Written by Lindsey Emery, freelance writer
It’s hard to imagine growing up in a world where you couldn’t run as far or as fast as you wanted. But before June 23, 1972, when Title IX was created, women were nowhere near being placed on an equal playing field with men in sports, and people seriously thought that if you were a girl you couldn’t safely complete a mile, let alone 13.1 or 26.2. Some people even thought your uterus might drop out if you did—true story.
Though Title IX’s birthday has passed, we got the chance to catch up with some of the fastest, strongest, most competitive women at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, OR, to see how it has changed their lives for the better.
Thank you Title IX for never making us choose. “I entered high school in 1971, and we didn’t have a girls’ cross country or track team. We had a track club, and the longest distance women could race at the time was 800 meters (1/2 mile),” says running legend Joan Benoit Samuelson, 55, who won a gold medal in the first-ever women’s Olympic marathon in 1984, just 28 years ago. “By my junior and senior year, women could run the mile, but if they did, they couldn’t participate in any other events, for fear they might overexert themselves.”
“I can’t even imagine what that must have been like,” says Alissa McKaig, 26, who placed 8th in the Olympic Marathon Trials and 11th in the 10,000-meter Trials. “We grew up in a time when you were supposed to be active. In fact, I wasn’t willing to choose between soccer and running in high school, so I did both. I would compete in a track meet, and then go play a soccer game—that never would’ve happened before Title IX.”
Thank you Title IX for making us strong. “I absolutely think that Title IX has allowed women to get swifter, higher and stronger,” says Olympian Kara Patterson, 26, who placed second in the Javelin at the Trials. In fact, female track and field competitors seem to get speedier (and younger) every year.
“An interesting thing has happened in international high jumping, where the women actually get paid more and have way more competitive opportunities than men, too,” says Olympian Amy Acuff, 37, who placed third in the Trials’ High Jump competition. “This is not true of all events, but women seem to hold their ground in track and field.”
Thank you Title IX for supporting us. “For me, running has always been a given, because I come from a family that’s made up predominantly of female athletes. But my grandmother, who is super strong and just did a 24-hour race, could only play softball when she was younger,” says 2011 10,000-meter National Champion Sarah Porter, 22, who participated in the Olympic Marathon and 10,000-meter Trials. “She’s blown away by how much things have changed in the last 40 years and is one of my biggest supporters.”
“My mom grew up in the 50’s and 60’s, and she used to mention how she would have liked sports but only knew them from playing causal baseball games with her brothers in the park or just swimming and running on her own later in life,” says Molly Huddle, 27, who placed second in the 5,000-meters at the Trials. “Seeing what sports did for my character, personality and life makes it sad to know that that she never got to experience that.”
“I think it’s no coincidence that Nike, which also celebrates its 40th anniversary this summer, is named after the Goddess of Victory,” says Samuelson. “Women want to win in every facet of their lives—they want to be smart, they want to be strong, and they want to be healthy.”
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