Women ath­letes show the way

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS - By MEGHAN LAWRENCE

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.’’

Photo: MEGHAN LAWRENCE

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.

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