Tag Archives: Sports

WI Girl Scouts Event Boasts New, Empowering Brand

I dove into a cold puddle of mud for the first time this weekend, and it was an invigorating experience. The One Tough Cookie mud run I participated in felt like the most positive female-oriented experience I’ve been part of for years. The 5K course with obstacles promoted camaraderie and health.

Equipped with a new logo (shaped like a dog tag with a Venus symbol on it)  and a brand promoting strength and toughness, the event had the ingredients necessary to empower. Two female National Guard members who served in Iraq designed the course. All participants were female and ranged in age from 14-year-old Girl Scouts to older adult leaders. And the event raised funds for Girl Scouts of Wisconsin Badgerland. While men manned parts of the course and cheered on participants, the female majority lent itself to a non-competitive and sisterly vibe.

At the start line an emcee pumping up participants reminded us to be patient if there were lines at the obstacles. “This is a not a race, it’s a challenge,” he told us. And that set a cooperative tone for the whole event. I ran with four other women, and we stayed together throughout the course, cheering for each other and the women we didn’t know. My friend who coordinated our team even boosted up a complete stranger who struggle to climb an inflated wall on the bounce house obstacle (imagine something from American Gladiators).

Saturday’s event marked the first annual mud run by the Girl Scouts in Wisconsin, and the event had a few hang-ups. The lines stretched long and moved slowly, but I take that as a testament to the popularity of the event. At the finish line, young scouts presented mud covered runners with boxes of cookies and dog tags. I thought the tags provided a perfect stand in for medals, with every participant receiving one.

There was one odd supporter that stood out to me. All participants over 21 received a free beer after the event, but rather than having the option of other beers on tap, the only available free beer was Michelob 64. I imagine Michelob banked on sharing their low-calorie variety with a swath of fit females.

I skipped the beer, but enjoyed the all-female band. And my favorite part — besides romping around with friends — was the nostalgia I felt for my time as a Girl Scout, tramping around the trails and fire pits of local scout campgrounds. I also loved embracing the mud, dirt, and scraped knees.

Photos courtesy of Jonas Hackett

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Women in the Olympics: Five Headlines

As a female athlete, sports fan, and inhabitant of this planet, I am pumped for the Olympics. They begin this evening. The media provided a good deal of anticipatory coverage, looking at  the games from many angles:  London weather, steroids, sponsorship agreements,  projected outcomes, and the list goes on and on. A few headlines about women in the games held my attention longer than the others:

  1. More women than men representing the US

The US will send more female than male athletes to the games for the first time this year. The female total reaches 269, eight more than the men on the roster.

  1. But not so in Saudi Arabia

This conservative country only recently lifted a ban on female participation in the Olympics. Keep in mind that women cannot legally drive in this country, and they’ve only recently been granted suffrage. They will vote in their first election in 2015. Sporting leagues for Saudi women often remain underground. Considering such barriers to athletic practices, it’s not surprising that the country has few athletes of Olympic caliber able to compete now that the ban is lifted. A conversation continues around Saudi Olympian Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani and whether or not she can wear a headscarf during her judo competition.

  1. Ban lifted for women’s boxing

This will be the first year that female boxer’s will be able to compete in the Olympics. This sport held out as the last with no female counterpart until this year. Female boxers finally have the opportunity to demonstrate they have a place to fight in the ring, and not just ornament it as bikini-ed ring girls.

  1. Sexism remains

Not surprisingly, female athletes are still held to traditional standards of beauty. Regardless of the sport or skill, Olympians tend to get extra attention if they’re considered beautiful or hot. One article on the US women’s soccer team faced criticism for its focus on looks and disregard for skills. That article began, “All of a sudden, the Olympics have got sexy. Really sexy.”

  1. There are only two genders in the Olympics

While the beautiful and feminine athletes get attention for their looks, the less feminine athletes face scrutiny. South African sprinter Caster Semenya had her gender called into question in 2009. After a series of confidential sex verification tests, Semenya was found to have high levels of testosterone and submitted to “treatment” to place her on more equal footing with her female competitors.

Regardless of the controversies humming around women and the Olympics, I am looking forward to seeing weeks of gender balanced sports. I like watching men compete too, but this is the only time every two years when female athletes vie equally for international attention.

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Roller Derby Journeys

Mad Cowgirl (Maddie) sought a sport requiring little hand/eye coordination — aerobic exercise in an empowering environment — and she found much more. She discovered derby before Whip It brought the sport mainstream attention. Maddie became a referee with the Mad Rollin’ Dolls  (MRD) and a founding member of the recreational league, the Mad Wreckin’ Dolls.

