I have to admit that there are many times when I sit down to write I find myself asking “Leah, are you sure you want to go there?” As you would all know by now, when its something I feel passionate about, the answer is always “yes, we need to go there.”
Recently I wrote about the one assumption that tri clubs, squads and coaches need to stop making about larger athletes, and quite honestly, it went NUTS. Clearly this was something that is commonly encountered by many larger athletes, to the point where it was even translated across other sporting codes and even to fitness environments. So here’s another assumption I feel I need to quash:
Please don’t assume that a woman engages in sport or fitness because she is dissatisfied with her life or herself.
Perhaps my sensitivity to this issue resides in the fact that I often have to deal with it when discussing my own athletic journey – to the point where I have pulled a number of interviews with larger publications because they just were.not.getting.it.
You see, personally, I started out running and training for triathlons because I had always dreamt of doing them and believed it was TIME for me to fearlessly pursue these dreams – NOT because I was dissatisfied with my life. I wasn’t looking for the ‘new me’, I was asserting the ‘real me.’ I wasn’t stuck in a rut, I had simply made a pledge to demonstrate to my daughter that its normal for girls and women to apply themselves and be competitive in sport and in life.
Now I know that many fitness journeys start with a catalyst linked to positive personal change of some form, so I do understand why this is the general assumption, and given that the big machines make their dollars and cents based on the ‘new me’ approach, one can understand why this one will be tricky to shift. But alas onward we proceed…
Recently I had a conversation with someone involved in the sporting industry about the influx of women as beginners to sport. Cue the spiel (and ten points to the person who guesses the part of the conversation where my tell-tale ‘eye-squint’ became obvious):
“You see, these women have children, then they get a bit flat, stuck in a rut and want to do something to get fit and feel better about themselves. So they come along, they train and participate, and they feel SO MUCH BETTER about themselves! I mean, you know how it is, (nope), you see it all the time right?”
No, actually I don’t.
Is it really that hard to believe that some women decide to try a sport simply because they just want to have a go? When a man rocks up to football registration, is he welcomed with the assumption that he’s had children, is ‘feeling a bit flat’, and wants to have a little run around?
Is it even harder to believe that some women decide to engage or re-engage with sport because we are competitive individuals who want to race or play our hearts out, leave nothing in the tank, give our all and even WIN?
What about those of us who have simply decided its time to be fearless, embrace life or explore our potential?
A woman does not scale a summit or complete an ultra marathon so she can feel less ‘flat’. She does it because she has an adventurous heart, limitless determination, and courage by the bucketload.
And she’ll call bullshit on your assumptions every day of the week.
My final race of the season was a women’s only triathlon. It was fun, friendly, supportive, diverse, and competitive as hell. Every single woman out there gave her all, no matter where it left them on the leader board. It was hot and the finish line was littered with women who were totally SPENT, some from having to sprint it out on the final leg. The atmosphere was electric.
Every time the results from races went up, the board was swarmed with athletes wanting to see their rankings, time splits, and other race data. Every single woman had trained, prepared and applied themselves in their chosen sport. Yes, for many it was there first event. Did this make them any less of an athlete? Hell no.
I know that perhaps I may have a tendency to react more adversely to conversations where I have to deal with generalisations and assumptions, but I have resigned myself to the fact that I always will – particularly when it comes to a situation where a woman’s preparation, effort, and participation is written off as something less than a male’s exact same experience. I really have to question if there have been any males who have been greeted at the end of a race or game with a “Good for you! I bet you feel SO MUCH BETTER about yourself now!” This perception of women’s participation in sport seems so widespread and ingrained, particularly with beginners that I am almost positive most people don’t even see themselves perpetuating it.
But in order for women’s participation in grassroots sport to advance and grow, we need a re-think on what assumptions we are going to make about a woman’s motivation to signing up and showing up to compete. I say lets make NO assumptions – lets simply open up our minds to the reality that the reasons for female engagement in sport are as diverse as we are as individuals – because its that diversity that makes our sporting environments great.