I am an ultrarunner. I was born in Poland. I have an accent. Some find it charming, some find it annoying. I own it.
I live in the Midwest where many people are not use to hearing foreign accents, and for some of my friends I am their token “foreign friend.” I use to have serious anxiety about opening my mouth because I was afraid others would not understand what I was saying. My husband would make all phone calls in our household while I would handle the emails and texts. When I started running many things changed, including the fact that I stopped caring about what I sound like, and what people thought about it. My accent is my sign of bravery, a reminder of all the challenges I faced, it is who I am.
A few weeks ago a fellow female ultrarunner imitated my accent, in poor taste, and twisted my story to make me sound stupid, in a public forum and it opened old wounds. That person has since apologized sincerely and unconditionally. I respect that, therefore I am keeping the story vague. We all make mistakes. I am moving on.
This experience has reminded me that in the world of ultrarunning there is generally tremendous camaraderie and support for one another, but there are also the times when we, as women, can be each other’s worst enemies. Sometimes, intentionally or not, it is not sisterhood full of support, but instead a toxic environment where we tear each other down. After my incident, several other ladies shared their stories with me.
I truly believe that gender equality in our sport won’t come from extra lottery spots, or from seeing elite women compete and win. But instead, a form the support we show for each other, here in our community.
The growth will come from seeing all the amazing women who have full-time jobs, moms who are raising kids and driving them to endless sports activities, others who have young kids and husbands who may not be home often. There are those who take care of their aging parents and yet are still finding time to run. It will come from seeing women, your friends, running circles around soccer fields during their kid’s practice, and moms squeezing in a 90 minute run while their kids are in preschool, women working full-time and going to school squeezing in a few miles on a trail early in the morning.
The growth will come from us supporting each other unconditionally, not just with social media likes, but truly being there for each other. No judgment. Cheer for other women with all your heart!
Don’t be the one who makes fun (intentionally or not) of someone’s appearance, accent, body type, or level of training.
Don’t be cliquey, welcome everyone into your circle, regardless of their experience or pace per mile. And I mean TRUELY welcome them. Mean it, own it. Run with them.
Don’t brag about your achievements, remember where you came from, where you started.
Don’t go on a run with another lady and run back and forth making her feel slow and inadequate.
Don’t offer to run with her at her first trail race and not take a timing chip because you don’t want to have a slow time on your record.
Don’t make her feel dumb when she asks you questions.
Don’t make her race sound unimportant or easy because you have done harder things.
Don’t judge her life choices.
Don’t talk about her with comments like: “Of course she can train like that, she has all the time/money/no kids/one kid/ grown kids/grandma in town.” You don’t know the whole story. Don’t assume that you do!
We are all doing the best we can. Remember that. Do support each other. If we truly, fully support each other we really can change things. Do use your strength and your voice for good. Be brave. Show up. Show empathy. Always!
Feature photo courtesy Lori Foringer.