For the Record x Emma Staffaroni

The Women Who Endure: Long-Distance Racers Find Personal and Community Empowerment

"Get out of MY race!" First-female Boston Marathon runner gets chased by marathon-organizer, Jock Semple, 1967. {Photo Courtesy of Corbis}

A September, 1975 New York Times headline reads: “Women Marathon Runners Are Racing to Equality with Men.” Featuring the story of Kim Merritt, the women’s winner of the 6th annual New York Marathon that year, the journalist, Steve Cady, places Merritt’s story in the context of the turbulent women’s liberation movement happening off the race course. “In long distance running,” wrote Cady, “women’s suffrage means the right to suffer the same mental and physical torment as men and to enjoy the same sweet sense of accomplishment.” Cheeky, indeed–he later refers to Merritt as the “Susan B. Anthony of long-distance running”–but his point may nonetheless have held particular significance, and even giddy novelty, for the generation of women who only three years prior had seen Title IX passed into law.

Today, endurance racing among women manifests as everything from a one-time personal challenge to a full-time profession. Women compete in citywide runs for causes, professional marathons, college cross country, Olympic races, and affiliated local or national events. And as Elaine Harris of Manhattan put it, “Everyone is surrounding you, people of all ages, races, genders… it really is equalizing.” A sentiment not far from Cady’s, though it takes on new meaning in the 21st century.

Harris decided to tackle the challenge of a triathlon during her first year out of college. Signing on with “Team in Training,” a NYC-based organization affiliated with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS), Harris made a two-fold commitment: in order to compete, she had to raise a minimum of $2,000 for LLS; and, of course, she had to complete the rigorous Olympic-style Triathlon–a 1-mile swim, followed by a 25-mile bike ride, and concluding with a 6-mile run.

“It’s like a trick,” she says. “You tell people you’re going to do it. You say to yourself, ‘I’ve told people I’m going to cross that finish line, so I’m not giving up.”

And she told lots of people. Through a widespread letter-writing campaign and aggressive fundraising, Harris raised five times the minimum—$10,000—for LLS. “Unfortunately, it’s a cause many people relate to,” she says. Her campaign not only raised awareness among her friends, family, and community, it also raised her own consciousness.  Through the scorching hot summer, she spent two or three weekdays and a Saturday each week training in both group and personal settings. One day, she recalls, she got through a “mental block” and ran farther than ever before, telling herself she would not stop until the entire 6-mile course was completed. At 8-miles, she was still going. “I’ll admit I started to surprise myself.”

The day of the race, it was pouring rain in Manhattan. Starting with a swim in the Hudson River, Harris and her fellow triathletes descended from 98th to 78th Street, then biked back up through the Bronx, finishing with run straight back to lower Manhattan. Harris’ entire family came out bright and early to show support; even among the masses of swim-capped heads in the stormy Hudson, Harris says, “my sister could spot my stroke.”

During the run, Harris noticed athletes running together, holding a string. “Blind athletes,” she explains, “Incredible.” She also saw a veteran competing with one leg. Surrounded by such inspiring acts of courage and strength, Harris found her own strength anew during her last 2 miles: “I can’t complain,” she remembers thinking. “I have both legs; I’m a healthy young woman. I can do this and I will.” When she crossed the finish line, she cried. “They were literally handing out bagels,” she remembers with starry eyes.

Davida Ginsberg of Connecticut felt a similar sense of community and personal empowerment when she completed a 115-mile bike ride last year with the Jewish Environmental Organization “Hazon” ( which means “vision” in Hebrew. The cyclists rode over a two-day period, beginning in the Hudson Valley and ending on the Upper West Side of Manhattan near the Jewish Community Center.

Like Harris, Ginsberg decided to take part in this endurance race both as a personal challenge and as a way to connect with others. She, too, raised funds for the organization and got her family and friends involved in her race. Hazon’s work and mission was central to her motivation. “I knew I would feel supported and connected to people with whom I shared values of environmental sustainability and social justice,” Ginsberg says.

Elaine Harris of NY, center, surrounded by family members in fan T-shirts on the day of the NYC Triathlon.

