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Thoughts on ‘lady’ athletes from a former Norway Knight

Although I consider myself a Yooper, I have not lived in my beloved U.P. for nearly 15 years. This does not matter — I am who I am because of my experiences here. I wouldn’t have had the grit or motivation to endure some of the hardships in life had I not grown up here.

Some of the most formative experiences for me were as a Norway Knight. Specifically, as a varsity volleyball player under Liz Gendron’s coaching. She was TOUGH. Her expectations were higher than those I had for myself. This was because she saw things I did not. She somehow reached in and coached out the potential in each of us. She expected us to be a team on, and more importantly, off the court. This is called accountability, and learning that has been a gift of a lifetime. She also taught me anticipation and demanded that we overcome the inertia of familiarity and comfort to adjust when things weren’t working on the court. Her approach blew my mind.

As I fumbled through the first year of undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan, I looked inward. I adjusted and I began to succeed. I applied to medical school, not thinking I’d get in, but they valued the person I had become. My personal statement focused on how my upbringing in the U.P. shaped me. I succeeded in medical school and in residency because of the lessons I learned with my team and my coach. I am currently a pulmonary and critical care fellow working in an intensive care unit, or ICU, caring for the sickest patients I have ever seen in my life in the setting of COVID-19. My team — residents, medical students, nurses, patients — and their families are better cared for because of the accountability I learned as a Knight. I anticipate my patient’s needs. I recognize cognitive inertia and anchoring biases and scrutinize them at every turn. I learned this as a Knight. I have high expectations for myself and a competitive drive that never stops. This is from my time as a Knight.

So as I recently read the newspaper, I was disheartened to see how female athletes are described. They are called LadyCats, Lady Badgers, and Cavalettes. What is a Cavalette, you ask? Not sure. Possibly some type of farm implement?

If these athletes are anything like my team, these labels do them an injustice. These athletes are hustling to be their best. When I see article titles using these labels, I expect to read about girls in pearls playing a rousing hand of Old Maid, not the young athletes sweating, competing and pouring their hearts into their sport. Although these cutesy terms may seem harmless, they are not. They are labels, and they reek of sexism.

These young women have eyes that are open wide, soaking in lessons at every turn. I’m so thankful that I was able to learn the lessons I did as a Knight. Notice that I did not say “Lady” Knight. I hope that the lessons these women learn aren’t ones of marginalization or being less-than. They are Bobcats, Badgers, and Cavaliers. Like the Knights from my team, they will become engineers, police officers, accountants, therapists, nurses, administrators, bosses, and doctors. They will not become “Lady Doctors.”

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