Monday, July 20, 2009

Learning to take risks

What I'm loving about the process of interviewing women is what I think of as the "Miss Clairol factor." I'm probably dating myself, but for some reason I can never forget the Miss Clairol ad with the line "...and she told two friends, and she told two friends," with the ever multiplying head shots of women with lush coloured hair. Every time I interview a woman about the impact of sports in her life, she tells me about someone (or more ) other woman I ought to speak with. So I thought I'd work backward for a moment and mention Sarah J. Murray, who introduced me to Michelle Theall, of my last post.

Sarah recently got back from many months of traveling around the world. It was a trip she took a lot of risks for, leaving a great job and a long-term relationship to take the time she needed to find her own path. As she says, she needed to pull up the stakes and throw away the safety net for the trip to work. It was sports that taught her take those kind of risks. In sports we not only take risks with our bodies, we take emotional risks. What if we don't meet our goal in a race? What if we lose? How will we deal with the failure? How do we deal with success?

One of the fascinating things that Sarah learned along the way on her trip was the difference between sports in a woman's life here in North America versus the role of sports in some of the countries she traveled in. Here we thinks of sports as related to our confidence and wellness. Though it can be a cornerstone in a woman's sense of self, without sports there are still plenty of opportunities to explore our own potential. In Africa and South Asia, for example, it cuts closer to the bone. Sports is lifeblood for the girls and women involved in it--whether it was the Ethiopian runners, the South African soccer players, or the Nepalese trekkers that Sarah met. The sports these women were involved with was often the only time they owned their own bodies.

Sarah's observation reminds me of a great Susan B. Anthony quote. In 1896, that famous suffragist said, "Bicycling has done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world." SBA was a woman who knew about taking risks. Thanks to her willingness to risk and do jail time, we women have the right to vote. It's a toss up which is more fun, casting a vote or going for a bike ride.