For International Women's Day, I want to honor my strengths by giving myself a bit more credit and permission to relax. As women, we're always expected to wear our capes for everyone except ourselves.
When is the first time you ever heard about International Women's Day or actually gave a damn? Be honest -- it's only been a handful of years for me. You can add this onto the list of things that I didn't know or acknowledge more than three seconds like the term "intersectionality," "microaggressions" and even a movement that people tend to associate me with: Body Positive. Perhaps I wasn't aware because I gave up my super woke stage after having my son. Or maybe I started giving more of a damn about worldly issues once I gave my life a second chance in 2013. Whatever and whenever it happened, I'm glad to know what it is now.
And for those who are too scared to ask or Google what International Women's Day may be, I did the search on Wikipedia for you -- you're welcome.
By the time you read this, you might be bogged down with a crap ton of messages about the gender wage gap or how women are reduced down to their looks; I want to focus my conversation on what it means to me and how sports forced me to think twice about this day.
Accessibility to Women's Sports as a Minor
For as long as I can remember, I always gravitated towards the stereotypical "non feminine" kind of sports. Despite being a late bloomer to running, I am a lifelong lover of boxing. I am intrigued by athletes like Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Sonny Liston and even remember feeling conflicted about Mike Tyson when the rape allegations swarmed around in the press. Illegal cable was still a thing when I was growing up in the '80s and '90s - actually might still be - and my family would geek out when one person ordered the fights on Pay Per View; this means everyone in the projects saw your purchase.
Step in. Always guard your face. Protect your neck. Swivel. Jab, jab, cross. Uppercut. Don't let them get you in the corner. "Dance" in the ring if you have to. Ten count.
That was my first unofficial introduction to running outside of children playing tag, fleeing from stray bullets or that one kid who could dust everyone in a race to the stoplight. If you want to be a professional boxer, running is required. And honestly, for most sports, running is torture, punishment or a foundation for something else.
When I think about boxing, I don't remember seeing too many women's matches. Actually, I don't remember seeing too many female athletes in general. I was probably in the third grade when I saw the WNBA and I was fortunate enough to see a game in person -- New York Liberty versus someone else. Couldn't tell you who won the game but I remember the excitement that surged through my body. Here's some descriptors that came to mind at that time: Tall. Strong. Lean. After that game, I went home and looked up other basketball players; never came across trading cards of women players so NBA it was.
By fourth grade, my teacher Miss Gaskins challenged the class to not choose typical famous people in history to write about like Martin Luther King, Jr. or Malcolm X; I chose Wilma Rudolph. It's almost like life was trying to throw me clues for my current career path despite not being a track and field athlete. At that age, I read enough to get through the report and earn an A grade; I wish I took it a bit more seriously. Revisiting that time frame in my mind, it is unfortunate that I focused predominately on male athletes. Women weren't celebrated like men or at least that's what it felt like to me. Outside of Wilma, I knew about the up and coming Williams' sisters with the cool braids and beads. Jackie Joyner Kersee, Althea Gibson and by high school, Laila Ali.
Let's be honest: Sports Illustrated magazines didn't have girls like me on there. Women were sex symbols even in the most conservative of publications. And pre teen nor teenage Latoya was none of that: I was a "tomboy" who often heard that I had "masculine like" personality traits for late '90s and early 2000s. I loved football by this point, took pride in flipping my male friends upside down into a garbage can and all of my 98 pounds soak and wet would knock out a person who showed qualities of being a bully; this earned me a shit load of trouble with school faculty. And my beloved wrestling sexualized the hell out of women for years on television. I wonder how different my mindset would've been if I grew up somewhere different or was exposed to women's sports earlier on in life.
Being the Role Model That I Sought
I laced up in late 2013 for the first time with no aspirations of being anyone's role model; certainly didn't refer to myself as an athlete. If you read my story enough, this was supposed to be a one and done kinda thing. Sign up for a half marathon, check it off my bucket list and move on to the next crazy thing on my list. And because of women - particularly black women - I found role models in everyday people.
You probably couldn't Google search my role models because most of them have day jobs, a social media account full of family members or close friends and lives much more normal than mine -- but they're my female running heroes. People like Stephanie who greeted me that October morning at St. John's Recreational Track; Melody who became the Black Girls Run Bed Stuy chapter leader for a stint; or Ethel who gave me permission to cry while moving through my first 10K in Central Park. They gifted me with a sense of community with women after vowing to myself that I'd never let in. They offered humanity without strings attached and helped me hone my inner strength when I didn't see it in myself; they still help me on days when I lose traction while catching hiccups of negativity here and there.
These days, I'm a video clip or Instagram hero to someone. I wear the cape of a plus sized slow as fuck superhero toting her slow paced movements to start lines that scare her each time. You might see me at a one miler, maybe finishing off a 5K community run with friends or a scary double digit run that I'll be dangerously close to being cut off. I keep up a stone face while talking about my DNFs because shit happens -- even when I know the comments will be vile. I am something to someone, both negative and positive, and continuously fighting to be more than just another person who made it. I want to be a catalyst for change using sports as my muse.
The best part of being a recognized ultra runner is having the ability to talk to more people without the awkward hello when I'm suffering for miles. Depending on where I am, someone will break the ice for me and I learn about another unsung hero on a course, a dreadful treadmill or picking up the pace as we flee from nature. I am proud to be among other athletes who speak up against injustices in the fitness community and beyond. We use our platforms to talk about uncomfortable topics like body image, ageism, diversity on the field to normalizing that we are people beyond our very public personas.
Personal Pledge to Self for #IWD2020
Lists makes things easier for my brain to process so here's what I'll be doing today and striving to practice from this day forward:
As a reminder, International Women's Day is not about the fall of men. It's about the celebration and elevation of women in a world where the odds aren't equal.
Latoya Shauntay Snell
For my pretentious ass bio, check out the about me page but for anyone interested in who I really am, make me a good meal at your house and I'll tell you a dope ass story.
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