The overlooked female athlete

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Just a few of the awesome, strong female runners who I regularly tackle the trails with.  

The focus of my running last year was to take risks and attempt races that would force me outside my comfort zone.  No race did that more than Worlds End Ultramarathon, a stunningly beautiful and challenging 50 and 100k (I ran the 50k) in northeastern Pennsylvania.  While I sadly had to miss this year’s race, due to a conflict with Ragnar PA, I closely followed all of the excitement online, and I was eagerly looking forward to signing up for next year.  Today, one of the race directors, David Walker, shared with the online group some of the challenges with the way the race was portrayed online by Trail Runner Magazine.  In addition to botching the official race name, Trail Runner Magazine neglected to mention any of the female finishers in the 50k race.  One could argue that the write-up was incredibly brief overall, and that the lack of any female finishers was a minor oversight.  In the 7 sentence blurb, however, 4 sentences were devoted to noting the accomplishments of male runners, while just 1 sentence mentioned any of the female athletes.  This unfortunately mirrors a nearly identical incident with this year’s Hyner View Trail Challenge, when a local newspaper article summarized the race and the male winners, but neglected to mention a single word about any female winners.

When Dave posted his frustrations to the Worlds End Facebook group, along with his response to the magazine, there was instantly a great deal of support from runners of both genders, praising his determination to stand up for the rights of female athletes.  It was heartwarming to see so many people speaking out about the issue.  While women have made great strides in equality over the past hundred years, there are still huge obstacles that women face, and that is most certainly true in the world of athletics.

A recent article I read stated that while women now make up 40% of all sports participants, they receive only 4% of the media coverage of sports.  Of that piddly amount of coverage, much of it is of a questionable nature.  Female athletes, even those at the very top of their game, are much more likely to be asked about their looks or their families in an interview, rather than their skill.  When you think of a female athlete, what names first come to mind?  Of those women, how many of them have received media coverage for their attire or their appearance as much as for their accomplishments?

I’ve always been a fan of sports movies, and I was just entering my teen years when the movie “A League of Their Own” came out in theaters.  For any of you who may have missed it, the movie focuses on the women who played professional baseball after most of the male players were drafted into WWII.  It’s a sweet, fictional comedy, but repeatedly throughout the movie are references to the fact that people will only really be interested in watching girls play baseball if they find them to be attractive.  In fact, several of the players are originally told that they can’t join the league because they don’t have the right “look.”  Yes, it’s a fictional movie, and yes, it is set almost 70 years ago, but I would argue that not a lot has changed in sports since that time.

As female athletes we face plenty of adversity already.  Female trail runners train just as hard as their male counterparts, along with added challenges, such as their personal safety, that are heightened concerns.  It’s only fair that they receive equal commendation for their accomplishments.  None of the women I know, or men for that matter, run these races for the notoriety that it brings, but it would be a big step forward for all athletes to see both the male and female winners equally represented when a race receives a write-up.  One of my favorite things about trail running is that the directors of these races are so committed to putting on top-class events for their participants.  From my first experience, I’ve admired the work that David Walker and Jeff Calvert do to make Worlds End Ultra a reality for us runners.  Dave’s determination to stand up for his female participants is just one more example of what a great advocate he is for the sport of trail running, and for female athletes in general.  I now have yet another reason to look forward to towing the line in Forksville next June.  I already know that those in the trail community will celebrate the female finishers as much as they do the male finishers.  Now wouldn’t it be great for the media to do the same?

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