An Interview

14 Dec

My Favorite Part

One of the best and most difficult aspects of journalism is the interview process. It’s a challenge because while it is up to you as a journalist to get your interviewee to speak openly, the responses the person offers back may not be what you need.

I was fortunate to interview so many amazing women while conducting my study on impressions of female athleticism in high school and college. I received so many answers, and I was surprised to find some of them did not even notice how successful female athletes are described on highly masculine terms until I asked if they noticed or if such language bothered them.

Other women believe they were not stereotyped as female athletes, nor do female athletes face oppression now, and while I disagreed with much of what they said, I was fascinated by their impressions.

Confessions of a Former Athlete

While my study does use some of the quotes from my interviewees, much of what they said did not make it in, but I would like to share the Q and A I did with Sarah Gistenson, UI senior and former lacrosse player.

Aubrey Huff (me): How did you feel about lacrosse before you started playing?

Sarah Gistenson: That women’s lacrosse was like field hockey, meaning that it wasn’t a “real sport” or that it was a sport for girls who don’t really do sports.

AH: Did those impressions change after you joined the team?

SG: Yes, my impressions changed. I realized that it is actually challenging and requires the same sort of athletic abilities and skills as other more mainstream sports

AH: Like what?

SG: It required a lot of intense practice and speed as well as strategy.

AH: How was lacrosse received at your school?

SG: As a women’s sport I felt that it was not taken seriously. It did not help that we had just started this sport at my school my freshman year of high school, and also that we had to wear skirts for our uniforms. This notion of not being a “real” sport was enforced by the fact that we rehearsed in the extra field by the parking lot instead of having a real practice space.

AH: You wore skirts to play? What was that like?

SG: Yeah we did. It was…uh…breezy. (laughs)

AH: I bet. How do you think female athletes are defined in the athletic community?

SG: I think that women athletes are put into two categories. One, they are defined as being masculine or like men or two, they are not taken seriously and the sports that they participate in. They are seen as lesser versions of men’s sports, gymnastics or softball for example, when really they require the same amount of talent and skill.

AH: Which category did you fit into?

SG: A little of both. Lacrosse was hard, and players were not delicate, but like I said, we weren’t taken seriously.

AH: Did these impressions hinder your ability to view yourself as an athlete?

SG: I felt like an athlete but I did not feel that other people viewed me this way for a lot of the reasons I said before. We were a new sport, and also, compared to men’s lacrosse, women’s lacrosse is much less aggressive and has much stricter rules about contact, and I think is therefore seen as a diluted version of the men’s sport.

AH: What are some other impressions of lacrosse that you noticed while playing?

SG: I think that this sport is an example of the two categories that women are put in. In general, I think that the players are stereotyped as being “butch” or masculine and as having anger issues. For example, at the end of mean girls they order Regina George to play lacrosse to work out her anger issues and it shows her hitting people with her stick. But at my school, like I said, it was seen as a “girl’s” sport and wasn’t really taken seriously as a legitimate sport.

AH: How did you and your team disprove these generalizations, if at all?

SG: I think that as a team we disproved these generalizations by getting people to come watch our games and by improving year after year and going to tournaments.

AH: Do you feel women are treated differently from men in the athletic community? How so?

SG: Definitely. For women I don’t think that being athletic is seen as an asset, whereas with men not only is it an asset but it’s something that they strive for. When you are a woman nobody really cares if you have a talent for a particular sport. Also, for women the prospect of continuing in the sport is not necessarily talked about or encouraged. For example, it is much more acceptable for a man to go to college to play a sport than for a woman. For women sports is not seen as a future.


Sarah had such a strong voice as a devoted athlete. She was the first of my interviews, and I enjoyed her passion and understood her frustration. What surprised and delighted me the most about this project was though each female athlete possessed differing opinions, their all had a desire to assert the strength and athleticism of women in the sporting community. It is women such as these that make me believe change is possible.


Chloe Zwiacher

10 Dec

I’ve spent the last few months of this blog introducing you to some of the amazing professional female athletes from past and present. But who says fame is a necessity to be inspired by someone? My good friend and sister Chloe Zwiacher has been a huge inspiration to me this semester.

An athlete on the rowing team here at UIowa, she was injured recently, yet doesn’t give up. As well as being on the rowing team, she is a full-time student as well as a member of the executive board for Alpha Epsilon Phi. Her never-wavering positive attitude helped me through the difficult times of the semester, and her athleticism has helped get me off my ass.

Without further ado, here is a story I wrote on Chloe earlier this semester.

Chloe Zwaicher is in pain.

