Over the next several weeks, we’re featuring stories of AMWers who participated in high school and college athletics–and women who are still participating in athletics as adults. If you’re interested in sharing your story, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Asthma plagued my childhood; some of my earliest memories are of wheezing on the couch as my mom rubbed mentholatum ointment on my chest and ran a humidifier on high. The cold air of winter brought on an asthma attack, as did the spring pollen. Running from house to house to collect candy on Halloween night was prohibited, as was playing a simple game of tag. I excelled in academics, but I quickly began to learn that anything even remotely athletic wasn’t for me. During junior high my self-esteem plummeted, as I felt awkward and gangly in my too tall, too big body. My body felt like an enemy that needed to be controlled; it was making me miserable with its unruliness. I wanted to be smaller – shorter, more inconspicuous, taking up less space. My body seemed to be in the way of my goal to disappear.
I started high school at 16 years of age with no intention of joining any sports team. By this point in my life, my identity as a smart girl with no athletic ability was solid. However, I soon realized that my high school had a swimming team and that a cute boy in one of my classes was trying out. I knew how to swim the basic strokes thanks to my mom, and so I gave it a try. The cute boy didn’t make the cut, but miraculously I did. Throughout the next three years, I reinvented myself through my participation on the swimming team. Swimming is the only physical activity, besides walking, that doesn’t trigger an asthma attack for me. Because of this, I was able to physically push myself harder and develop more coordination and body awareness through swimming than I ever had in the past.
Participating in sports throughout my high school years radically changed my self-perception, enhanced my confidence, and led to a life-long love of moving my body. Swimming hard five days a week for months at a time helped me to realize that I am fully capable of doing hard things. Pushing myself, even when I was tired, yielded great results as I went on to swim at the state meet every year. I began to view myself as someone who may have other hidden talents, talents just waiting to be discovered. Also, I began to view my body as an amazing tool that helps me accomplish goals, rather than as an enemy.
As I learned more about what I was capable of, my confidence steadily increased. This proved to be vital during my dating years; how I felt about myself seemed to directly influence the type of treatment I would tolerate from the opposite sex. And finally, because I had been so inactive during my childhood, swimming during high school helped me to realize how having a body is amazing and how wonderful it feels to move my body, exercise my body, and enjoy my body. I have continued to swim into adulthood; I have enjoyed swimming with a masters team, open water swimming, and marathon swimming. My body was able to gestate six babies in nine years, and I credit those healthy pregnancies and problem-free deliveries in part to the fitness I was able to maintain due to swimming.
As I reflect on my experiences with swimming and all of the ways swimming has positively impacted my life, I feel such a sadness for my mother’s generation. There were no sports available for girls at her junior high or high school. The only physical extra-curricular activity was cheerleading – cheering for the boys as they participated in sports. Thankfully that has changed, and hopefully there will be more positive changes for my daughters’ generation.
Sarah Jones’ favorite place to swim is Pineview Reservoir while the sun is rising. She also teaches English, attempts to keep track of her six active kids, and reads as much as possible.
Participating in sports as a young woman, and later as an adult in college, taught me that my body was powerful and capable. It also helped me develop mental toughness, confidence, and self discipline. Sports connected me with other girls and women learning the same things, doing something we all loved. That instant network of friends was a blessing while navigating the ups and downs of high school life, and transitioning to adult life in college.
Sports also opened my eyes to how general differences between girls and boys can perpetuate certain societal expectations. For example, some people believe that inherently, girls may be weaker and slower than boys, therefore, they shouldn’t waste their time playing competitive sports. Some people told me that women’s sports clothes (volleyball shirts and spandex) weren’t “modest” and women shouldn’t be jumping or running in such attire. Sports participation opened my eyes at a fairly young age to societal expectations for women and helped me stand up for what I believed was appropriate to do with my body and my time.
Nicci played basketball in high school and college, volleyball in high school and ran track in high school. She has experience teaching at the elementary level, and currently serves on her local elementary school’s Community Council. You may often find her hiking, reading, and eating good food with her husband and five children.