As I get older, I feel more and more like a female athlete
Updated: Aug 3
This article about how it feels to be a female athlete was first published in 2012. Ten years have passed, and given how sensitively woke and sexually confused society is these days, I feel it is more relevant than ever and underscores how over-the-top we have gone. For example, the College of Midwives now calls pregnant women "pregnant people", and breastfeeding is now known as chestfeeding. In Oregon, USA, schools are mandated to provide tampons in the boy's bathrooms at a cost of 5.1 million. Closer to home, men who identify as women can flout their penises in the women's changing rooms of Dunedin's Moana Pool. In my opinion, penis-waving people should be directed to use the unisex cubicles in deference to our females.
There seems to be a full-on attack on traditional definitions of a woman or a man. As a partner, father, brother and grandfather to XX-endowed people, what I find more egregious is the woke activists encroaching on what were once safe spaces for these individuals. These activists are a very small minority who have infiltrated academia and institutions of governance, and their weapons include distorting and manipulating language. They are bullies, and we are letting them have their way. It is time we turfed them out of the positions of power that they are hogging. I say "no" to them, beginning with refusing to use their language.
What follows is the original article with some minor corrections.
As I get older, I feel more and more like a female athlete
(First published 2012)
My teenage daughter, Myra, had won a mountain bike race. I wrote this to the race director a few days later:
"...if you’re going to split the men and women into two separate pools for each grade and then congratulate the winners, shouldn't you also be congratulating the winning women?"
To his credit, the race organiser apologised profusely to this disgruntled female participant and put the record straight. His oversight of the women was merely a habit of times past. But this recent exchange got me thinking. Hence this article. For the best part of 28 years, I assisted my sister, Lorraine, with her never-ending battles against male chauvinism and age discrimination (ageism) in sports. I can recall assisting Lorraine, around about 1980'ish, with applying to the corruptly managed NZ Sports Foundation for a grant of less than $1,000 to help her with putting food on the table and covering her dental and medical bills (The Foundation's Founding CEO, Keith Hancox, was later jailed for fraud in 1992 for embezzling the money meant for the athletes). She was close to broke, despite being one of the best runners in the World. It was degrading, in my opinion, and pained me to see my sister having to struggle for the basics.
The historic showdown between professionalism and amateurism in Olympic sports came to a head at the now infamous "Cascade Runoff" (1981) In retrospect, it was hardly surprising that it was the three female winners, Kiwi runners Anne Audain, Allison Roe and Lorraine Moller, who defiantly waved their paychecks in the air leading the movement to end “shamateurism” and ensure the right of all athletes to be self-determined. But while our women were at the forefront of a world-changing revolution, where were our champion men? Cynics, like me, argued that they had no great motivation to change a system that catered to the established male stars. Under the table payments, expenses paid, and all the publicity suited them fine. In the same vein as the Kiwi suffragettes of the late 1800s, these three women pulled off a system revamp and secured their right to earn a legitimate living for all runners.
But not until after these three brave young women were crucified outside the arena gates as a grim warning to all other amateur athletes not to get any similar ideas of rebellion. Athletics was chauvinistic back then, and female athletes had to deal with the curse of being both female and assertive.
Fortunately, they were hastily reinstated in 1982 after the wrench that had been thrown into amateurism machinery was finally addressed by officialdom, conveniently just before the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane. Anne won her 3000m gold medal, Lorraine her double bronzes in the 1500m and 3000m. All continued to have stellar running careers with achievements that stamped the world with both athletic and social advancements. New Zealand would have been deprived of this great history of our women if the tide had not been changed by their brave stand for equality. Lorraine considers her stand at the Cascade Run-Off one of her proudest moments. A decade later, in 1992, Lorraine won her Olympic bronze medal at the Barcelona Games. She had no sponsors as her lone sportswear sponsor dumped her before the Games. At age 37, she was considered “over the hill”. New Zealand would not have sent her to the Barcelona Olympics if she was not our best marathon runner, but still, they were insensitive and stingy.
Despite Lorraine winning bronze in the marathon and being the first track and field Olympic medallist since John walker in 1976, the NZ team management refused to pay for her ticket to return from Spain to New Zealand to participate in the team's victory celebrations down Queen Street, being hosted by the PM etc., because, like so many of our international athletes, Lorraine's training base was not New Zealand, but the USA. Victorious but out of pocket, Lorraine took a lone flight back to the USA. I seethed with anger at the time and still harbour resentful feelings about this insulting treatment of my sister.
