I was rummaging through some old scrapbooks devoted to running in times past and came across these words that I wrote for a newsletter sometime in the early 1980s. Thought I’d share it.
Women in Running
When I was a ninth grader in Seattle, Washington in 1951, the criteria for getting an A in physical education was to take 40 showers during a semester. I’m not kidding!
Thirty showers qualified for a B, 20 earned you a C, and so on. Clever kids that we were, we soon discovered that you didn’t even actually have to take a shower. The teacher only checked for wet towels and it was easy enough to wet a towel and show it to her.
I don’t even remember what kind of physical activities we participated in, but I can assure you there was no running in the curriculum. We would all have balked anyway. We were girls, after all, and girls weren’t supposed to sweat back then.
When I moved to Philadelphia in 1952, things were a little different in the women’s sports arena. They had actually girls’ tennis and swim teams and they played lacrosse, a funny game where you carried a little ball around in a basket on the end of a stick and you actually had to run with it. I tried out, made the fourth team and soon quit in disgust. Too many showers and not enough sweat in my past.
In college, physical education consisted of golf and bowling for me. I earned a C in both and learned nothing. We had to swim a single lap in the college pool and “pass” a dreadful ordeal—the taking of a posture picture. You were photographed in the nude and the authorities then determined whether you could indeed stand up straight. If you flunked, there was a class you had to take to get straightened out and before you could graduate.
I have a close college friend who was recently admitted to the athletic hall of fame at our school. (Of course there were no women in it when we were there.) She was unable to attend the ceremony because she was busy rock climbing, necessary research for a book she was writing, but she wrote a nice note thanking the school for thinking of her 25 years later. What she did not say to the people at Ohio Wesleyan University was that all she really needed to do to qualify for this belated honor was to be “vertical and breathing” at the time.
But hey! Times have changed. Not since 1967 has a woman had to hide in the bushes and wear a hooded sweatshirt to compete in a marathon. You find us all over the place, at all hours of the day and night, running and biking and swimming and getting sweaty and even spitting when the need arises. We’ve learned that it feels good to sweat, that in fact we need to, if we are going to experience the sense of well-being that comes from using our bodies as they were meant to be used.
We’ve learned that these little 98-cent (worth at least $2.50 by now) machines that we live in thrive on use. Exercise is kind of like loving, the more we do it, the better we get at it. The more we give, the more we get in return.
We’ve learned that exercise can be a tremendous stress reliever and that it can be a time each day that is set aside for us, when we don’t have to think about our jobs, our husbands and kids, or what we are going to have for dinner. We know that after a little time away, we come back to our responsibilities refreshed and eager.
We’ve learned that it is okay to be competitive, that it does not make us less feminine, and that it is great fun to test ourselves against others and more importantly against ourselves.
We’ve learned that regular exercise can help keep our weight under control, revive us at the end of a frustrating day, improve our self-confidence, (If I can run 10 miles, heck, I can do anything!) and introduce us to a whole new set of friends we otherwise might never have known.
I am just getting started. I could go on and on. Thank goodness, most of the myths that once surrounded women’s running have been dispelled. We no longer have to worry about developing a fallen uterus, unwanted muscles, drooping breasts or a masculine personality—running won’t cause any of those tragedies. Thank goodness for the simplicity of a sport that lets us throw on a good pair of shoes, shorts and a t-shirt and hit the road, alone or with a friend, to participate in the most elemental of human activities.