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A Nod to Women in Sports

Professional Triathlete, Summer Deal, talks about the importance of women supporting women in sports and how a small gesture, such as a nod, can go a long way.
Summer Deal and her swim partner smiling underwater Photo provided by Summer Deal

This is a story about a nod. Now although that may not seem interesting, nor in line with the Women in Sports theme, bear with me as I tell my story. Let’s make sure we’re on the same page here. A nod, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, when used as a verb, means “to lower and raise one's head slightly and briefly, especially in greeting, assent, or understanding, or to give someone a signal.” To give someone a signal. I love that. I love that something so small has the potential to mean so much. Let’s begin. 

When I was asked to write this blog post about Women in Sports, I had so many topics come to mind; the things I learned as a high school cross country and track captain, a D1 athlete, then a high school girls’ coach, and now as a one-on-one multisport coach. These experiences have taught me and reminded me time and time again that there are issues and barriers that women specifically encounter in the athletic arena. Thinking about these times in my life, I noticed the resounding theme about each team or opportunity I was a part of, and I’ll be the first to say I know it sounds cheesy- but the idea, the lifestyle, of women supporting women is one I cannot easily dismiss. I have so many stories of times in my life when women have made a life changing impact that it’s hard to choose just one; but when I realized this was what I wanted to encourage and promote, there was one glimmer of a moment that I knew perfectly encapsulated the idea. That’s right. The nod.  

It was my first race as a pro and I was hanging out at the Ironman expo the day before, full of the jitters and second guessing everything, especially my swim abilities. I had to be realistic; I knew my best open water swim times, and they were nowhere near the other women. Imposter syndrome was overwhelming my senses. I was talking with another female pro and was embarrassed to tell her what my goal swim time was. She listened, and without even blinking and gave me some practical advice, a few words of encouragement, and reassurance that eventually I’d get faster. The morning of the race rolled around, and I ran into my friend again. Sensing my nervousness, she did her best to be there for me. “Hey I’ll be in the kayak at the start, just come towards that side if you can. You’ve got this,” or something like that. Honestly, I am not even sure if she said anything like that, I could have completely misremembered the whole encounter, but I got into the absolutely frigid water at the start of the race, glanced through my mascara stained goggles at the start kayak, and saw a tiny nod. THE nod. In an instant I felt a wave of relief wash over me, a strange sense of calm as the starter prepared to fire the gun signaling the beginning of the race. I felt like I had a teammate, someone who was cheering me on, no matter how I finished. Now you probably think I’m about to say I went on to have the best swim of my life. In fact, I didn’t. It was decidedly average for me. But that’s not the point. 

The point is that even something so simple, so small, as a little nod, can be the difference for another woman. I often think about the power of that nod, and the encouragement of that wordless action when I needed it the most. Women, let's support each other. Let’s give nods, and smiles, and waves and high fives (once Covid-19  goes away of course). Let's celebrate the little things and the big things. Let’s be aware, and be there for others. Sometimes all we need is a nod, or a hug, or someone to listen to us vent or cry or just be.  We know all of this. This is just a reminder that when you do these things to show another woman that they are the queen you think they are, it can really go a long way. I might not have even finished the swim that day based on the self doubt I had been battling going into the race, but instead I swam with hope in my heart, and the knowledge that it didn’t actually matter how I did. 

Think about the last “nod” you received. You may have been at the end of your rope and it pulled you back up. Maybe it was just the cherry on top of an already Moose-Tracks Sundae filled day. Then think about the last nod that you gave. It honestly doesn’t matter if it was last week or last decade. What matters is that you look for opportunities to give the “nod” to your fellow female friends, athletes, and competitors. Races end, hobbies change, but the need for women to build each other up will never go away.

Summer Deal and friend, Katie, smiling in the middle of a bike ride Photo provided by Summer Deal

The calm before the Nod- the start of 70.3 Indian Wells swim Photo provided by Summer Deal

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