Zwaicher and her team are only five strokes into a 2K practice, with 1,950 meters to go.

She can hardly breath. Her muscles scream in protest, but she does not think of stopping or slowing down. Eight other women are counting on her, and letting even one of them down would be unthinkable. So she keeps going.

Zwaicher is a starboard rower on the University of Iowa Women’s Rowing Team, and every time she rows is agony.

“If you’re doing it right, it’s sheer pain,” said Zwaicher, 21, an English major in her third year at the university.

It seems masochistic considering the painfulness of the sport that Zwaicher would be a member of the rowing team for all three years of her college experience. She speaks of pain so intense; she can hardly bear it.

Still, Zwaicher never considers slowing down and tries to work through the pain.

“Chloe is very driven athletically,” said Amy Dalkoff, one of Zwaicher’s sorority sisters.

Working through the pain became a greater challenge last year, when Zwaicher was injured after a particularly grueling workout.

Zwaicher always had a tense spot on her back, but that day it seized up and has yet to entirely heal.

The injury is a big stumbling block, according to Zwaicher. The nature of it allows her to row comfortably in water but is in pain on the ergometer. That is the machine rowers are tested on.

“You know her injury brings her down, but you can never tell,” said Erin Sodawasser, an injured portside rower on the team.

Zwaicher’s injury prevented her from making it into the First 8 last year, which is the top boat. Instead, she made it into the First 4, the third best.

It was all right with Zwaicher though. The First 4 made it to the Grand Finals. They placed fourth of six teams.

“It was extremely good based on Iowa history and the teams present,” Zwaicher said.

Dedication is what Zwaicher claims to be the most important attribute of a good rower, and it is a necessary quality. The team meets six days a week at 6 a.m. to practice, with an additional hour of weight training three days a week, but Zwaicher doesn’t complain.

“She’s the one who brings the team together,” said Haylie Miller, a portside rower and one of Zwaicher’s teammates.

That love is palpable every time Chloe rows, Sodawasser said.

Unfortunately, Chloe does not row as much because of her injury. It kept her from being allowed to compete in the team’s first regatta last Saturday and may keep her from winter training in Florida.*

“Some of the injured people don’t get to go,” said Sodawasser.

Despite the setbacks, Zwaicher credits the sport with improving her outlook on school and life.

“After being on the rowing team, everything else seems a little bit easier,” Zwaicher said.

Zwaicher is eager to heal and continue devoting her body to rowing. Her goal is to make the First 8 this spring.

“Rowing has been so good to me. I wanna give back to that.”

*I was excited to learn recently that Chloe is going to be in Florida to train this winter. She too is excited for the experience and is enjoying rubbing in my face in the trip to Disney World she will take while I slip and slide on the ice in Illinois.


10 Dec

I mentioned a month or two ago how impressed I am with the Women’s Sports Foundation. My respect for the foundation increases when I found their article, “Women’s Sports and Physical Activity Statistics.” While I highly recommend you check this out because the stats are fascinating, here are some I found most interesting.

  • Of those students attending NCAA Division I schools, female athletes post the highest graduation rates, followed-by female students in general, male students and male athletes. (NCAA Research Related to Graduation Rates of Division I Student-Athletes, 1984-2000. NCAA, 2007).
  • Sports participation is associated with less risk for body dissatisfaction and disordered eating among adolescent girls. It is also associated higher self-esteem. (Tiggemann, M. (2001). “The impact of adolescent girls’ life concerns and leisure activities on body dissatisfaction, disordered eating, and self-esteem.” The Journal of Genetic Psychology.)
  • Teenage female athletes are less than half as likely to get pregnant as female non-athletes (5% and 11%, respectively), more likely to report that they had never had sexual intercourse than female non-athletes (54% and 41%, respectively), and more likely to experience their first sexual intercourse later in adolescence than female non-athletes. (Sabo, D., Miller, K., Farrell, M., Barnes, G. & Melnick, M. (1998). The Women’s Sports Foundation Report: Sport and Teen Pregnancy. Women’s Sports Foundation.)
  • With enough strength training, women can lift, carry and march as well as men, according to Army researchers. They say 78% of female volunteers they tested could qualify for Army jobs considered very heavy, involving the occasional lifting of 100 pounds, after six months of training 90 minutes, five days a week. (Morning Call, Jan. 30, 1996.)
  • Between 2003-2006, girls comprised 49% of the high school population but only received 41% of all athletic participation opportunities. Girls received 1.25 million fewer participation opportunities than male high school athletes. (National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 2003-2004; National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), 2005-2006.)


