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Star runner going the gap to enhance girls athletes’ fortunes

Lauren Fleshman leaping over a stream at Sparks Lake, on one of many many trails on the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway. Photograph: Mighty Creature Co.

Even years after distance runner Lauren Fleshman’s 2004 commencement from Stanford, the place she received 5 NCAA titles, she continued to listen to recurrently from younger feminine athletes. They might share with Fleshman, one in every of America’s most embellished distance runners, the distressing commonalities of their private tales: disordered consuming, stress fractures, nervousness about puberty (or being pregnant) derailing their desires and psychological well being struggles.In her illuminating new memoir, “Good for a Lady: A Girl Working in a Man’s World,” Fleshman writes in regards to the points persevering with to plague feminine athletes 50 years after the passage of Title IX. “How might one thing be this ubiquitous and nonetheless haven’t any counterattack?” she asks.

Her e book, written throughout the pandemic and debuting Tuesday, Jan. 10, is Fleshman’s personal impassioned counteroffensive. Half memoir about her innate love of working, which she found rising up within the LA suburbs, and her extraordinary rise to the highest of her sport at Stanford, it is also a manifesto about how women and girls needs to be higher supported by “the sports activities environments.” we fought so onerous to have entry to, and but have been constructed for and favor males and boys.”

“Good for a Lady: A Girl Working in a Man’s World” by Lauren Fleshman. Photograph: Penguin Press

Fleshman writes with an impassioned urgency to make sports activities environments extra empowering for feminine athletes of all ages. She calls out coaches who do not communicate frankly with their feminine athletes in regards to the dangers of ravenous their our bodies to decrease their race instances; the NCAA, which in 2022 nonetheless does not have protocols for addressing consuming problems because it does for concussions (regardless of them having the second-highest mortality fee of all psychological well being problems); and the for-profit sports activities trade, led by her former sponsor, Nike, which she witnessed suspending feminine athletes’ contracts once they even thought-about motherhood.

In a cellphone interview with The Chronicle from her residence in Bend, Ore., Fleshman mentioned her hopes that her life story “might assist make clear the roots of those systemic issues.”

This dialog has been edited for size and readability.

Lauren Fleshman stands put up race on the 2014 Cross Nation Regionals at Lincoln Park in Washington state. Photograph: Mark Stone / Oiselle

Q: Why did you wish to inform the story of your athletic profession in a memoir?

A: Effectively, I like literary memoirs. I’ve discovered essentially the most in regards to the world by means of private tales. The extra trustworthy, the higher. The author in me thought for a very long time of in the future writing a memoir. I even considered my sports activities story that method because it was taking place, which gave me consolation throughout the onerous instances.

As I bought older, I noticed I used to be nonetheless seeing the identical patterns and issues taking place time and again in girls’s sports activities. When Mary Cain’s story got here out in 2019 (in regards to the working phenom’s consuming dysfunction and abuse whereas working with Nike’s Oregon Venture), it was the primary high-profile case many individuals had heard of. Folks have been appalled, but the answer ended up being firing one coach, not fixing the issues.

I began desirous about how I had been a part of a sports activities system that leaves no area for the creating feminine physique, that tells girls that to be able to achieve success it’s good to deny any a part of you that is related to womanhood. That was purpose sufficient to attempt a long-form mission.

Q: Do you assume folks overestimate how a lot Title IX has completed?

A: Yeah. By way of the bigger girls’s equality effort, we had huge positive factors within the Nineteen Seventies by means of a technique of sameness, and it led to a wave of legislative successes. Having access to sports activities was monumental, however I believe we have stayed on this mode of feeling like we have now to beat the drum of positivity to be able to preserve our rights, as in the event that they could possibly be taken away if we expose darker truths. However we’re now at a degree in historical past the place we are able to safely lean into distinction. We’re seeing it within the Black Lives Matter motion and disabled neighborhood, and it is time to say, “Hey, feminine our bodies are completely different.”

Lauren Fleshman working towards her win within the California highschool state championship as a person in 1998 throughout her senior 12 months. This marked Fleshman’s first state title of her. Photograph: Kirby Lee / Picture of Sport

Q: You write about how puberty itself induced you nervousness as a younger runner since you knew your physique altering might “spoil all the things.” You heard adults say, “Puberty is the one damage a woman cannot come again from,” and years later, you heard being pregnant talked about in the identical method.

A: Yeah, puberty and being pregnant are rhyming narratives on this story the place our our bodies differ from the male norm, and as a substitute of recognizing and accommodating these variations, we expertise nervousness round them. It is made worse as a result of feminine physique modifications are sexualized, which makes them tough to speak about. We now have to equip the adults in cost and ladies themselves to have the ability to discuss it and reclaim their our bodies in non-sexual methods throughout that point.

Q: How did you are feeling that strain whereas at Stanford? You describe envying the mens’ workforce who did not must cope with these pressures to the identical diploma.

A: My male friends have been capable of simply deal with competitors, whereas we had these different issues pulling our consideration from simply competitors. A few of these have been created by the sports activities trade themselves, like what costumes we needed to put on.

Lauren Fleshman, 20, at Stanford’s Cobb Monitor in 2001. Photograph: Jeff Chiu / The Chronicle

Q: How onerous was it avoiding disordered consuming when you could possibly see it in teammates and rivals throughout you?

A: It was actually onerous. I might attempt to hear my highschool coach’s voice telling me to deal with the lengthy sport. He made it clear that disordered consuming was one thing that will or might not give somebody a short-term profit, however would 100% catch as much as them later. I wished to be quick, however I nonetheless wished to have a functioning physique.

Q: It is unbelievable to learn that the NCAA nonetheless does not have a coverage concerning consuming problems like they do for concussions.

A: Yeah, the main focus (on concussions) offers me hope that issues can change when you resolve a difficulty issues. We now have to resolve that ladies’ ache issues. It is difficult by residing in a tradition the place we virtually count on girls to be in a state of deprivation and we are saying issues like, “Nothing tastes nearly as good as skinny feels.”

Coach Lauren Fleshman congratulating Little Wing Athletics athlete Mel Lawrence (now Briggs) after an expert breakthrough on the Payton Jordan Invitational at Stanford in 2019. Photograph: Heather McWhirter

Q: As a Nike-sponsored skilled runner, how disappointing was it to study that feminine athletes have been penalized for getting pregnant, and even planning for motherhood?

A: Extremely. I noticed who will get devalued on the mere prospect of changing into a mom. You can simply be of childbearing age, and in the event you’re up for a contract renewal you are provided much less or nothing. That was an actual eye-opener for me, and enraging. I did not wish to be a part of an organization that was that blind to the female-bodied expertise.

Q: Regardless of all of the ups and downs, your love of working nonetheless comes throughout all through the e book. Do you continue to like it?

A: I’ve at all times cherished working. I believe that that is why I am preventing for it and why I am preventing for Title IX to meet its promise. I am glad you could possibly choose up on the enjoyment. With out it, I might don’t have anything value preventing for.

Good for a Lady: A Girl Working in a Man’s World
By Lauren Fleshman
(Penguin Press; 288 pages; $28)

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