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The Female Athlete In 2018: Breaking Barriers & Tearing Down Stereotypes

I had the pleasure of interviewing some amazing female athletes that are breaking barriers and tearing down stereotypes in the sports world. From runners to surfers to skiers, these ladies are showing us how to never give up and how there are no barriers that are too big to break in sports. Check out what they had to say!

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By Nicole DeBoom and Bethany Stout

Meredith Atwood

Age: 38

Sport: Triathlon (Swim, Bike, Run)

Tell me a little bit about yourself:

Growing up, I was a fat kid who didn't do anything but read. I became an adult onset runner and triathlete starting at 250 pounds and around age 31. While that's not the ideal situation for an easy path, I can't imagine who or where I would be without triathlon now.

How do you define yourself (and your body) as an athlete?

I had to redefine (in my mind) what it meant to be an athlete--especially coming into a sport of very lean people as I was. There are so many misconceptions about what athletic means, what the athletic body means. When I let go of the expectations that I put on the definition of athlete, I allowed myself to grow into the athlete that I am. I do not spend much time worrying about what I look like anymore, because I know that I am working hard to be stronger and faster, to do what moves me and keeps me healthy, sane and inspired.

Cat Bradley

Paul Nelson

Age: 25

Sport: Professional Runner

Tell me a little bit about yourself:

I worked down from thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail to 100 Mile races and now aiming to run a fast marathon. I did it backwards, which has allowed me to continue to love what I'm doing and do what I love without getting stale.

What barriers have you overcome in your athletic journey?

I used to draw my self-worth from performance, which lead to the highest highs and the lowest lows. My happiness was defined by the splits I was putting out on the track and the roller coaster of my well-being eventually drove me to burn out and depression. Years removed, that experience helps me to keep my obsessive nature in check and my relationship with running a healthy one regardless of results.

Marie Brown

Age: 35

Sports: Trapeze & Running

Tell me a little bit about yourself:

After being medically separated from the Army, getting seriously involved in sports helped me stay motivated, manage my health problems, and has become a reliable form of therapy. I love a good challenge and always having new goals to work towards!

How do you define yourself (and your body) as an athlete?
I am a warrior with a broken body but a sound mind. As an athlete, I strive to defy my broken parts and fight for success with everything I have. I am the athlete that never gives up.

Kara Burns

Age: 40

Sport: Running

Tell me a little bit about yourself:

I got involved with running when I was released from prison in 2013. I ran my first half marathon in 2015 and my first full marathon five months later. I was hooked and have built a completely new life with new friends.

How has being an athlete influenced your life?

My entire life has been transformed through running. When I was released from prison, I had very little confidence in myself and my abilities. Through learning how to run distance and getting stronger, I have developed confidence and discovered how strong I truly am. I don't give up. Running is a perfect metaphor for my life. It's hard but I keep going and won't quit until I reach my goals.

Nicole DeBoom

Age: 45

Sport(s): Former professional triathlete, current gym & trail enthusiast

Tell me a little bit about yourself:

I grew up a national level swimmer who qualified for the 1988 Olympic Trials and later swam at Yale University. I raced as a professional triathlete for six years before the epiphany run that changed the course of my life - when I realized I wanted to bring “cute” into the world of women’s performance apparel. In 2004, I won the Ironman Wisconsin wearing a prototype of the first ever running skirt. I started Skirt Sports to help women find freedom and confidence in their athletic lives.

How do you define yourself (and your body) as an athlete?
In college, I wrote my senior thesis on women athletes; it was titled, “The Female Athlete: An Oxymoron.” I believed that the strength, courage, aggressiveness and power we needed as athletes was at odds with the cultural standards that dictated what it meant to be feminine. I struggled with this dichotomy for many years. It wasn’t until I had a baby at age 40 that I truly accepted my body exactly as it is. Today I believe that when my body is strong, my mind is even stronger.

Ashley Eisenmenger

Age: 21

Sport(s): Elite Paratriathlete, endurance running

Tell me a little bit about yourself:

I was born a triplet with a condition called retinopathy of prematurity - which means I’ve been legally blind since birth. I grew up saying I’d never run. By the time I graduated high school I had finished two half marathons. I grew up fearlessly riding a single bike for fun not knowing tandems even existed. I rode my first tandem at a summer camp when I was 16 and knew right away I’d do a triathlon one day on a tandem.