The War Against Men

4 Dec

On my usual hunt for ideally eye-opening material to share and discuss here, I type in the typical variations of feminism and athletics. Lucky me, I find an article that catches my eye, “The Feminists Continue Their War Against Men.”

Immediately I am intrigued by the use of language. It is a common misconception in society that feminism is a war against manhood. It is a battle, but not against the male sex. Feminists fight against the conditioned beliefs in the inferiority of women prevalent in society.

Furthermore, the title of this article suggest a men vs. women stance. Who says men cannot be feminists? The negative associations with being a feminist cause people to deny their desire for equality. This stigma stalls a lot of progress.

I disagree with a lot of the so-called logic of this article, but to let you judge for yourself, here’s an excerpt.

“This year’s spectacular Rose Bowl game attracted a phenomenal 35.6 million viewers because it featured what we want: rugged men playing football and attractive women cheering them on. Americans of every class, men and women, remained glued to their television sets, and nearly 95,000 spectators watched from the stands.The runaway success of this game proved again that stereotypical roles for men and women do not bother Americans one bit. Political correctness lost out as all-male teams battled and women cheered.It’s too bad that male sports are being eliminated on most college campuses. Except for Texas, USC, and a few other places, radical feminism rules in the athletic departments at the expense of popular male sports.”

Wow right? I know a couple studies that might better inform the author of the “pleasant equality” that exists in the world of today’s athletics.

Amy Van Dyken

4 Dec

Van Dyken was born February 15, 1973. When she was young, Van Dyken was diagnosed with asthma. Her doctors suggested she swim to strengthen her lungs and prevent asthma attacks in the future.

After high school, Van Dyken attended University of Arizona for two years before transferring to Colorado State University. It was here that she broke her first record for the 50 meter freestyle

Van Dyken earned 4th place in the 50 meter freestyle at the Olympic trials, just short of making the Olympic team in 1992.

After college, Van Dyken trained full-time for the 1996 Olympics at the training center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Van Dyken became the first American female athlete to win 4 gold medals in one Olympics game at the 1996 Olympics.

Van Dyken injured her shoulder soon after, needing several surgeries and delaying her training. Still, she made it to the 2000 Olympic games, where she won two gold medals.

Van Dyken lost a lot of fans when she spit in the lane of her competitor, Inge de Brujin at the 2000 games.

In 2003, she testified in the BALCO steroid scandal. Though a client of them, she never tested positive for steroids.


A Brief Shining Moment and Then Those Heels…

3 Dec

Despite my issues with the NY Times sports pages (see Female Factor), I went to the site to see what travesty of reporting on female athletics was posted, hopeful that women were more than just a factor last Monday.

Imagine my surprise when I saw the top story was about female athletes.

Then I saw it was about synchronized swimming.

My shoulders slumped.

Synchronized swimming is high on the list of sports society finds it is acceptable for women to play.

Still, it’s the top story, and I was hoping to be enlightened to the dangers and athleticism required of the sport.

While yes, it was mentioned that synchronized swimming is risky, the theatrical element of the sport was emphasized over the athletic requirements, something that caused trouble with the retired Olympians who decided to synchronize swim in Vegas.

And, inevitably (at least in my increasingly cynical opinion) the overreaching message was a disappointment.

Case and point: the main picture of a story was of women’s legs sticking out of the water.

They were all wearing bright red high heels.

That’s right. These athletes not only need to wear a thick layer of make-up to perform compete, but they swim in uncomfortable footwear.

This just enforces the cultural necessity that women must achieve physical perfection at all times.

Gussy up at the pool.

Smile brightly as the water fills your lungs.

It’s sickening.

And if that’s not enough, female athletics got no other mention on the sports page of Monday’s Times.

Mia Hamm

19 Nov

Mariel “Mia” Hamm was born March 17, 1972 in Selma, Alabama. Hamm was born with a clubbed foot which forced her to wear corrective shoes. Her father was in the Air Force, which meant her family moved frequently when Hamm was growing up.

She joined the U.S. women’s nationals team at age 15, becoming the youngest woman to do so. Hamm attended University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she led her team to four NCAA women’s championships in five years.

In the 95 games she played for North Carolina, they only lost one.

In 1991, Hamm and her team won the FIFA women’s world cup championship. At age 19, she was the youngest to do so.

When she graduated from college, she had all-time records in her conference for:

goals: 103

assists: 72

total points: 278

Hamm scored her 109th goal May 22, 1999, breaking the all-time international record, while playing Brazil.

The Women’s Sports Foundation named Hamm the 1997 Sportswoman of the Year.

After the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Hamm retired at age 32 with 158 goals.