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Women are leading the way in action sports

She Shreds

Posted on 03.03.20 by Natalie Welch in

What do you know about action sports?

Natalie Welch, Jennifer Gabrielli, Claire Buchar, Sima Safavi-Bayat, Charli Kerns and Wanda Rozwadowska during the She Shreds panel.Perhaps extreme sports such as skydiving come to mind. Maybe you associate action sports with winter and activities like skiing and snowboarding?

What unites action sport is an individualistic ethos that challenges what traditionalist often restrict with team sport. Unlike team sports, action sports are participant-led and participant-focused. There is also a creative expression and culture that may not be as common among the traditional stick and ball sports.

As Charli Kerns, whitewater paddler and University of Tennessee doctoral student, describes, action sport involves a creative engagement with a natural space. That natural space doesn’t necessarily mean nature. It could be a makeshift skatepark in an abandoned parking lot. The key is creativity and competition is not necessary.

Regardless of definition, women in action sport are making moves, often above and beyond their preferred discipline.

This summer the Olympics in Tokyo will feature surfing, skateboarding and sport climbing for the first time ever. Thomas Bach, IOC president, explained the move, “We want to take sport to the youth.” It will give these action sport athletes a structure they’ve never seen before, including a clear separation of the sexes. With these constraints comes a global platform for women and girls as young as eleven to let their craft represent their passion.

With that privilege comes responsibility.

Action sport athletes are no stranger to responsibility. Another differentiator for action sports is the element of risk. For an action sport athlete participation may literally mean life or death.

Professional cyclist Claire Buchar

Before I even stepped foot on Linfield’s campus last fall my future colleague Jeff McNamee, professor of health and human performance, reached out to me to suggest that we put on a “Women in Action Sport” panel. Jeff is an avid mountain biker and was inspired by all the badass women he encountered on the trail and on social media.

I loved the idea and along with Jeff, began reaching out to potential panelists. From the beginning, the lineup included Jenn Gabrielli, a 1992 Linfield alumna who made a career out of mountain biking and wins for best current job title as the Chief Rider Experience Officer at Intense Cycles.

On February 19, 2020, Linfield hosted five amazing women from different realms of action sport, from research, to nonprofit, to Nike SB. The panelists spent the day at Linfield, engaging with students and sharing their variety of experiences in action sport in their personal and professional lives.

One of my students, Shannon Stoller, expressed her excitement following the event.

“I loved this panel for a couple reasons: Action sport are a huge risk and are unique! Then, to have woman representation is kickass! These women took their courage and passion for action sport into their professional careers which I found very empowering.”

In addition to the physical risk is the societal norms that women in action sport often have to overcome. Wanda Rozwadowska, Senior Sales Director at Nike SB, elaborates on responsibility, “One of my mentors said to me one day, the burden for diversity is on the diverse… It can feel exhausting. You ask yourself, why am I the one that always has to speak up? But progress is being made with every conversation.”

It’s a responsibility not just felt by individual athletes, but by organizations as well. Sima Safavi-Bayat, of Skate Like a Girl PDX describes how even at a nonprofit whose mission is to empower women and girls through skateboarding and create an inclusive skateboarding community has to focus on fundraising. “You can never not talk about money,” she says. A good mission is nothing without resources to support the movement.

Now, as we celebrate Women’s History Month, I challenge us all to dedicate some of our resources to these lesser-known but highly impactful sports, athletes and organizations. You will likely find yourself involved with some of the most innovative, authentic people you’ve ever met.

Below is a live broadcast of the She Shreds panel discussion from February 19, 2020.