Another annoying and puzzling thing after this fabulous performance was no one in New Zealand sports attempted to find out what she had done to pull off such a surprising age-defying performance. Surely, she thought, they would be clamouring with fine-tooth combs to analyse the physical and mental preparations that enabled her to defy all predictions and do so well? Surely they would want to use her experience for the up-and-coming athletes? But there was only silence. Nor was she ever approached for sponsorship: Forty’ish, Athletic, Female, even with an Olympic medal, were not the marketing buzzwords. (Bear in mind that even though she had earned the right to do so over her career, she consistently refused opportunities to be linked with products that she did not consider healthy for people).
"Okay, so what's this got to do with you and the strange headline for this article, Gary - have you got hormone problems or something?" The answer is an emphatic "No!" But I have had cause lately to understand in some ways how these women must have felt. Before I continue with what is buzzing
about inside my head, let me say the following: I am not a publicity seeker. I do not need money (but a lottery win would be welcome). I do not need a bike sponsor (but that would be nice - if you have a better bike than the one I am currently riding). I do not require ego stroking (my partner, Alofa, does that for me). But I do want to share information and ideas about how to have a long and healthy life, and, like Lorraine, Anne and Allison, I strive to live by the courage of my convictions and set a good example by practising what I preach, even if it is not a profitable marketing move. So consider this:-
Health statistics - obesity, diabetes, inactivity, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, depression, dementia and so on and so on - are all heading in the wrong direction. At the same time, we have a Tsunami of Baby-Boomers now entering retirement. If we do not do more to ensure the good health of the population as a whole, the costs of maintaining our health systems, including ACC and aged care, will swamp our capacity to pay. Health care and social support costs are blowing out right now.
Things are getting out of control scary: Prescriptions for antidepressants have soared 300% over the last 20 years, with 23% of middle-aged American women now on one or more of these drugs. These drugs are now being marketed to infants. Even in New Zealand, adults and kids in civilised countries are becoming increasingly fat, sedentary and malnourished due to poor lifestyle habits. This is not the future I want for my children or my grandchildren.
The Future: More incapacitated retirees. More preventable illness. More harmful drugs. More needless surgery. More disability care. Fewer able workers. Now, what I am about to say is risky by letting myself open to criticism that I am not much more than a disgruntled whinger. But here I go...
Yes: sometimes I do feel like a female athlete - overlooked and undervalued
I think we should champion people leading the way in demonstrating healthy ageing by doing the business and not just talking about it!
The real interest of media and sponsors seems to be in rubbing up to the next up-and-coming young male gladiator while the old ones quietly wander off to the elephant graveyard deep in the forest. Why aren't the glossy sports magazines and the rest of the sports publicity machinery taking note of what we are doing and investigating how come three brothers in their 50s are managing to put together collective performances that no other vet teams have yet to match? Am I missing something here?
I cynically suspect that if we were young and sexy men, we'd have product sponsorships with the Big Brands that advertise in the sports magazines, and then we would be splashed all over the pages in glossy photos and wordy copy. But that will never happen. Who would ever buy a magazine with three wrinklies with thinning scalps gracing the cover? Sorry for any offence, brothers - I was just saying that to make a point. I think my brothers are ageing very well, with not all that many wrinkles. I am grateful that we can afford to self-fund our exploits and have not had to chase sponsorships. At least we get to choose what shoes to wear, what ski to paddle and what bike to peddle (pedal?). Thank goodness we do not have to wear some claustrophobic brand of compression tights or guzzle sugary gels and then lie through our cavities about how great they are!
But I would appreciate it if there was more media interest in helping to get the message out to the increasingly sedentary and over-medicated masses that threaten to bankrupt this wonderful country:
"Hey! - Age is not that big a barrier to activity and health - really - and here's how to do it."
But I will not hold my breath while I wait for this to happen. Just like the idea that women in sport had nothing to contribute and therefore were not worthy of recognition, the Big Lie that ageing and deteriorating health go hand in hand (and that a pile-up of medications is the salvation) is still perpetuated in this part of the World. Meantime my brothers and I will continue to have a blast training and competing. (And don’t worry, we won't bother to bore you with the mundane details of our daily lives on Facebook!). But I will give Lorraine the last word. She has been through it all before and knows this territory well:- “You are right, Gary; the press, unfortunately, has increasingly become the slave of the market. This enslavement is a trap for the athlete too. Many these days spend more time on their glossy websites with sponsor-schmoozing rhetoric than they do on their training or racing skills. You, my brothers, have no tangible product but health and enthusiasm. And let’s face it, your social media skills are a little outdated, and you are all too busy to bring them up to speed or remember my birthday. I think you are very marketable, but look at it this way - if the Aging Boomers all start working out and look after themselves like you do, who will buy health in a packet or a pill?
Frankly, I would prefer to appreciate you with muddy shoes and your sweaty t-shirts than see you polished up on TV for a constipation ad! As you well know, the beauty of getting older is coming to that point where you say ‘no!’ to the worship of the marketed persona at the expense of the authentic self and enjoy the performance as its own reward and freedom.”