I was a strong-ish distance runner growing up in the 80s.
And while I couldn’t beat the boys on my team, I could almost keep up. AND, I could outrun the boys that were NOT on the team.
Without a doubt I knew I belonged on the track, on the road, and on the cross country course. I never doubted that I deserved a seat at that table. It just never dawned on me that some did not expect me to keep up with the boys, or that I was any different. That there was in fact a ‘better than.’
The beauty of this coed sport — and Title IX that allowed me to participate — is that it cemented in me, early on, that I was an equal.
I was worthy of being on the same team as the boys. But, worthy is not quite the right word.
Of course I was worthy.
Worthy implies that I somehow needed to be enough to be on the team. There was no worth needed. Most of us who have run cross country in high school know that anyone who shows up for cross country can be on the team. It was more than that. I was, and we all were, part of the same team, equal in standing, rooting for each other and disregarding our differences in the process.
This sense of equality translated into other parts of my life and transformed the way I would view and interact with the world.
When the world was trying to tell me that boys are better at math and science, I wasn’t listening because, heck, I could outrun a lot of them. When the world was telling us that little girls were quiet, I was being noisy because my teammates, boys and girls, were a bunch of chatty gongs.
When the world was telling me that girls are prim and proper, I was hoping for a muddy cross country course to dig my cleats into.
I learned this by being on the team with the boys who just never cared about the mud. They were one with the mud. I would be too. Running on these co-ed teams helped me disregard society's expectations of little girls. Or more accurately erased them.
When we put one foot in front of the other it was after putting our toes to the same line. Let’s go.
That tiny little co-ed high school team in southeastern Ohio, with Coach McGuire at the helm, instilled in me an unshakable understanding, a core value, an unquestioned or even considered knowing that I was as good as, better than, or no different from the boys.
I was supposed to be there. I was equal to those boys that I could almost keep up with and, of course, the ones that I could out run. It put me on a road to a career in a field of mostly men where, again, I never doubted that not only did I deserve a seat at the table but that I would be taking one even if I did not (but I definitely did, so it’s kind of a moot point).
I’m so grateful to those boys at the table with me — but not for the seat. I earned that seat, that seat was mine all along. But for all the growth I have experienced by being at the table. For the boys that never “othered me,” you helped me to learn that inclusion matters.
For all the times I chased you on the track, I built strength that I never knew I had. For all the joy as you high fived me at the end of a work out with a smile, I will always cherish this. I have always felt blessed to be included, and I realize in saying this now, that you never had any intention of not including me. And this is the amazing beauty of our sport. We are all welcome as equals.
I have made my very best friends, boys and girls, through running. I have survived highs and lows with these gems. Being together, included, and embraced, it molded me in ways that other sports could not. It has been one of the greatest gifts of my life.
I am so grateful for this co-ed sport.