When I was in elementary school, my favorite book was a collection of biographies of women athletes. I hungered for those stories. There weren’t many in 1968.
Today, the stories I wanted to read as a kid are everywhere. Often on television. The women athlete is an outlier no more. Their stories are told the most recent being the US Women’s Soccer Team. Their unapologetic, in-your-face confidence makes me feel anything is possible. I want to appropriate their fire and fearlessness. I want their skill, power, grace, and resilience.
I’m drawn to stories of people who inspire, who reach beyond, who don’t fit in. As women athletes gain respect and adoration, their stories need to be held up. They believed, in spite of others’ disbelief, that they could achieve. Even if they were different.
While watching Nike’s heart-tugging and often bias-bending ads, I found the story of Ramla Ali, a Somalian refugee, who has a dream of becoming the first
male or female boxer to represent her country in the Olympics. Ali overcomes trauma and her family’s beliefs about women. She is beautiful, complex, and inspiring.
I plan to share stories like Ali’s with my students. Stories that exist in unlikely places about people who are different and unafraid. Dramatic and engaging people who inspire and can teach us to not shun or be shamed by differences. We are not the same. Our differences should inspire us to do and reach for more.
Stories of women athletes inspired and engaged my 8-year old self. They were superhuman. They overcame. They were women. I wanted to grow up and be like them. I still do. And while I can’t be Megan Rapinoe on the pitch, perhaps I can channel her relentlessness in the classroom and lift the eyes of my students to see their possibilities in stories. Stories that feed their future.