Endurance racing thus took on manifold meanings in her life: personal challenge, physical activity, and hobby—but also participation in her Jewish community. It also represents a manifestation of her environmentalist principles and activist work. Ginsberg echoes many of Harris’ feelings after the completing the challenge. “I definitely see myself as more capable,” she reflects. “I feel amazed by the capabilities of the human body.”

Michelle Saindon, of Connecticut, had yet another reason for getting involved in endurance racing: she wanted to be an example of good health for her three children. Although Saindon was not a self-identified “runner,” she decided to do the half-marathon after she watched the Hartford race: “I saw many women that looked just like me crossing the finish line,” she recalls. This inspired her, so she and two friends signed up.

Saindon drew upon the communal experience of the race for support and strength, much as Harris did. “[My friends] and I knew going into the race that were going to stick together, finish together, and most of all have fun,” Saindon recounts. This allowed her to work through that “suffrage” Cady wrote about–the mental and physical pain that endurance racing entails. “Even when my knees were killing me at mile 9,” she says, “we focused on the parts of our bodies that didn’t hurt, like our pinkie fingers… If I had raced by myself it would have been much, much harder.” Harris also had strategies for keeping her mind focused through the pain; as she ran through Manhattan, she looked for familiar places from her memories and worked toward them. “I knew we were going to pass my family’s old apartment, and later on the Met, and other spots I love…I had a mental map.”

All three of the women emphasize the feelings of empowerment they gained from their endurance races. “You can get into the grind,” Harris explains, “[but] there’s more than just living on your blackberry. You can do something for yourself and bring it all back into perspective.”

But more than a feeling of personal betterment, the race made them feel like part of a positive community with a common goal. Saindon was so inspired by her accomplishment in the half-marathon that she rallied her neighborhood together for a 2-mile “Turkey Trot” this past Thanksgiving; where the community event raised $750 for the local food bank. “The races I’ve done have given me the confidence to motivate others,” she says. “The young and the old participated, everyone felt great, and we’ll be doing our second one next year.”

Harris will also compete in her second triathlon this summer, only this time she is serving as a “peer coach” for newcomers to the sport. While the decisions to complete these endurance tasks may not hold the same political significance in 2012 as they did for Kim Merritt in ’75, their accomplishments are perhaps just as significant in the scopes of their lives, communities, and society. “The race is ageless, genderless,” Harris says. “It’s just groups of runners, and we all do the same course.”

I Love That You Hate Me for Being a Cheerleader by Brianna Leone

{Brianna Leone is a 2nd year graduate student at Sarah Lawrence College. Her favorite method of procrastination is to find new television obsessions in which she invests too much of herself. She is hoping that someone will enable her television addiction with related employment after her graduation in May.}

  

{Yes, I stole my uniform and used it as a last minute Halloween costume my first year of college. No, my face does not normally do this.}

Confession: I was a high school cheerleader. This is not how I imagined introducing myself to the readers of Re/Visionist but there it is. Don’t misunderstand me; I loved being a cheerleader and (mostly) enjoyed my time with my teammates but “Cheerleading Captain”, a title I held for four years, was not one that ever matched up with my personality. I think most people who learn this factoid about my past wonder if my affinity for sarcasm has reached new heights and this revelation is part of some elaborate prank. (Actually, I think most of my high school peers thought the same thing but it was more believable when I was standing in front of them in a skimpy blue and gold cheerleading uniform with TIGERS printed across my chest and ass.)

It is a part of my life which is now basically nonexistent. Considering the seriousness with which I approached the sport over six seasons and four years, I dropped it with more swiftness and eagerness than I anticipated I would once I began my first year of college. With no regular contact with my former teammates or coaches, other than the occasional Facebook message or – I’ll admit – nostalgia-induced intoxicated SMS, it is sometimes difficult for even me to remember the zeal I once had for cheerleading (or that I participated in the sport at all). But when tasked to write a piece for R/V’s Sports issue this month I was remembering more and more the marginalization I witnessed and experienced in relation to the female-aligned sport.

