Girls in the Game is excited to host guest blogger Charissa Newkirk, a track and field athlete at the University of Chicago, who has shared her personal story of the role that sports play in her life!
Athletics have always been a part of my life. Of course when I was young this wasn’t necessarily an issue. Most kids I knew were in some kind of soccer league or on a softball team during the summer. However, there were underlying tones that being involved in sports implied some kind of masculinity. During gym class, it was always the boys who could run the fastest, do the most pull-ups, etc. Having a pretty athletic build at a young age, and growing up with a dad that admired fitness, I found myself getting in races and competitions with the boys in my class. If I ended up beating them, I became intimidating. However, if I lost to them, it was okay because “girls aren’t supposed to beat guys anyway”. As someone who enjoyed playing both soccer and Polly Pockets, I felt like even at an early age there was pressure to make some kind of choice between being a “girl” and being “one of the boys”.
From there, that pressure became even more intense. Throughout middle school and high school, childhood insecurities tend to intensify. For me, that insecurity was my athletic build, namely my muscular arms. I didn’t hear from men that I was beautiful, but that I was “so ripped”, “so fast” and was asked all the time how much I benched. Of course, I didn’t mind being fast since my main sport in high school was track. Yet I found that it was hard to fit into society’s mold for being a woman. I wanted to be muscular enough to run track, but not too muscular to be intimidating. I wanted to be feminine, but not too feminine so people would take me seriously. Even outside of athletics during school, answering questions correctly made me either a know-it-all or, again, intimidating. However, not participating in class would set me back from getting into a good college. This double standard seemed to bleed into every aspect of my life.
As I was making my decision of where to go to college, there was a big pull for me to quit track altogether. Of course, I knew I needed to have time for my schoolwork, but another big reason lurked underneath it all. What would my life be like as a student athlete? Would I be perceived as being dumb or a meathead? As a woman, would I just be seen as a scary, ripped, track monster with no brain or heart? Deep down inside, however, I knew that running was something I was not willing to give up so easily. The feeling of breaking your personal record, the runner’s high, the steady beat of your shoes on the pavement… those things bring me more life and energy than anything I’ve experienced in my life. So in the end, I picked to go to the University of Chicago and run DIII track and field.
After two (going on three) years of running for UChicago, I have truly grown as a person. Track has taught me mental strength, determination, and teamwork, all things that I believe are essential to every aspect of my life. Most importantly though, my decision to run in college has ultimately taught me to never let the fear of judgement get in the way of doing what you love most. In a world where being female and being tough at the same time is seen as intimidating, it’s hard to imagine why picking up a sport would be appealing to women. But track gave me the courage to meet some amazing friends, gain leadership skills and find a passion that I can keep up with for the rest of my life.
Muscular? Athletic? Competitive? Sure, I am those things. But I’m also smart, hard-working and passionate. And with all these things, I am overall beautiful.
Charissa Newkirk is a third year Biological Sciences major at the University of Chicago who is planning on applying to medical school at the end of this year. Although she does many things outside of academics including research, shadowing at the hospital, and volunteering, she is proud to run Division III track and field for the University of Chicago where she competes in the 100 and 200 meter dash.