This mother-runner-author and mentor knows it really counts to be a strong woman when raising daughters. Enjoy how she brings her femininity into athletics.
When I grew up in the 70s (oh why does that sound so long ago?) being feminine and being an athlete seemed mutually exclusive. And I wasn’t an athlete. The closest I came to being an athlete in the 80s was teaching aerobics. I am beyond grateful I don’t have a photo of me in a neon green thong leotard. The big hair would be equally embarrassing.
Then at 21 something profound happened to me. I ran a 5K. I got third-place in my age group. A trophy. For being athletic.
I never looked back and I embraced my new identity, even if at the time looking feminine was challenging while training or racing. Women dressed in smaller sizes of the same clothes men wore. Sure, I wore lipstick. Usually my pearl earrings accessorized whatever boxy cotton race t-shirt I had on. I tried.
Throughout the 90s I was feminine and I was an athlete. Though, with each workout, with each race the two continued to weave together and become more tightly intertwined. Becoming an athlete changed my character; my approach to everything. My self-confidence, which had only before seemed like a thin outer shell, now calcified, hardened and thickened. I was brave in my daily life. I took risks. I believed in myself. I lived more joyfully. Being an athlete, even made me feel sexy.
That would come in handy after becoming a mother in 2003. Lactating, perspiring, sleep deprived, covered in spit-up, and floppy from a still contracting uterus I felt anything but sexy. (Shout out to new mom Nicole!)
Being an athlete reminded me of the strong woman I was; even when I felt anything but. Maintaining my identity as an athlete was paramount to my existence. I also soon realized that being an athlete helped me be a better mother, too.
Now, because I am a mother athlete of four, I can’t help but encourage my children to find their inner athlete, especially my three daughters.
For them—and most girls growing up today—being feminine and being an athlete aren’t mutually exclusive. This became crystal clear to me when I returned to my high school five years ago and discovered the pom pon squad I had been a part of was no longer in existence. “All the girls are playing sports now,” the sponsor told me. I was so happy for those girls who were not content to be on the sidelines.
My twin girls can take dance lessons and play basketball. My youngest daughter appreciates the finer points of femininity (sequins! bling! flair! twirl!) while practicing her upper cut in mixed martial arts. As they grow up, being feminine and being an athlete is not an either-or proposition.
It no longer is for me, either. I am a feminine athlete.
Kara Douglass Thom is the author of Becoming an Ironman: First Encounters with the Ultimate Endurance Event and the children’s book See Mom Run. With Laurie Kocanda she co-authored Hot (Sweaty) Mamas: Five Secrets to Life as a Fit Mom, to help moms find their inner-athlete and raise a fit family. She also blogs about finding fitness in the chaos of motherhood at Mama Sweat.