I will note here that cheerleading was a solely male sport from its creation in 1898 until 1923. But it was not until World War II, with the absence of men, that women’s squad presence began to dominate the sport. It was women who brought athleticism to cheerleading with tumbling and stunting; their inclusion, however, was contingent upon classmate votes rather than ability, thereby establishing a foundational correlation between female cheerleaders and popularity. The impression of cheerleading as key to entry into the upper echelon of high school social hierarchy was not indicative of my time as a participant of the sport. It was just the opposite, in fact. At my small rural/suburban hybrid school in Northern Westchester County, New York, football did not exist and neither did cheerleading. It was announced that if there was enough interest a winter squad would be formed to support the men’s basketball team. One of my best friends thought it would be fun and I was a gymnast when I was young and spry so I figured, why not? That friend is actually the only reason I committed to stay on for the entire season; after two weeks I thought I could not possibly last an entire season at this but she pleaded and I caved. One week later she and I were both named Captains and I begrudgingly fell in love. If I had not, I would have been forced to give up on it much sooner than I did.

To state the obvious, starting a new sports team is hard. It becomes even harder when cultural preconceptions regarding its participants paint them as airheaded and loose girls who are so desperate for attention that they have found a school-sanctioned excuse to parade around varsity boys in too-short skirts and are so self-involved that they could never comprehend what it means to be a team member. Convincing the community that we were legitimate athletes proved to be an uphill battle, one that I would fight for four years.

{During our Junior year my co-captain and I joined a neighboring school’s squad during the Fall season to cheer for the football team with which our high school was joined. She usually looked much happier than this and I typically did not have such crazy eyes.}

What time, distance and a sprinkling of maturity have helped me realize is that the constant judgments our team suffered (more frequently from faculty than from fellow students) was that we were subjected to ridicule not because of a lack of ability, but because of what we represented. Cheerleading was something to be mocked and although at its core the sport represents community and support, we were instead pushed to the fringes of our local athletic community. We were never given adequate practice space since we were considered to be of lesser value in comparison to other indoor (and some outdoor) sports; with whom we were in competition for the gymnasiums. In the first fifteen minutes of each practice we would reorganize the cafeteria to accommodate our team and drag poorly padded mats from the gym into our newly cleared space. The cafeteria became a hangout as other students waited to meet with teachers or for their clubs and athletics to start. As they loitered we were put on display as they made a game out of distracting and goading us. We were in the middle of a Catch-22: without better resources we could not improve as a team but we had no hope of convincing the Athletic Department that we deserved and needed more support. The distinction that we even needed to fight for the most basic of supplies and space in a district that never wanted for funds did not escape me either.

Most of the teachers and administrators that I came across never put their prejudice against cheerleaders bluntly—that is—all except for one specific physical educator. He seemed to get a certain enjoyment out of taunting my co-captain and I. Eventually it erupted into yelling—one day as we walked away from him—as we were still too fearful to directly challenge his authority as an otherwise respected faculty member at the school. I do not maintain any bitterness over this rivalry between student and teacher if, for no other reason, that little that occurred during my teenage years is worth holding a grudge over. Though, at the time, I found his dismissal of the 18+ hours a week I practiced (in addition to attending games in support of basketball players that he once coached) extremely irritating. Unfortunately I did not possess the rhetoric to properly articulate or discuss why I found his attitude so unacceptable and could not properly argue why he was wrong and I was right – because I was (and am) right.

{With the Fall squad at John Jay, we attended Pine Forest Cheerleading Camp in the Poconos. This is part of the team shortly before we headed home.}

No other girls’ team would have ever been made to suffer for wanting to play as we had. And while we have been unique in that our team was so young, I am certain that we were neither the first nor the only cheerleaders to be marginalized; nor were we the only female athletic team to have to argue their legitimacy. With no dance or gymnastic team we were the only performers that also fell under the umbrella of “athletics.” But that was the crux of the argument. We had not been successful enough in our beginning years for our efforts to be considered real athletics. Especially as our team was not a feminized version of a male-sport, we became the other.

