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Title IX legacy for my generation: Run for joy without judgment

June 21, 2012 – 10:14 PM

By Olivia Lynch

Title IX was designed to give women the resources and opportunities to prove their abilities on and off the field. However, strangely enough, what I most appreciate about Title IX (as it relates to sports) is the way in which it has catalyzed the creation of an athletic environment in which I don’t feel as if I must prove myself at all.

When I was in third grade, my dad took me on my first real run. We ran to the coffee shop at the bottom of the hill and back — about a mile and a half — without stopping. It was slow. It seemed far. But at the end, I felt accomplished.

Over the 10 years since then (I’m now a junior in college), running has been everything from the focus of big family gatherings to the only alone time I can find during a busy day. The self-competition, the adventure, the time for thinking, strategizing, obsessing, is something I’ve only found with this sport. I’ve explored new cities (I’m marathon training in Madrid this summer), gotten to work on time, trained for pre-seasons, met new people, and become closer with those I already knew — all through running.

In my junior year of high school, I decided to run the Boston Marathon with my dad because it seemed like a cool thing to do. As soon as I started training, however, I learned something that I still remind myself of: respect the distance. Train enough. Weekly long runs were slow miles up and down hills, unnecessary layers tied around my waist, warm bottles of half-empty Gatorade, cramps, and even frustrated tears.

I have run two other marathons since, but it has never been as cool or sexy as I imagined. I didn’t effortlessly glide through miles and miles like the super lean, legit athletes seem to do.

But in that I’m not alone.

When running my favorite routes along the Charles River in Boston, or near my college campus, or in far away cities, I see just as many average-looking runners in washed-out T-shirts and gym shorts as I spy intense, toned ones sporting the latest gear. And just as many women as men. Running is for everyone.

When I run in 90-degree heat (this summer, for instance!) and my speed and intensity dwindles after a mile, I don’t feel that I’m poorly representing the female athlete, that I need to be faster, more focused, not smile, not stop. When running, I can go my speed and my distance without feeling judged for being a woman. Sometimes I kick it into high gear, pushing myself faster and farther — and sometimes I don’t.

I know that women before me – even my mom playing on a boy’s baseball team – felt watched and judged. Did they belong? Should they be allowed? Were girls good enough? Running was once considered a “male” sport – in 1967, a Boston Marathon organizer tried to push Kathrine Switzer from the race course and there was no Olympic Marathon for women until 1984, just seven years before I was born.

I appreciate that today I get to run without judgment. When I’m passing male runners on the road, I’m not viewed as “fast for a girl.” When I’m slower, my running is not evidence of a flaw in my gender. Title IX has re-ordered our culture. Now, we are all just…runners.

 

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