Women athletes show the way
As Becky Wade crossed the finish line at last month’s Ports of Auckland Round the Bays, there were no signs of reserve or bias from the men who surrounded her.
But rewind 41 years when the event began and that same finish line would be completely dominated by men.
Wade, 24, from Texas, was the first woman across the line in the waterfront event, after arriving in the country only two weeks earlier, and having never competed in New Zealand.
‘‘I competed in running all through college,’’ she says. ‘‘ And I am currently travelling for a year researching running cultures and training along the way.’’
Set alongside 70,000 other runners, Wade was one woman among many demonstrating how far this sport has developed for women.
Introduced in 1962, by Arthur Lydiard and Colin Kay, jogging was initially an exercise created to help manage the rising rate of obesity.
The Auckland Joggers Club, the first jogging club in the world, did not introduce women to its membership until 10 years after it began.
‘‘Women were considered to be too delicate,’’ Julie Carr says.
Carr was one of the early women to join the club.
‘‘In cross-country races we weren’t allowed to run any more than six kilometres, which was silly.’’
As the popularity of jogging increased so, too, did interest from women, but the initiation into what was considered a sport for men was not easy, Carr says.
‘‘It was horrible and it was only the strongest of us that managed to put up with it. The men used to criticise our bottoms, legs and boobs, so most women never lasted more than one visit.’’
As female figureheads worldwide started to become recognised for their running achievements, women gained a sense of empowerment.
Val Muskett, originally from Cheddar, Somerset, watched those first women compete.
‘‘I was amazed at the speed these women used to travel,’’ she says. ‘‘The picture of these young women able to do it made me wonder if I ever could.’’
Muskett started running after having children and now, at 58, holds five world records for the 55-59 age group and has represented New Zealand 11 times since moving here.
Despite her achievements Muskett says she still felt a biased attitude from men. She explains that in marathons men would try to get in her way and not let her pass.
‘‘If I passed a man it would become a competition, they would have to catch up to me,’’ she says.
Now Muskett is recognised she has gained more respect.
‘‘People will try and talk to me now, they know my times and know if they follow me that I am setting a good pace.’’
As the female runners of the 1970s influenced Muskett, she now hopes to be that influence for others, sending the message that gender and age should make no difference. As women demonstrated an ability to be efficient joggers they were slowly accepted as an asset rather than a drawback.
Don Walker, a former president of the Auckland Joggers Club, initiated the recruitment of women into the club.
‘‘We started off with no women members. But that has now risen to 50 per cent, with the number nearing on more women than men.’’
Ashlea Mulligan, 22, competes in 10km races and half marathons. She says that she had never thought about what female runners had faced in the past.
‘‘I feel no prejudices at all about being a female runner. I run simply because I enjoy the feeling and did fairly well in cross-countries at school.’’
Leading the way: Becky Wade was the first woman runner in the 2013 Ports of Auckland Round the Bays event. She is from Texas and is travelling for a year researching running cultures and training along the way.