How has being an athlete influenced your life?

Athletics have taught me that no barrier is too big. I face a lot of challenges on and off the course and endurance sports has given me a space to face those challenges head on alongside other people who have faced adversity themselves in some way. Standing at a start line is always really humbling for me because while some of my challenges are visible I know that I’m not alone in the fact that I face challenges. We’ve all had to overcome something to toe that line and those challenges have set a foundation for me to become resilient. I carry that mindset into all aspects of my life.

Shirin Gerami

Age: Always 18

Sport: Triathlon

Tell me a little bit about yourself:

A little girl, swimming, biking and running her life away.

How has being an athlete influenced your life?
Sports has taught me that we all start from zero... and it is through the accumulation of tiny, seemingly insignificant steps, (and sometimes back or side steps), that we progress towards our goals and inch away from our starting point of zero. It has taught me to work hard, not give up, and dream bigger than what I would dare to dream.

Iris Golden

Age: 73

Sport: Running

Tell me a little bit about yourself:

Growing up in Hewlett Harbor, Long Island, New York, I was a bookworm and serious student, but when I reached the age of 59, I had the desire and goal of competitive running by age 60 and can't imagine my life without it now.

How has being an athlete influenced your life?

Being a senior athlete has influenced my life by increasing my self-esteem and confidence, eating healthy, and accomplishing my goals through hard work and perseverance. So many of my younger peers refer to me as their inspiration and role model.

Tera Halverson

Age: 32 Years Old

Sports: running, cycling, and lots of yoga!

Tell me a little bit about yourself:

I’m a married mom of four amazing kids, and didn’t ever imagine that I’d be running marathons-let alone for fun! Fitness is such a huge part of my life now and has become a way for my husband, kids, and me to bond!

What barriers have you overcome in your athletic journey?

I’ve had to overcome several barriers in my fitness journey. From being diagnosed with asthma and figuring out how to control it, to then needing hernia repair surgery after my fourth child. I had to learn how to run again and start over in my yoga practice. It was a long journey but I did it. The most important part of it all has been to just keep going and to continue to set a positive and healthy example for my kids. I let them see my ups and downs so they can see how important it is to always get back up and keep pushing forward! We love smashing new goals together all the time!

Darrietta Lee

Age: 41 years old

Sport(s): Long distance running and powerlifting

Tell me a little bit about yourself:

I'm a Chicago native who grew up only interested in talent shows and singing; when I got to high school I played volleyball in my sophomore year and became a cheerleader in my junior year but all sports stopped once I moved away at 18 years old. It would take 17 years and an additional 125lbs weight gain when I finally returned to working out. Now, working out and running is almost a daily habit that I cannot live without.

How do you define yourself (and your body) as an athlete?

I define myself as an unapologetic Black athletic Muslim woman who doesn't see the word "CAN'T". I see my body as a beautiful work of art, pain, struggle, history and success. I don't have the "Instagram body" but my body as an athlete is strong and capable, it's perfectly imperfect. The barriers I've had to overcome in my athletic journey include the outside world's perception of what a Muslim woman acts and looks like, having to prove my capabilities that despite my modest athletic attire I can do anything and I CAN! A personal barrier I had to overcome is getting out of my own way (mentally) because I can easily become my own worst critic, which has stalled my progress in the past; once I turned 40 everything changed, now I say "What barrier?"

Emily Harvey

Age: 33

Sport(s): Triathlon

Tell me a little bit about yourself:

I was a military brat so we moved a lot, but I mostly grew up in Cheney, Washington. I played soccer and t-ball as a kid, then when I was 9 I got into horseback riding and competed in 3-day eventing through my sophomore year of college. After losing my riding instructor in a riding-related accident, that sport lost some of its magic for me, so I distanced myself and didn't really have a sport to be passionate about until I discovered my love for triathlon in 2014. I love the challenge and the variety of training for 3 different sports, and it has filled the gap left in my life and my heart after losing my riding instructor, who was like family to me.

How has being an athlete influenced your life?

Being an athlete, and particularly an adaptive athlete with a visible physical disability, has given me a platform to share a message of positivity and inclusivity. It has given me a stronger voice because it has provided a way for me to connect with others and motivate them to be better versions of themselves.