Roller Derby harks back to the late 19th/early 20th century when roller skating was new. Skaters would race around tracks to gain points when they lapped their opponents. Derby lost mainstream favor around the middle of the century, even after becoming more of a contact sport. The sport began it’s most recent revival in 2001 when a group of women in Austin, Texas strapped on skates and began coordinating a league.

When my friend (who I know as Ann) strapped on her skates she became a passionate athlete and inspired member of a community of bad-asses. Maddie introduced me to this spectator sport that manages to be amusing, inspiring, and unique within the arena of women’s sports. For these reasons, I began exploring the Mad Rollin’ Dolls for a 10-minute documentary.

The derby founders in Austin designed the sport for spectators, donning short skirts and edgy personas. The founders named the organization Bad Girl Good Woman (BGGW). Due to personality and business conflicts within the league, BGGW split. Skaters in Austin endured the drama to become the Lonestar Roller Girls (TXRD), where they now play on a banked track.

I enjoy the research I conduct for this project. I have interviewed interesting women and absorbed as much media as I can find on the subject, including a few documentaries. Hell on Wheels chronicles the beginning of derby in Austin. The doc does, admittedly, contain some catty bickering, but the excitement and stress of starting a movement from grassroots carries through. Brutal Beauty – about the skaters in Portland (Rose City Rollers) – includes the softer side of its characters and the people who support them. An interview between skater Cadillac and her boyfriend shows that men (support staff and fans) celebrate women at the center of this rough sport. The ultimate message from some skaters in Brutal Beauty inspires: “Derby saved my soul.”

The Mad Rollin’ Dolls, Madison’s own league, began saving souls eight years ago. The original dolls met, fundraised, and promoted the budding organization in 2004, and began with a full season of bouts in 2005. Their slogans include: “hurt in a skirt,” “real hits, real women, real roller derby,” and “find the derby in you.” The group runs on local sponsorship and volunteer power, including refs, announcers, and support staff at bouts. Papa Razzi explores his photography hobby by taking professional grade photos at bouts, and this man has two daughters who’ve broken legs in derby!

Through my interviews with veteran players I see that roller derby players often commit body and soul to the sport and the community. I went to my second bout last Saturday and the event sold out. The women I’d interviewed blew me away with their skill on the track and leadership on the sidelines. I found myself on the edge of my seat (literally gripping the riser where I filmed) in hopes that Mouse, of the MRD Reservoir Dolls, would make up a large point differential to win against a visiting team from Chicago. Mouse scored 23 points during one jam temporarily reviving the crowd and her team. I cheered.

Derby grows everyday as it enters its second decade. Flat-track roller derby has a governing organization, with hundreds of leagues, tens of thousands of players, and even more fans who support them. Websites now broadcast bouts for international viewership. The first roller derby world cup took place in 2011. Now there’s talk of an Olympic bid. These athletes become faster and fitter to compete on an international scale.

My growing fixation on this game proves that I have morphed from derby researcher to derby fan. I look forward to telling the stories of the MRD athletes I admire in my film, but I can’t wait to return to a bout without my camera to yell from the stands.

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Let’s Respect the Women on the Sidelines

I usually enjoy Frank Deford’s commentary on NPR’s Morning Edition. He discusses current issues related to sports and/or language. One of his “columns” on football, which aired on September 21, 2011, under the headline, “No Respect for the Women on the Sidelines” evoked a mixed response from me. Deford examines the role of and the public response towards female football reporters. He describes them as “attractive,” “ditsy,” and references the website sidelinehotties.com.

To his credit, Deford points out that these women who understand the nuances of the game, are not able to demonstrate their expertise through their interviews. He explains that these women are pigeon-holed in the role of “scrolls,” asking the same questions every game.

I suppose the issue that irks me about this particular story is that Deford bounces back and forth between defending these reporters and further marginalizing them. He acknowledges that women’s voices provide a nice balance against male voices, and he acknowledges that these reporters are smart yet disadvantaged. However, Deford fails to leave room for change.

There is no explanation or critique of why women have to stay on the sidelines. Women have “no respect” at the beginning of the story, and at the end, they remain “down on the field with the cheerleaders.” I might enjoy watching football a little more myself, if the female reporters could demonstrate they are more than just “sideline hotties.” Why not reach out to the female demographic by proving women have a respectable role to play in the arena?

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