RACHEL WU, NYU WOMEN'S FENCING
CLASS OF 2020
MADDIE HOWARD, NYU WOMEN'S SOCCER
CLASS OF 2020
JANEAN CUFFEE, NYU WOMEN'S BASKETBALL
CLASS OF 2021
JOIN THE CONVERSATION TO CELEBRATE NATIONAL GIRLS AND WOMEN IN SPORTS DAY.
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When I was younger my biggest point of bodily shame was always my thighs. I’m a lifetime athlete and I’ve been in love with soccer since I was a little girl. Because of this, over time my quads have developed into two, trunk-like sets of bulging muscle. They’re the reason my pants fit me a little tighter in the legs than they do in the waist. They’re the reason that as a kid, I hated summer clothes — I never liked watching my legs jiggle as I walked around in a swimsuit. But most importantly, they’re the reason I’m good at playing soccer.
As a woman I’ve been socialized to be at constant war with my ever-changing body. Companies tend to profit off of my insecurities. They sell me the latest lotions, makeup and fitness routines guaranteed to “fix” the “problems” with the way I look. When they’ve run out of products to advertise to me, they create new areas to be self-conscious about, new purchasable “solutions” to this perceived inadequacy. Unfortunately for myself and for so many other women of all ages, this leads to an endless cycle of insecurity engineered for the specific purpose of ensuring that companies maintain their revenue. However, I’ve come to learn that for me, one of the most viable ways to mend this socially constructed sense of imperfection is through immersing myself in the world of athletics.
Being a collegiate athlete has given me the clarity to see my soccer thighs in a more favorable light. My muscles give me the ability to push my body to its deepest limit. I’m surrounded by young women who are utilizing their athletic physique as well in the form of my many, talented teammates. Together we shed an abundance of sweat during preseason fitness testing, while maxing out in the weightroom, and as we battle to earn our spot in the NCAA tournament each year. We raise each other up and we praise each other for the accomplishments of our physical bodies as young women. We’re proud of each other not for the sake of mere aesthetics, but for our powerful, big, athletic thighs and all that they can do.
For these reasons — my legs and all that they represent — I feel that celebrating National Girls and Women in Sports Day could not be of greater importance. In a world that does everything in its power to make girls uncomfortable in their own skin, it’s time that we encourage these same girls to engage in activities that challenge them mentally and physically while simultaneously promoting their growth as holistic human beings.
Sports have the potential to save girls’ self-esteem. It’s time we recognize this concept. Get them away from the mirror and instead, get them onto the field, the court, or the rink.
When I was young I’d pull my jeans up over my thighs and all I could think was ugly. Now, I put on my soccer uniform, I look down at my exposed legs and I think strong. I think capable.
I think woman.
"I know that my story has the potential to defy conventions about what women can achieve on the playing field and throughout life."
I can say with great appreciation that since my first day of middle school, sports have been the driving factor in helping me become the woman I am today. Growing up can be hard, but figuring out where you belong in life and the types of activities you want to associate with can be harder.
Fortunately, I found basketball. Since my first practice, basketball has instilled some of the most important qualities I’m proud to possess today: persistence, strength, determination, and competitiveness.
Regardless of gender, basketball was always just about the skill and knowledge of the game. Sports as a whole build life skills that can’t necessarily be learned in the classroom. Rather these skills are built through experiences alongside others chasing a similar goal. Without basketball, I wouldn’t be the same person I am today, nor would I have learned the crucial life lessons that helped me develop into the strong woman that I am.
"We raise each other up and we praise each other for the accomplishments of our physical bodies as young women."
"I can say with great appreciation that since my first day of middle school, sports have been the driving factor in helping me become the woman I am today."
This month marks five years since the first time I stepped onto the fencing piste. And it most certainly wasn’t love at first try. Early on, fencing meant solitary hours practicing footwork in front of a mirror and bouting with the only other épée kid around twice a week. Fencing is unlike all the other endeavors I previously pursued recreationally or competitively — gymnastics, ballet, horseback riding, volleyball, surfing, or even shooting. The “practice until perfect” mindset didn’t work for fencing, the teamwork aspect was non-existent before competing at the collegiate level, and it didn’t have the same kind of adrenaline rush as when I was out on the water. The most significant way fencing set itself apart was and is in its greatest constant challenge. It is not the opponent in front of me, but myself.
Among the Olympic sports, the tip of a fencing blade is only second to the speed of a marksman’s bullet. Fencing requires me to be confident in my plan and my decisions in a literal blink of an eye every single time. The tiniest bit of hesitation is enough to differentiate a champion from the average fencer. Fencing the sport asks for this confidence from me, but it is fencing the community — my teammates, my coaches, my family — that help make it a reality.
This is because of the most rewarding aspect of NCAA fencing, where the format makes an individual sport culminate in a team result. On a team like ours, it matters not your gender identity, where you are from, or your fencing ranking. On the piste, we face the same test to always believe in ourselves. And when one of us doesn’t, when we waver, there is someone there to remind us that we can do it. My team at NYU has cheered each other on through exciting wins and frustrating defeats regardless of the circumstances — an injury, loss of loved ones, or just a bad morning. Being confident in myself as a woman, an athlete, a leader, and a better person is possible because of the support system I found through a sport I once thought of as permanently solitary.
There is a quote on the building across the street from the facility my team practices in. It mentions a world where people profit from our self-doubt. By practicing how to believe in myself, in my team, and the greater community, I can get rid of those doubts to pursue my best self. Not just as a captain of the NYU Fencing team, but through leading by example in my commitment to social impact, internships, and beyond.
In Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TedTalk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” she
discusses why “stories can be used to empower and to humanize”. Whether it be on the NCAA fencing piste, in the weight room, at the shooting range, or on my surfboard, I know that my story has the potential to defy conventions about what women can achieve on the playing field and throughout life. I hope that in some way, however big or small, I can add to Adichie’s sentiments about narratives that inspire courage. After all, courage is the virtue upon which all others, particularly confidence, depend.