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Women in Sports: How Kathrine Switzer, Steffi Graf, and Asma Elbadawi Broke Barriers

  • What are your barriers and how are you breaking them? Who inspires you to get up and keep going, to keep up the fight despite all the roadblocks for women in sports and in society?

We want you to realize your true potential and get motivated to do great things.

We’ve put together some tips below to overcome obstacles you may be facing and a few inspirational stories of famous women in sports to remind you of what’s possible.

From Kathrine Switzer to Steffi Graf: 3 Unstoppable Women in Sports

Have you ever dreamed of running a marathon? Perhaps you’ve imagined yourself gloriously crossing the finish line after months of training, collecting your medal and collapsing into the arms of your supporters. 

Kathrine Switzer: First Woman to Run Boston

Not too long ago, this powerful moment was not possible for women. In 1967, Kathrine Switzer became the first woman in history to run the Boston Marathon as a numbered entrant. She managed to slip through registration by disguising her gender, signing up as “K.V. Switzer”. She was tackled mid-race by a trainer in street clothes who objected to a woman participating in the race. She dusted herself off and ran on.

“If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.”

Kathrine Switzer

Steffi Graf: A Legend in Women’s Tennis

Tennis legend Steffi Graf, for example, marked the starting point for today’s modern style of play with her aggressive game. She was ranked No. 1 for 377 weeks by the Women’s Tennis Association, which is longer than any player – male or female – since rankings have been recorded. 

“You can’t measure success if you have never failed.”

Steffi Graf

Asma Elbadawi: Making Pro Basketball Inclusive 

Growing up in Yorkshire, UK, Asma Elbadawi did not see any relatable role models for women in sports or popular culture. She joined forces with like-minded women and inspired 130,000 people to sign a petition to get rid of outdated traditions. Asma changed basketball forever when she successfully lobbied the international basketball association to remove the ban on hijabs and religious headwear in professional basketball. 

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Asma Elbadawi

Women in Sports: What’s holding you back from Breaking Barriers?

Stories like Kathrine Switzer’s might be hard to imagine for some people, but barriers for women in sports  still exist on many levels. Often these are external, such as a lack of options for girls in athletic programs, sexual harassment, or safety issues, like running alone. And many barriers for female athletes are internal or have been internalized. 

  • Have you ever felt that you had the wrong body for sports? 
  • Do you think you’re too skinny, too heavy, too weak, too slow? 
  • Did you shy away from sports because you felt like it wasn’t feminine?

Some of these issues affect men and others are more specific to  women in sports. It’s tough to get motivated to get sweaty if your head is full of voices telling you why you can’t or shouldn’t do it. We feel your pain. But the sooner you start, the faster you’ll outrun your critics.

Breaking barriers

What can you do to feel empowered?

We’ve got a few ideas to help you get started; you can make a difference for yourself and others.

1. Join a group of like-minded people

If you struggle to find the confidence to get started running or training, one place to look for support is in a fitness community. You’ll find like-minded people to work out with who will encourage you to keep going, and you might even make some new friends. Find an adidas Runners community nearby with mixed pace running groups, race training, running drills, or whatever else you’re after. Get friends to put together a team and sign up for a relay marathon. 

2. Get informed

Do some research about how to get started as a beginner. Have you been running for a while, but you’re looking for a new goal? Read about what to keep in mind as a woman preparing for a half marathon

3. Talk to the people in your life

Whether it’s your dad, aunt, son, or partner, talk to the people you know and love about your experiences and needs in the world. The more we become aware of how people’s behavior affects our self-confidence, sense of safety, or – in a family setting – something as simple as having time for sports, the closer we will get to equality for women in sports. 

Group of female runners

Women in Sports: How to Take Back your Autonomy

If you prefer to run alone, it doesn’t mean you are relegated to the treadmill at the gym. There are plenty of ways to get out there and enjoy the fresh air by yourself. Just keep your safety in mind, especially if you want to run in the dark

Tips to stay safe:

  • Wear reflective clothing
  • Take out your earbuds
  • Track your run with the LIVE function in adidas Running
  • Run with a dog
  • Choose a route where you feel comfortable

 A Brighter Future for Women in Sports

To envision the future, we can look back at the heroes who have brought us this far. Throughout history, female athletes like Kathrine Switzer have worked hard to create more opportunities for the generations after them. Whether it’s Steffi Graf, Asma Elbadwi, or someone closer to you, together women and our allies can work to create a supportive, inclusive world in which we all can thrive. 

Remember, every time you lace up your shoes and get out there, you might be inspiring others to do the same. Keep up the great work and support other women and girls in their effort to stay active.

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