As a testament to the marginalization of cheerleading at my high school, the team was never featured in the yearbook and I am in possession of no team photographs. Essentially, outside of the memories of those involved, the existence of cheerleading in the mid-2000s at that school has been erased. Rampant conservatism in my hometown would most certainly reject my assertion that because our identity was rooted in our gender and we had no brother team to balance our existence in the school’s sports community, we were invalidated as an athletic team. Prejudices in my town are rarely publically proclaimed and so, no, there was never any blatant statement that the cheerleading squad was considered an inferior addition to the Athletic Department because it is deemed a wholly female activity and has no right to align itself with the likes of field hockey, baseball or soccer players. But I have yet to come across a better explanation for the substandard treatment I received in comparison to other student athletes. Although cheerleading does not consume my time or my thoughts the way it once did, I maintain that it gave me confidence and a sense of restless indignation, which, while frustrating at the time, has served me well since then. In fact, I am almost grateful to the close-mindedness that I fought in my own small way everyday growing up. I rarely won any of the small battles I took up but I was also never discouraged by the condescension and yielding to the status quo. After all, what good is a feminist without an internal balance of humor, passion and perseverance?

Ten Questions

{This month features Carolyn Miles, the Director of Physical Education and Athletics at Sarah Lawrence College. In addition to being an avid rower, swimmer, and skier–as well as a native New Yorker–she earned her Master’s of Science degree in Applied Physiology and Nutrition from Columbia University in 2006.}

Describe yourself in one word.

Determined.

 To date, what do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

My son who will be turning 4 next month.

What or whom has been your greatest source of inspiration?

 All the other female athletic directors out there, not only are they my inspiration but my mentors and friends.

 What quality in others do you find the most admirable?

 Hard working.

What quality in others do you find the most deplorable?

Disloyalty.

What is your favorite text?

This Organic Life by Joan Dye Gussow.  She was one of my professors and her work still inspires me today.

 If you could spend one day in history, when and where would it be?

 March 3, 1976 when the Yale women’s rowing team marched into the Athletic Directors office protesting the lack of adequate facilities.  The story made national headlines and was chronicled later in one of my favorite movies A Hero for Daisy.

 Finish the thought: “Feminism is . . .?”

constantly advocating for equality for women.

 What is something about you others would be surprised to know?

I really love to read British romance novels.  It is my guilty pleasure at the end of a hard day.

 What are your words to live by?

 If you work hard you can have it all; you just need to learn to balance it.

{Thank you, again, to Carolyn Miles. xx}

Screw You, Tim Tebow: Thoughts from a Feminist Sports Fan

{Katy Gehred is a first-year graduate student in Women’s History at Sarah Lawrence College. Originally from Dayton, Ohio; she is currently researching gender in early-America.}

Photo courtesy of SI.com

Prior to the Broncos/Steelers game of January 8, one of my friends posted a Facebook status which read something along the lines of: “Well, one of them will rape you and the other won’t let you get an abortion.”

I’m sure that dark comedy like that was floating all over the internet before the Tim Tebow/Ben Roethlesberger showdown. I noticed because usually the sports smack-talk that shows up on my feed is humorous at best, and at worst annoying; rarely does it touch upon topics that I actually care about.

Now, as a Packers fan I know a little something about loyalty to a sports team (unlike Brett Favre, OH SNAP!) and so I understand how trivial it is. I mean, I root for the Packers, I get emotionally involved to the point of shouting at my television screen and then I move on with my life. Loyalty to a specific sports team is simultaneously insanely dedicated and astonishingly trivial. Because after the blood, sweat, tears, and emotion of a football game is over, it all comes down to a bunch of guys in weird outfits running around and knocking each other over.

Perhaps I’m revealing myself as a bad fan or something, but I’ve always assumed that the whole point of football was that it didn’t matter. It’s a cathartic way to have some silly regional pride—or vent some pent up emotions—while eating Buffalo wings with people you like.

And so when a scandal happens, like Ben Roethlisberger or Kobe Bryant being accused of rape—or the horrible Penn State child abuse case—all of a sudden something fun and cathartic gets mixed up with something deeply serious and disturbing. And that can be conflicting for a fan whose parents dressed them in team jerseys before they could even talk; it’s hard to shake that kind of dedication.

Much ink has been spilled about sex scandals in sports. The media loves pitting the stereotypical he-man sports fan—who’s never taken a Women’s Studies course in his life— against the anti rape-culture of women’s rights activism. Rape cases and sex scandals are rarely cut and dry and so a whole lot of hate and victimizing gets spat out before the media finally loses its interest. And by then, usually, the perpetrator goes back to being a role-model for children and making more money than I’ll see in my entire life.

