Published by the DAILY RECORD of Morris County, New Jersey
On Sunday, July 21, 2017
REMEMBERING BACK IN THE DAY
My decision to add the DVR element to my cable service was one of the best I’ve ever made. I can record a televised marathon and watch it the next day, or I can delay watching the coverage by an hour or more, and then catch up by fast forwarding through the commercials.
During the summer season with the Diamond League track and field series in Europe where the elite athletes compete I am in heaven, watching at my leisure, backing up to do my own “instant replay”. I came across a column I wrote more than twenty years ago and now, watching female athletes compete, it hit me again, what a change has occurred in my lifetime.
Wilma Rudolph, the Olympic triple gold medalist had died, and I wrote of the difference between Rudolph’s experience and my own. I grew up in Washington state on an island in Puget Sound that was, and still is, isolated yet near the bustling cities of Seattle and Tacoma. We lived on a small berry farm surrounded by giant Douglas firs – a perfect environment for the tomboy that I was.
When I wasn’t doing chores, I was free to run and explore and play. My dad was an amateur athlete – a good boxer, diver and gymnast. My sister and I were willing students and he taught us how to box and do basic gymnastics. At school, I looked forward to playground where tag was a staple game and where we sometimes held impromptu races.
In a game of tag I could never be caught. In a race, no girl could beat me and there were two boys who could only sometimes outrun me. On field days, I would win all my events. It was my favorite day of the school year. I was in heaven. Then I moved up to high school and everything changed. Girls were no longer encouraged to participate in sports. Indeed, I learned that running and jumping would somehow injure me.
My grade school running rivals became stars of the football and basketball teams where their leg speed was put to good use. Me, well, eventually I learned how to twirl a baton and became a majorette.
Oh, we girls could pay volleyball, tennis, baseball and basketball in our physical education classes and intramural sports. That was because they weren’t considered too vigorous and didn’t involve serious running.
Girls’ basketball allowed only three steps with the ball. No running and dribbling down the court. You must pass almost as soon as you receive the ball. I would look with envy as the boys played their basketball and puzzle with resentment at the restrictions placed on me because of my gender.
On my own time, when no one was looking, I did run. I ran on the logging trails near my home with my horse. There I was safe from prying eyes that might find me foolish or unfeminine.
Then when I probably first became aware of the Olympics, I heard and read of this Wilma Rudolph – an American girl who was competing with other women in track running events. It blew my mind. How did it happen? Who let her and the others run?
Obviously, they had been encouraged to do so by adults who were coaching and training them. But why had my school and all the others that I knew, never allowed girls to run or compete in serious sports?
While Rudolph was blazing down the track, except for those occasional runs with my horse, I long abandoned my tomboy ways. If I was not quite a demur young miss, I was certainly not an athlete. That didn’t come for twenty more years. My first competition was in 1982 when I was now a master.
Which brings me back to those Diamond League meets. Friday night, New Jersey’s Ajee Wilson set an American record in the 800 meters, while finishing in third place in 1:55.61, Caster Semenya was first in 1:55.27, with Francine Niyonsaba second in 1:55.47. What a thrilling race to watch as the three women battled three across down the home stretch.
We can look forward for more meets this summer and this tomboy can enjoy and remember back in the day when girls weren’t allowed to run.
A calendar of USATF sanctioned events can be found at www.usatfnj.org or at www.raceforum.com for running and tri and biathlon events.
Contact Madeline Bost at firstname.lastname@example.org