Dyenna Schedgick

Age: 36 yrs old

Sport(s): Ultra running, triathlons and yoga

Tell me a little bit about yourself:

Growing up with an unhealthy relationship with food and low self-esteem, I was overweight and depressed most of my life. I made a decision to lose the weight for good but still hated exercising. I only signed up for a 6k to prove that running does not change your life. 3 years and dozens of ultras and 2 half Ironmans later, I’m continuing to push my boundaries.

How do you define yourself (and your body) as an athlete?

Constantly evolving as an athlete, I’m learning who I am. I knew I was tough to overcome my abusive past but when you’re pushing your mind and body beyond the limits of what you’ve limited yourself to, that is when growth happens. I’m constantly learning to face my fears and to push past limits. I’m learning to love my body and appreciating what it can do instead of worrying about the number on the scale.

Janelle Smiley

Age: 36

Sport(s): Ski Mountaineer, Alpinist

Tell me a little bit about yourself:

I believe we all have a divine spark in us, and it is our role to live that out in a way that serves others. I was born in the mountains, and they have imprinted the being of who I am. Moving within their magnificence allows me to walk the line of the duality of feeling small, yet empowered. The rawness of the mountains brings transformation quickly. Forcing us to push through obstacles and overcome fear, revealing the depth of our perseverance and courage.

How has being an athlete influenced your life?

Being an athlete is my life, it brings me confidence, self-respect, and has taught me how to love myself. Through my career as an mountain athlete I have faced challenges that forced me to come up against debilitating fear. I have walked the fine line of life and death and I have come to know what it is like to truly live. I recognize the power we have to influence others when we come alive using our developed and innate gifts. I have spent my career engaging my curiosity of human potential and I want to help you discover yours. Nothing brings me joy like watching someone fully recognize their seemingly hidden talents come alive.

Latoya Shauntay Snell

Eric Snell of E. Snell Designs

Age:32

Sport(s): Ultra Marathon Runner and Long Distance Cycling

Tell me a little bit about yourself:

Being a Brooklyn child of the eighties, I never imagined taking on running or cycling so seriously. I transformed from the little girl who didn't know how to ride a bike to living out my childhood as an adult through the world of fitness.

How has being an athlete influenced your life?

Initially, it was foreign to think of myself as an athlete. In my mind, I always visualized strong, lean bodies but as I progressed, I realized that my perception of an athlete was a bit askew. Being an athlete has given me permission to be courageous in my own life beyond the pavement. I find that I am much more of an optimist and willing to take more chances on things that I wouldn't have considered before. Through living and practicing my own truth, I watched others transform their own lives through my transparency.

What barriers have you overcome in your athletic journey?

I never knew that my plus-size body could serve as a statement of power and doubts. While I'm not naive about the stereotypes of what adjectives someone may associate with my 200 plus pound frame, I underestimated the impact it would make to my plus-size and physically impaired community. It is easy to feel like you're just another destitute person when physical ailments hinder you from doing what you desire. When I stopped scapegoating my dreams in sports due to my weight and disability, I was able to tackle my fears. It's been four years and I managed to do marathons, ultra marathons, complete several 100-mile cycling events and obstacle course races even with my condition. I learned how to inspire myself.

Mary Sutter

Age: 45

Sport: Running - Trail and Road

Tell me a little bit about yourself:

I grew up a latch key kid on a small farm in Central Illinois and as a typical kid, I did not make healthy choices for food and have been overweight since early elementary school. At the age of 37 I found myself at 415 lbs and was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. That was it, I had to turn my life around! Today I'm 250 lbs and still have a ways to go, but I'm no longer diabetic and have completed 30 half marathons and 2 full marathons - including the 2017 TCS New York City Marathon!

How do you define yourself (and your body) as an athlete?

Truth be told, sometimes it's difficult to define myself as an athlete. I don't look like the normal athlete. People will ask me at the starting line of a half marathon if it's my first and I then tell them I've completed 30 of them (to their surprise)! Or I wear my TCS New York City Marathon Finisher's shirt and I get curious or even rude looks. That is challenging to deal with and endure while staying positive. I'm very fortunate to have surrounded myself with the most supportive friends in the road and trail running community! If I'm having a down moment, they are right there to pick me up! Especially the community of Skirt Sports Ambassadors! I've never met a more supportive and uplifting group of women and I've made lifelong friends. We even travel to see each other at races around the country!