And so life is hard for a feminist sports fan. I certainly don’t have any answers. Is it better to just pack it in and boycott sports? When I think about the beer commercials I’ll have to sit through that sounds pretty tempting. But then I think about that Giants game last week when I could hear everyone in the apartments around mine celebrating simultaneously. I’ll never hate sports, but I just can’t forgive the rape apologists either.

intercontinental musings x kelly banbury

{Kelly Banbury is a visualist, culturalist, and globe-trotter. She shares personal photos from her side of the world exclusively for RE/VISIONIST every month.}  

{Via Recreativa Guadalajara, Mexico/ Un Domingo Pasado}
Every Sunday in Guadalajara, Mexico, miles of its normally hectic streets take a time out from motor vehicles and let pedestrians roam free. Locals hit the streets jogging, walking, cycling and skating through the entire city and surrounding suburbs. You can also find a range of other cultural and recreational activities along the via in parks and in front of shops, including hula groups, salsa classes, capoeira, chess and aerobics.

{Olympiapark, Munich}
Home to the ill-fated 1972 Olympics, Olympiapark is one of the most interesting sites in Munich. The facilities, which look like the utopian future through the eyes of a 1970s sci-fi fan, are breathtaking. And it’s no wonder that leading up to the games Munich was abuzz with Olympic fever and optimism. The event had been coined “The Happy Games” by organizers, likely in an attempt to lift the shadow still looming from the 1936 Olympics hosted by Nazi Germany in Berlin. These games would turn out to be anything but happy, however, as on September 5th a group of Palestinian terrorists took hostage and ultimately killed eleven members of the Israeli Olympic team. Five of the eight hostage takers and one police officer were also killed during the massacre that would overshadow all other events of the 1972 Olympics.

 

{Olympic Stadium, Olympiapark Munich}

{Schwimmhalle, Olympiapark Munich}

X

MUNICH 2012

LEMME TELL YA ‘BOUT SPORTS

John Walker is a Sarah Lawrence graduate who really likes the internet a lot.

So, sports.

Yeah, so, bring a book. I was gonna write something that would oh-so-subtly lead you from the theme of sports to the actual subject of my post: halftime shows. Then, I realized that I was really down to the wire in getting this piece in. Ok, so whatever, I still was totally set on my theme! AND THEN Gawker, by way of Deadspin, decided to rank every halftime show EVER on the Kinsey scale, as in assigning it a 0-6 as determined by its dad-rock to sequined riffs quotient.

Brilliant! Unless you’re me, right now. So basically, I’m not gonna fuck around with you. I’m gonna get right to the point and state loudly and clearly: I’M WRITING ABOUT MADONNA, AND YES, IT’S RELEVANT TO SPORTS. OH, AND, LET ME COUNT THE WAYS.

*ALSO I JUST NOTICED THAT I’M REALLY INTO COMMAS ATM [at the moment, not automated telling machine, IF THAT’S EVEN FOR WHAT IT STANDS #whatsgoogle]. FOR THE SAKE OF THIS PIECE, LET’S JUST SAY IT’S MY “STYLE.”*

Let’s begin:

1. Coming off of her Golden Globe win for Best Original Song, Madonna continues her comeback at the Super Bowl halftime show. Along with a medley featuring her classic hits “Ray of Light,” “Vogue,” “Music,” and “Holiday,” “The ‘Donz” [as nobody calls her] will publicly premiere her soon-to-be released single, “Give Me All Your Luvin’,” featuring Nicki Minaj and M.I.A.

This combo intrigues me, as the minaj ménage evokes 21 flavors of nihilism in quite unique ways. Madonna’s, while originally landing on the more hedonistic side of things, has, since 1998’s pivotal Ray of Light, performed in a cool and almost emotionless persona. M.I.A. is quite similar in her delivery, never seeming to be “trying,” so to speak, when she approaches the listener. It’s in her musical composition, especially on MAYA, that she speaks to a certain destructive quality, what with chainsaws as actual instruments and the like. More performative in her nihilism is Minaj, at least when in her Roman persona. Hers is a much more literal interpretation of destruction, which when coupled with such stony personas as Madonna and M.I.A., makes for quite the intriguing grouping.

