International Women’s Day: Nevertheless, She Persisted

We celebrate holidays because they allow us to celebrate our values and achievements.

Consider Fourth of July. This is a pretty big deal for Americans, given our values of independence and freedom. It’s a time to commemorate those values – and to watch fireworks and eat barbecue, of course.

For over 100 years, March 8 has been marked as International Women’s Day to commemorate the value and celebrate the benefit that women bring to our lived experiences.

Why?

Because we value women and the contributions they make to society. We realize that the success of any society – of any world order – is dependent upon equality. Without it, women cannot contribute to the best of their potential. I mean, half of the population has got some pretty cool ideas and experiences.

In the United States, the movement toward equality has created opportunities. Personally, I would not be the woman I am if it were not for the work and persistence of the women who came before me to ensure that I have the right to vote, to pursue any career choice I choose, to live independently, to control choices about my body, to be perceived as an equal.

On this day, I celebrate the women who have fought for women’s rights in history and continue to do so today because equality is a value that deserves celebration and commemoration.

But, this day isn’t only about our political rights. It’s also about celebrating the “everyday” women in our lives, like Beatrice Simone, my “Nana”, and Frances Schwartz, my “Mom-Mom”. Both of these women were strong matriarchs, who taught by example. While their styles were different, they showed me how to embrace a strength of mind, a persistence of will and a determination of spirit. All of which have been good lessons for my success in endurance sport.

And, of course, as athletes, we can celebrate the women who have created a path in sport where one did not exist. I feel indebted to the courage of a woman like Bobbi Gibb, who was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon in 1966, though she had to do so without a bib. She has written of that experience:

Then in February of 1966, from California, where I had moved, I wrote for my application to the Boston Athletic Association (BAA). The Boston Marathon was the only marathon I had ever heard of. Will Cloney, the race director, wrote back a letter that said that women were not physiologically capable of running 26 miles and furthermore, under the rules that governed international sports, they were not allowed to run.

I was stunned.

“All the more reason to run,” I thought.

I seriously love that response. Her persistence exemplifies what is best in sport.

The following year, Katherine Switzer finished the Boston Marathon as an official registrant; however, she had to register as K. Switzer in order to do so, fooling the officials into thinking she was a male. When she was discovered on the course, with the bib, the race staff tried to pull her off the course. She writes of that moment when race official Jock Semple tried to pull her down:

I thought: “I deserve to be here. If I can do the distance then why not? It’s a public road.”

…About 20 miles into the race, I came to the conclusion that when I finished, I was going to try to be a better athlete and try to create opportunities for women so they would experience the same sense of power, strength and freedom that I had.

When I crossed the finish line, it wasn’t like “Wow! I did it – I did my first marathon”. It was like “Wow! I’ve got a life plan!”

And, so, Katherine Switzer persisted, too.

Thanks to these women, we are no longer concerned about silly things such as whether a woman’s uterus may fall out during long distance running. As it turns out, it’s pretty hard to just shake a uterus out of the body. Good thing, too. I likely would have lost mine a while back.

Ironman Triathlon has built its brand from the now-iconic footage of Julie Moss crossing the finish line of the 1982 Ironman. (They ran a post on their website titled: “The Most Famous Finish in Ironman History.”) Some may have counted Moss out in that moment, as she crawled and collapsed on repeat. Nevertheless, she persisted. Now, Julie Moss is symbolic of a central tenet of the Ironman-ethos.

Most importantly, she showed other women they could do it too.

There’s little doubt that women can push hard. We are literally born to handle hard labor.  Our physiology is uniquely suited for long course success – all we need to do is tap into that strength that lives inside of us.

There are many positive role models who teach us how to tap into our reserves, several of which I’ve written about before. What links all of these women together is their persistence to continue, their insistence to endure.

Make no mistake: this persistence is not always easy.

There are broad cultural norms that create tension for women in sport. Perhaps, our bodies may not fit the societal norm, and for many women (including me!), that is a source of tension for our sense of self.

I have friends who are mothers, who have been questioned about their participation in sport, as taking away from their children. They may be perceived by some as selfish or uncaring–rather than as a role model of strength and courage (which is what they are!).

Even in 2017, there are negative judgments made about women who are competitive or aggressive. I’ve heard the insults. 

For these reasons and more, I know women who are hesitant to “tri”. And, yet, despite the hesitation, they persist.

On the surface, it may not seem as if political activists, grandmothers and athletes share much in common. But, we do. We face challenges. We face judgment (sometimes the worst of which is the voices in our own heads!). We face those who want to shame us. We face fear.

Nevertheless, we persist. 

Happy International Women’s Day to you!

What do you think? Share your thoughts and experience!