Sara Gross | Activist, Athlete + Writer
We need to combat women’s exclusion from sports with a layered approach that recognizes they were created to show off male physicality and prowess.
I’m Canadian and spent my high school years in the Middle East, near Dubai with my family. From a very young age, I observed that there are disadvantages to being a woman in our world and it really stuck with me and saddened me. In my 20’s I went to the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and pursued a Ph.D. in Women’s History.
Sports always made me feel empowered and once I became aware that I had a shot at being a professional triathlete, I never looked back. I trained full-time for 14 years, was European long course triathlon Champion in 2005 (when I competed for Great Britain) and won two Ironman races including the North American Ironman Championship.
I became heavily involved in advocating for women in triathlon when a rule change in the qualification system for the World Championship meant that the pro women would not be given equal opportunity to participate in the biggest race in our sport. I have been talking and writing about women’s sport ever since!
What kind of involvement do you have in women’s sports or professional careers? Giving women equal opportunity and solid ground to continue to develop as woman athletically and professionally.
I am the president of a non-profit called “TriEqual” that was founded by a group of 12 who felt that women and minority groups were not being treated in a fair and equitable way in the sport of triathlon.
I am the founder and CEO of a media company called “Live Feisty”. Our goal is to tilt the spotlight towards women in triathlon, other sports and beyond.
Several things have changed about women in sports and professionally over the last ten years. Describe some of the biggest changes you’ve seen during your time, and what your involvement has been in these changes.
The dial has definitely shifted for women in sports over the last decade in North America. I think it’s fair to attribute much of that shift to the opportunities created by Title IX and the International Olympic Committee’s ongoing commitment to equal opportunity. As a result, we have seen growing media and sponsor interest in women’s sports and a cultural shift in attitude about women’s bodies and what we can achieve.
My involvement in these changes has been a small drop in a very large bucket. So far, it has involved advocating for the professional women of triathlon and highlighting women’s accomplishment through writing, podcasting, and video.
What kinds of changes would you like to see, either nationally, internationally or with the sport in general?
My studies in women’s history and feminist theory have led me to believe that the biggest obstacle for women in sport is that, in most sports, we can’t argue from the same vantage point as other feminist disputes that have been fought and won. That is, we can not claim to be physically equal in speed and strength.
For example, in the fight for equal access to education or to vote, the winning argument was that women are of equal intellectual ability to men. It’s bomb-proof. But what can we say about sports? In most sports women will not win when pitted directly against the men (there are a few exceptions such as equestrian sport). And while there are plenty of good reasons to fight for equal opportunity and pay, it is tough to argue with dissenters without that trump card. This is the biggest obstacle for women in sport.
The truth is, we need to combat women’s exclusion from the sport with a layered approach that recognizes that most sports were created to show off male physicality and prowess. The long term answer might be to go back to basics and create platforms on which women can shine. This shift is happening already with TV productions like “American Ninja Warriors” in which female competitors can compete, and win, against anyone.
What are your plans and goals for your career? How do you see your future in the role of helping women continue to develop professionally and athletically?
I love telling stories through media and am building my business through writing, podcasting, and video. I will always want to tell stories about amazing women. I currently produce three podcasts about women in sport through my company, Live Feisty Media and I am working on a book that will follow through on the ideas outlined in the previous question.
I also continue to advocate for women in triathlon.
Who are some of your major influences, people you look up to, etc.? Who are the people you want to thank for your success?
I always find this to be a tough question. I look up to many of the people around me for a variety of reasons. For example, I just spent the weekend doing a live broadcast with a woman called Ashley Wiles who runs a program designed to empower young girls through running. Ashley is someone who intentionally looks for the good in people and tries to bring it out. You can see it in all her interactions. And I admire that and will emulate it.
So I suppose I find inspiration in many of the “ordinary” people around me. If I admire a characteristic in someone, I find a way to be more like that myself.