2. As for the single itself, “Give Me All Your Luvin'” is still givin’ me 21 flavors of tingles [is this my “thing” now? ugh fml whatever I stand by it], even nearly four months following its unofficial leak.

In case you don’t know the full deal, here’s a super brief summary: someone fan in Spain leaked the song in November, litigation ensued, and most importantly John’s had a demo copy of the single to jam to since late fall.

Caught up? Good.

While not a revolutionary new step in her musical evolution, I feel like “Give Me All Your Luvin'” expertly blends together the first two periods of Madonna’s career in a seamless, effortless way. When I listen to the song, I hear hints of “Burning Up” couple with an overall undertone of “Beautiful Stranger,” and yeah, perhaps the kinetic feeling of “Ray of Light.” Using “Madonna” as a framework through which to create new work, the eponymous songstress is thrillingly post-modern, or rather, post-Madonna.

Ok, yeah, that was awful. Sorry. Ugh.

3. Maybe I’m just 8 years old (or, uh, 19) but Madonna’s new album is called M.D.N.A.

lolz.

4. Madonna’s probably going to wear fingerless gloves and/or long sleeves, because the world can’t handle the fact that she has really veiny, “unfeminine” arms. It’s really quite silly, because these underlying aspects of her physique are only visible because A) she’s in really good fucking shape, and B) the cul-tcha DEMANDS that she be so toned in the first place simply to remain relevant. It’s like, nobody would care about her if she didn’t keep herself in a sinewy state, and yet all she gets in return is: “GO HOME GRANDMA GAGA FOREVSTAT!!!!”

I would love to have that kind of muscle definition, but eh, I’m pretty happy with most of my arm-lifting being related to pouring more cabernet.

Whatever, what I really wanna talk about is: FINGERLESS GLOVES AT SUPER BOWL HALFTIME SHOWS. BECAUSE. It reminds me of what Britney Spears wore at the 2001 extravaganza, AND BY EXTENSION, what was considered cool to don at the time. I’ve been cooking this in-retrospect theory about popular fashions from late 2000 to mid-2002, and it goes something like: “DON’T WEAR ANYTHING ON YOUR DECOLLETAGE, CLEAVAGE, OR MIDRIFF. INSTEAD, DO WEAR FABRIC OVER YOUR ANKLES, WRISTS, AND ARMS.” Here are some visuals.

4. I’m really interested to see Madonna re-assert herself in a post-Lady Gaga music context. FIRST OF LET ME SAY NO DUH, LADY GAGA IS ALREADY ASSERTING, OR RATHER INSERTING HERSELF INTO A POST-MADONNA WORLD, WHICH IS A POST-THIS PERSON, POST-THAT PERSON WORLD ANYWAY. But come on. In a culture whose memory exponentially dwindles by the year, this is for all intents and purposes a “post-Lady Gaga era.”

Released in 2008, Madonna’s last album, Hard Candy was released four months, to the day, before Lady Gaga’s The Fame, at least according to Wikipedia. Gimme a break, I don’t go to school anymore. BYE BYE, CREDIBLE SOURCES TO BACK UP THE WORD COMING OUT OF MY MOUTH.

Especially considering Madonna’s recent 20/20 interview, during which she stated that comparing Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” with “Express Yourself” was, in her words, “reductive,” I’m interested how she fares.

About Madonna’s “reductive” comment, I can understand it two ways: A) Yes, “Born This Way” is a reductive reinterpretation of “Express Yourself,” seeing as how Lady Gaga is taking in many ways the rubric set forth by her predecessor and yet not quite delivering the punch; and B) The question itself – “Is Lady Gaga copying you, Madonna?” – is a reductive manner in which to view pop culture, female icons, and even interviews, seeing as how the interviewer [WHO DIDN’T EVEN KNOW WHAT REDUCTIVE MEANS] could have asked Madonna ANYTHING, and she focused on “Is Lady Gaga copying you?”

*PS – Can you tell how much I struggled not to say “Gaga” or “Madge?” I just don’t like “Gaga” minus the “Lady,” and who the eff calls Madonna “Madge” IRL??

5. I’ll work on being coherent, should we meet again.

6. GO PATS!