Yesterday on my regular Saturday morning Ladies bike ride, I chatted with a newcomer who is training for an Ironman race in September. She’s obviously fit and firm, cycling in a minimalist tri top and shorts. She’s competed in several marathons and triathlons, but I don’t remember if this will be her first Ironman. Her husband also will do it, but they choose not to train together because they don’t run or ride at the same speed.
I mentioned that I had recently read the story of Katherine Switzer, the first woman to enter the Boston Marathon, and how shocked I was to learn that such discrimination existed in my lifetime. We agreed that it seems crazy now to think that as recently as 1967, “people” believed that women weren’t strong enough to run 26.2 miles. I say people, although it was men who made the rules, while women tended to follow them — with the exception of a few brave pioneers like Katherine Switzer. (If you don’t know her story, click on the link above and check out the pictures of the race director trying to push her off the course.)
Although I remember a lot of “firsts” by women in various fields, at that time in my life why they were first — that women were actually banned from participating — never occurred to me.
Yesterday was also the 40th anniversary of Title IX, which lifted the bans and allowed women to compete for athletic scholarships. At that time in my life it didn’t occur to me that this was a BIG DEAL. After all, I was the kid who got my required P.E. credit in summer school because I could get it over with in six weeks versus an entire school year.
Today I read about Melissa Belote, who received only two swimming scholarship offers after winning three gold medals at the Munich Olympics in 1972. Her daughter, also a swimmer, has received 160 offers. Again, a story I’d never heard before, even though she went to ASU at the same time I did.
I’m afraid that young women take these opportunities for granted, because they don’t know how limited their options would have been just 40 or 50 years ago. Unless they watch Mad Men, they don’t realize that women were supposed to be secretaries, not copywriters, or that the “girls” in the office were called by their first names, but addressed the men as “Mister” Sterling or Draper. Well, the buzz is that Peggy is going to name Virgina Slims, and even though I’m anti-smoking, we have come a long way, baby.
Sure there are some critics of Title IX who claim that it takes scholarships away from male athletes, and that nobody will pay to see women’s sports. That’s somewhat true, but in a perfect world we would increase, not decrease, funding to our universities so that more students could afford tuition. Scholarships help, whether academic or athletic. Football and basketball are the only revenue sports at any university, and scholarships are awarded accordingly. Most athletes in other sports — even baseball — are grateful for any partial scholarship.
As the parent of a high school athlete, I like the message of the NCAA commercial that plays during many bowl games: “Most of us will go pro in something other than sports.” Everyone needs a backup plan to pay the bills after playing days are over, but there are many ways to continue being an athlete throughout life.
As we stopped to wait for some of the group to catch up yesterday, one of our semi-regular riders was hurting from a back sprain last month. She complained a little, then said, “well, maybe it’s just because I’m almost 40.” Most of us were trying to remember being 40, and the two strongest women in the group encouraged her and said that they felt healthiest starting around 40. The woman training for Ironman? She’s turning 60 this summer.