Let's #breakthebias on the playing field too

Mar 14, 2022

In 1967 Katherine Switzer made history by sneaking into the Boston marathon under a male name and wearing an oversized hoody. The race director spotted her, jumped onto the course and tried to rip off her entry number. Switzer's partner intercepted the attack and famously yelled, "Run like hell!" Following the Boston race, women continued to fight to enter long-distance running (and other sporting) events. In 1984, the women's marathon was finally added as an official Olympic event.


In 2022, women are still fighting to #breakthebias in sport. Take the example of last week's Tokyo marathon, where coverage of the women's event took almost 11 minutes into the race to be shown in most major sports feeds. While winner Brigid Kosgei was finishing (with a course and Japanese soil record), most stations opted to instead show an interview with the men's winner.


I've been fortunate to spend most of my life doing athletic activities outside of typical gender stereotypes. That means I've devoted a lot of my leisure time to flying down hairy-scary mountains on my bike, rock-climbing, running ultra-marathons trail races, lifting heavy weights, and participating in my new favourite sport of all, boxing. The best part? The friends with whom I get to share my adventures - a group of women who continue to crush goals and smash stereotypes (and honestly, make me look like a couch potato).


I've had mixed reactions (and continue to raise some eyebrows) as I choose to participate in risky sports as an aging woman. I asked about returning to trail running after an injury at a recent medical appointment. My doctor started by helpfully reminding me that I am no longer eighteen. He followed up that comment with, "What exactly are you trying to prove?"


The short answer is, honestly, nothing.


I just love to move, especially in ways that push physicality beyond where we usually exist as women. Long trail running may seem crazy until you experience the all-day adventure and the dance-like movements on the downhill. Rock climbing might seem reckless until you understand the constant focus on safety, teamwork, and the state of flow, unlike any meditation. And boxing might seem violent until you recognize the beautiful patterns between hands and feet and the unbelievable power of your own body behind every punch (don't worry – those punches are landing on bags or pads 😊). None of these experiences are gender-specific.  


Most of us have felt the physical threat and vulnerability of simply being female, and almost all have had the feeling of our bodies not measuring up to impossible beauty standards. It's no surprise that girls' sports participation drops off precipitously as they enter high school and start to have a different standard placed on their physical appearance.


Sadly, gender bias (even more pronounced for those in the LGBTQ community) prevents many from experiencing sports countless benefits. Having good endurance, explosive strength, and (sometimes surprising) physical power changes not only the dialogue that we have with ourselves; it changes the agency that we feel over our own bodies.


At 53, living in my body becomes more crucial than ever. Operating outside of my comfort zone in sports has given me some of the best lessons in patience, perseverance, teamwork, and resilience for business and everyday life.  


So while we work to #breakthebias in the boardroom, let's do the same on the playing field. Let's change the conversation on female physicality – especially for my fellow strong women who refuse to get older gracefully.   

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