One of the many things I love about my good friend, Deborah Hafford, is how she has her finger on the pulse of women’s — je ne sais quoi — multi-faceted women’s issues, be it sports, business, social or other issues.
Deborah shared a NY Times article with me in which runner Lauren Fleshman makes this observation: “Women have never been more marketable in sports than they are now, from U.S. soccer to Serena. Forty-plus years since Title IX means we have our first generation of supportive parents and coaches who grew up with the idea of female athletes not being horrifying. People are training girls harder than ever.” This interesting observation brought to mind a related statement I heard recently from soccer star, Abby Wombach.
In an NPR article about Abby Wombach‘s retirement, she is portrayed as: “the youngest of seven, who says when she (Abby) was a little girl, she knew she had to be loud and tough to stand out. Her mom put her on a boys’ soccer team at 9 to challenge her.”
In this interview, her mother, Judy Wombach, said “And come to find out, many of the young women that were on the U.S. national team played boys during their early years. I did something right and didn’t know I did it.”
From an insightful English blog, “Run Young 50” , writer Katie Holmes states that “American women love to run marathons. In 2014, 43% of marathon finishers in US races were women, the highest percentage of any country in the world. In the UK the figure is 34%. And American women love half marathons even more than marathons. They outnumber male competitors at the distance, making up 61% of finishers in 2014.”
A cursory look into statistics of USA running indicates this trend to be true. For example, in the Running USA 2015 State of the Sport, one particular statistic shows “Females account for 10.7 million finishers nationwide and continue to represent 57% from event fields. Males in 2014 represented over 8 million finishers in U.S. races.”
Writer Katie Holmes further points out that “fifty years ago there was virtually no opportunity for women to take part in endurance running, let alone run a marathon. Women were prohibited from running further than 200 metres at the Olympics from 1928 until 1960 when the 800 metres was reintroduced to the Olympics. It took another 12 years before the 1500 metres featured in the programme and the women’s marathon was not added until 1984 . . .” She kindly gave my book a very positive review, and pointed to the work of all the early women running pioneers with credit for laying the groundwork leading to this tremendous growth of women’s athletics.
I am not a statistician, but I’ve seen enough anecdotal evidence in my observations to verify this growing trend of women gaining ground in sports overall. Of course, we had a lot of ground to catch up in the first place. Looking back over time, it seems so antiquated that, for instance, one early advocate, Nina Kuscsik, had to stage a sit-in at the start of the 1971 New York City Marathon to protest the separate start times of the men’s and women’s races. It seems so odd now that certain running magazine columnists ever gave argument as to why women did not deserve equal awards at races. (Believe it or not, he was serious.) It doesn’t seem reasonable that we had to go to court to gain the right to even run as far or ski jump as far as the men. . . . but that’s another entire blog story (elsewhere on this site).
And as far as Lauren Fleshman’s statement about supportive versus non-supportive parents of potentially athletic young girls . . . . I will assume she was speaking in generalities. I for one took up running and immersed myself in training in spite of my disapproving parent-guardians, and the rebelliousness of it all probably played a role in my decision. So that argument about the parents could go either way. In fact, in my job as a Coaching Education Director and as an Athletic Director, I’ve witnessed plenty of cases with negative experiences in sports for children of all-too-supportive parents (aka: helicopter parents hovering). But I digress. Let’s close optimistically with the increased and growing trend of women represented in sports. Perhaps women do hold up half-the-sky or as Sheryl Sandberg recommends, they are “Leaning In.” Simply put, as Deborah states, something is happening here.
Thank you to USATF Women’s Track and Field Committee, Sue Humphrey and LaTanya Shefield, for selecting me for this honored award. I am beyond disappointed that I could not personally be in Houston for the presentation, but I was there in spirit, and thankfully represented by Julie McKinney, former Women’s Long Distance Running Chair. I appreciate the vote of confidence in Peter Thompson’s nomination.
Here are my thoughts from home, from my heart:
I looked into the history of Joseph Robichaux and to prior recipients of the award to find an impressive line of men and women I am proud to keep in company.
I wondered if my work towards including more women’s events in the Olympic program was the reason I was chosen. If so, this award goes to a small committee, the IRC, (International Runners Committee) and not just me. You have my fellow member Nina Kuscsik with you as testament to our good work. Margaret Mead said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
The International Runners Committee, for whom I served as president, fought for the women’s 3000, 5000, 10,000-meter events on the track plus the marathon, until women gained equal opportunity in the Olympic Games.
Then, I soon realized it was the unique combination of also working in youth sports that put me in contention. I would have never expected to be given a reward for doing so. This caught me off guard completely.
Youth sports has been the pleasure and joy in my life, which I do not consider work, but the constant source of joy in my daily life — It always has been and continues to today . . . and for many tomorrows to come. I have coached K-12 children since my own child started school over 30 years ago, and I still coach today. I had the good fortune to work for LA84 Foundation, directing all sorts of youth sports programs in running and other sports too. I directed coaching education for LA84 in eight different sports.
Today I coach at running camps, I write curriculum for PE and Health Education courses at Loyola Marymount University to prepare teachers. I coach at World Record track and field camps with Willie Banks and Mike Powell. I coach at the Culver Academies Distance Camp annually for high school kids. I write online course curriculum for the RRCA coaching education program and I participate on their grants committee helping youth clubs. So, you see, there are a lot of folks doing good for youth sports in this world, and I am fortunate to still be actively involved, thanks to organizations like yours creating the opportunities for young people. Once in my young life, one single high school coach gave me a chance, and I am glad to give back. Indeed I am compelled to give back.
Let me remind you — thanks to finely organized women and girls track & field clubs in this country in the 60s and 70s, I had a place to compete when there were no opportunities in school, no interscholastic sports for girls. We were pre-Title IX and before NCAA. If not for one forward thinking woman, my high school PE teacher who started a girls track team, my life would be different. If not for one remarkable coach, Laszlo Tabori, an Olympian and record breaker, who gave me a direction in which to train after I finished school. . . if not for him, my life would not be so enriched. He made all things possible.
Thank you for the recognition, thank you for giving young people an opportunity and making a difference in their lives. It is my pleasure and honor to receive this award.
May good health be with all of us.
- Why Kindergarten Is The New First Grade : NPR Ed : NPR
- Julia Chase-Brand: A Leading Pioneer in Women’s Running - The New York Times
- Keep Things Simple For A Healthy, Long Life : Shots - Health News : NPR
- Excitement Mounts As Olympic Trials Marathon Fast Approaches - Competitor.com
- Denali | Outside Online