the Boston Marathon, Katherine Switzer became the first woman to register for and run in the race. As she was racing, the race manager repeatedly attacked her, trying to stop her, to grab her number and to get her out of the race.

***

Lynda Barry Cartoon

I was thinking about all of this in connection with the whole male privilege thing. Not the sports so much, but the list of how I had to be if I wanted a husband. There might be something TO that list since I never did find a permanent love relationship. In fact, whenever I tried, every single time, I felt someone had shaken salt on my tail. Is this because I grew up thinking that boys would only like me if I were, you know, someone else? I’ve felt trapped in every relationship I’ve been in. 

I’m willing to think that it’s just me. There is a lot of dark shit in my background that made forming intimate relationships — even close friendships — fairly difficult. But I also wonder how many women in my generation were brought up with the a litany like that my mom gave me? On the one hand, I was told I could do anything if I put in my best effort and really wanted to. On the other hand, I was told that if I did things I wanted to do, the boys wouldn’t like me. 

***

In 1972, Title IX was passed as an amendment to the Civil Rights law of 1965. It says — innocuously enough, “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.”— Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute (20 U.S. Code § 1681 – Sex)

Basically, it means that anything the boys get, the girls get too. Every dollar that goes into men’s sports must be matched by a dollar going into women’s sports for both secondary and post secondary education.

Wow. 

Sometimes in the early 2000s I saw how much Title IX had changed the world for female collegiate athletes when one of my students — girl soccer player — invited me to attend the Scholar Athletes Awards Banquet at San Diego State . We sat at a big round table — one of many in that banquet room. Seated with us were two petite young runners. I asked them about their sports and when they said, “Track,” I asked what they ran. They smiled at me, really happy to be asked. “Middle distances. I run 400 meters and the 400 meter relay. She runs the 200 meters and the 400 meter hurdles.” I was sitting with the future, and I loved it. At that banquet, the vast majority of scholar/athletes were women. These athletes had both excelled in their sports and maintained a very high grade point average. These women were smart, strong — and beautiful. 

I Beat Everyone: My International Women’s Day Post

I discovered in third grade that I was a fast runner, which meant I was no longer interested in the stupid girls’ jump rope and jacks games on the playground. I wanted to play Kill the Man With the Ball with the boys. Kickball was OK, but KMWB was IT. Once I got the ball, NO one caught me.

I ran everywhere. I NEVER walked if I could run. My favorite was the forest across the street from my neighborhood. As soon as I hit the big meadow, marked at the end by an ancient oak tree, I started running, racing to that tree that I truly loved. From there I ran the lacy network of trails through the forest.

In short, I ran and ran and ran and ran. I won all the races. So, 7th grade, sports day. I was what, 13? What was supposed to be a 400 meter relay had been changed to a race because not enough girls wanted to participate. “You’ll have to run the whole thing,” Coah Larsen told those of us who were ready to run. “I’m sorry.” It was supposed to have been teams of four, one 100 meter length per girl.

I was ready, though I do not know if I had run that far before. Probably, but no one had ever measured it.

The gun went off. I took off, barefoot on cool grass in the Nebraska springtime. I got to the finish line WAY ahead of everyone. The whole time had felt like flight. Coach Larsen pushed the button on the stopwatch and looked at the assistant coach. He said, “Under a minute. Wait here, Martha.” I was winded, and I won a blue ribbon.

The next year I was in public school. Track and field came up in the gym class rotation. We were tasked with running a quarter mile and a half mile. I did it again. Because I ran so much (like EVERYWHERE) I was able to sprint that distance, which is pretty much the way to win them. My coach took me aside and said, “Would you like to train to be a runner?”

What? What a question. I WAS a runner. She asked for my phone number and gave me a paper for my mom to sign. It was for Olympic Training Camp the coming summer in Colorado Springs. I wanted it SO bad. Who imagined? I never did.

I took the paper home and gave it to my mom. I told her I wanted to go to Olympic Training Camp and train to run 400 meters, 800 meters and 400 meter hurdles like my hero, Wilma Rudolph. I knew about Wilma Rudolph WELL because I often RAN to the library to read the latest Sports Illustrated.

My mom sat down and gently explained why girls don’t run. They don’t get periods. They lose their femininity. They hurt themselves and can’t have children. The boys can’t catch them (supposed to be a joke, but I wasn’t interested in boys — yet.).

Next gym class, I told my coach what my mom said. The coach said she’d call my mom. She would explain that I was a talented young runner and maybe I had a chance. It didn’t matter. My mom refused to sign the paper and that was that.

My mom could keep me from going to Olympic Training Camp, but she couldn’t stop me from running. I ran all my life until I couldn’t any more. Olympic Training Camp would have been great (maybe) but even so, nothing could remove the joy I felt plowing up hills, across ravines and around narrow curves on rocky trails with dogs.

One such moment stands out in my memory. I was with Truffle on a red dirt trail one late afternoon in spring. We were followed by a red-shouldered hawk. These hawks screech a lot when they hunt, and the hawk was hoping to get something from our run. How could we fail to chase something out from under a bush? I’m sure she had hungry little ones in a nest nearby. It was wonderful that she was so close to us. I could make out the filaments on the underside of her wings, see her beak and eyes. She swooped, screeched and eyed our trail. The hawk would NOT have been flying with us had we not been “flying” ourselves.

I expanded on my natural ability and ran longer distances over the years because we change. Older people are generally better at endurance than at explosive sports. In my late 40s and 50s I somehow made a transition into 8 and 12 miles/day. For someone like me that’s far.

Sometime in the late 1990s I was invited by a student to attend the Scholar Athletes Award dinner at San Diego State. She was a soccer player. Her fiancé was on the men’s soccer team. She was one of my all-time favorite students and we did some hikes and runs together. We shared a table with two petite, lithe, strong girls. I asked them what their sport was. They answered that they ran the 400 meters, 400 meter hurdles and the 800 meters. Like me, they were middle distance runners. Because of Title 9, they’d grown up competing. Like my student, they attended SDSU on a sports scholarship. They were beautiful, feminine, confident and happy. My eyes filled. It had sucked for me, but it wasn’t sucking for them. ❤

Today I got a message from Ancestry DNA. A couple years ago I took the spit test. Today Ancestry informed me of a new genetic trait — that basically I was born to “sprint.” Take that, Mom.

So, again, my “anthem.”

Featured photo: Eastern Nebraska forest trail. ❤

Run, Martha! Run!

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:

  1. 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;
  2. Scholarships: Title IX requires that female and male student-athletes receive athletics scholarship dollars proportional to their participation; and
  3. 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.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/10/17/rdp-wednesday-sport/