Alison Teal

Richard Kotch

Age: 32

Sport: Surfing

Tell me a little bit about yourself:

Growing up global, homeschooled by my adventure photographer parents, the world was my classroom and the ocean my playground. Although most of my life was spent in a tent at the base of Mt. Everest, on a camel safari across the Rajasthan Desert, or a dug out canoe exploring the Amazon River in search of lost tribes, my home base is a Robinson Crusoe style - off the grid - grass shack in Hawaii that my parents and I built by hand over my lifetime.

Growing up in a rural fishing village in Hawaii and in the remote and exotic beaches of Indonesia and Fiji, I fell in love with the ocean. I would swim with wild dolphins and then grab my surfboard and glide down glistening slopes of saltwater over and over again until my arms felt like noodles. The sea sets me free and has also instilled in me a powerful desire to protect the ocean and all of its creatures! If the oceans die, we die.

And thus surfing has become my vehicle of spreading change and awareness in the world through my Alison’s Adventures film series that educates through entertainment. My surfboards are made from recycled coffee cups and plant resin and my bikinis are made from recycled plastic bottles!


What barriers have you overcome in your athletic journey?

I love big waves. As a girl in a pink bikini with a pink surfboard, it can be challenging at times to maintain a sense of grace and femininity while trying to get waves in a testosterone filled lineup of aggressive male surfers. I always say the most important thing to pack on any adventure is humor. My goal is to bring joy and comedy into situations that may seem more like a sea of judgment or ostracization. Spreading the aloha helps me to overcome any barrier in my wave:)

Mirna Valerio

Age: 42

Sport(s): Ultrarunning, OCR

Tell me a little bit about yourself:

I grew up in Brooklyn, New York and had the opportunity to play team sports at my boarding school. I jumped at the chance and chose field hockey and lacrosse as my sports. I used running in the mornings to become a better, faster athlete. I fell in love with it and I've continued running to this day.

How has being an athlete influenced your life?

Being an athlete permeates every aspect of my lifestyle. It informs the structure of my day, my relationships, how I overcome challenges (both physical and everyday), and how I set goals and accomplish them.

Sara Vaughn

Age: 31

Sport: Professional Runner, Track and Field, 1500m (top-3 in the USA 2017)

Tell me a little bit about yourself:

I live, work, and raise my family in Boulder, CO. I define my body as a mother first. My body made 3 kids. After a ton of hard work, it can also run really fast - 16th in the world among other women who've never had children.

How has being an athlete influenced your life?

Being an athlete influences almost every aspect of my life as a mom, from what we eat for dinner, to when we travel to visit family. But it's also given us a ton of opportunity, like going to Europe this summer together.

Rose Wetzel

Age: 35

Sport: Obstacle Course Racing, American Ninja Warrior Wolfpack Member

Tell me a little bit about yourself:

Growing up in Seattle, the youngest girl in a family of nine kids, I loved to play outside, a treat we had to earn after doing homework, housework, and a daily paper route. Little did I know that three decades later, my time spent carrying newspapers, climbing trees, and running up the block would prepare me to become a professional obstacle course racer!


How do you define yourself (and your body) as an athlete?

“You’re strong and fast,” I tell myself on the starting line, while standing in a “power-pose” with my hands on my hips, Wonder Woman–style. As a runner-turned-obstacle course racer, I work hard to increase my muscle mass and strength without sacrificing running speed and endurance - it's a delicate balance! A fellow athlete once called me “durable” and it was one of the best compliments I’ve ever received, as it made me feel robust, capable, and resilient – skills needed to tackle any obstacle thrown my way.

Amanda Wolf

Age: 44

Sport(s): Long Distance Cycling & Mountain Biking

Tell me a little bit about yourself:

I haven't always been athletic. In a previous life, I was a pack-a-day smoker and generally sedentary person who sat in front of the computer and drank 2 liters of pop most of the day. After the birth of my son, I realized I needed a change. And change I did. Cycling and Mountain Biking are my first fitness loves with lifting and running coming in at a close second.

How do you define yourself (and your body) as an athlete?

My athleticism is defined by what my body can do. Diving in and getting your hands dirty to make that last push towards the finish line, or over that hill, or getting those plates off the ground - that's how I define myself as an athlete. It is not how many awards I have won, but the ways in which I have pushed my own self and inspired those around me. It is work and sometimes it isn't pretty. It is not a look. Having visible abs is not a sport.

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