On June 23, 1972, Title IX of the Education Ammendments was enacted, stating “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” In June 1972 I was not quite eleven, living in Hastings, Minnesota (we had moved there the previous year). In the summer, I rode my bike all over town, specifically to the city pool most afternoons. In the winter, I loved ice skating — and the fact that in Minnesota there were rinks everywhere. That June, I had a moment of glory I will never forget — the boys in our subdivision let me have a “try out” to play baseball with them, and I made a legendary catch which landed me a spot at first base, the only girl allowed to play (the others were allowed to watch and cheer). The next school year, I joined synchronized swimming, and in gym class the swim coach tried to recruit me to swim backstroke for the team.
I didn’t know anything about Title IX. Eventually, vague rumors reached us that a law had been passed which required boys and girls to have gym class together, something that mortified girls who, like me, were required to wear one-piece knit gym uniforms which were hideously unflattering on every shape.
In my eighth grade year, we moved to Loveland, Ohio. While I still interacted with the other kids in the neighborhood, our activities were more sedentary. In school, girls were neither encouraged nor expected to be physically fit, much less athletic. I only remember one athletic team for girls at my junior high and, later, highschool — basketball. There may have been others, but I distinctly remember that even the basketball girls were suspect — girls weren’t supposed to still be playing those games by the time they reached high school. It made them seem masculine.
Much later, during graduate school, I started working for the Women’s Athletics Department at The University of Iowa, where I interacted with elite women athletes — at one time I knew nearly the entire US Olympic Women’s Field Hockey team; I traveled with the Hawkeye women’s basketball team to their Final Four appearance under Coach C. Vivian Stringer. And I was acutely aware that the world I lived in had changed dramatically in the 15 years since Title IXs passage with regard to women and sport. The young women I was advising had opportunities I never did — opportunities to maintain their physical fitness and sports involvement without being unduly hampered by negative messages. Nike told them to “just do it”, but by that time in my life, I was overweight and thought I had missed my chance.
The other day as I signed in at the health club, the owner said, “Time to measure, Jenifer”. It took me a minute to figure out that she meant taking my weight and body measurements. When I joined Sisters Health Club in March, we took all of those measurements, but we hadn’t “measured” since. Once she finished weilding the tape measure, the stats surprised me — I’d lost a total of 25 pounds, 14 inches overall, and my BMI had dropped 6%. All of these “losses” pale in comparison to what I’ve gained, though. For the first time in my adult life, I remember the joy I used to feel when, as a child, I mastered a new physical challenge — the day I could do 15 reverse crunches lying on the floor at Sisters may not exactly have rivaled my first dive from the high board but I was every bit as proud because I had accomplished something I thought I couldn’t do (and my trainer promptly assigned me to do 20). I suddenly remember that I wasn’t always awkward and uncomfortable in my own skin. I remember that some things really are worth sweating and hurting for. I am so happy that the girls and young women I love will not live in a world where these things are undervalued for their entire gender.
Today, my friend Molly issued a challenge for us to participate in the Flood Run in June. I haven’t run further than a few feet in decades, and Molly wants us to run 7 miles. (Molly, by the way, competed in intercollegiate sports throughout college and is still a champion golfer — a Title IX success story!) So, for the girl I once was who could run for hours playing “kill the man with the ball”, I said yes.