“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong [woman] stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the [woman] who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends [herself] in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if [she] fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that [her] place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” -Theodore Roosevelt

I’ve spent a few days trying to think of where this blog post should start. I’m the one who thought “Be the Woman in the Arena” should be on a shirt, so you would think I’d have a clear response as to why. However, the truth is that this phrase comes from years of experiences and lessons, many of which I believe many other women can relate to. So maybe the best place to start is where the seed for this phrase was planted and then watered…

I’m sitting in my history class learning about the holocaust. I’ve already learned about slavery, Native Americans being massacred, and a whole plethora of other events where people were very clearly doing the wrong thing. Why didn’t more good people step up and prevent these events from happening in the first place? I think that, but I, of course, don’t say it out loud. I have social anxiety and I try to only speak when I have to.

Journalist, Connie Schultz, addresses the room by saying “speak up, even if your voice shakes.” I get goosebumps as soon as I hear those words. I’m in college now and I still prefer to put myself in places where I can see without being seen, but I dwell on that quote for days. Maybe my shaking voice can make a difference.

One chapter I’m crying and another chapter I’m inspired. By the book’s end, I know that my voice does not solely belong to me. My voice is for every woman who would be severely punished for speaking up against injustices. As I set “Half the Sky” down, I realize that even women’s sports can be used as a vehicle for social and political change.

Here we go again. I take a deep breath and attempt to calmly type out, for the umpteenth time, why the World Mountain Running Association should change their rules so that women run the same distance as men, as well as why both the men’s and women’s teams should have an equal amount of people. (It’s currently 6 men and 4 women.) I know what I type out only matters if others support what I’m saying or publicly share their own thoughts on this topic. Some people dislike me or “unfollow” me for writing about this which does upset me, but I smile as I see other women speak up on this topic as well.

What on earth am I doing on the start line of a 10k mountain race? I’m an ultra runner. I’m not fast, I can just grind it out. I don’t belong here. I’m at the USATF mountain running championship. It took most of the courage I had to get to this start line. I take a moment to remind myself that all I have to do is my best for the day. I know I didn’t sign up to compare myself to others, but to challenge myself both physically and mentally. I end up 5th, but it doesn’t really matter. For the first time in history, 4 women and 4 men will be sent to the World Mountain Running Championship. It’s a huge win.

This is a very scattered way of saying that “Be the Woman in the Arena” can mean a lot of different things depending on the situation, but what matters is that you put yourself in the arena. Put yourself there over and over again. At times you will fail and you might lose some “followers”, but that’s pretty much happened to anyone who has ever been successful or made a positive change in this world. In other words, you’re in good company!

Putting yourself in the arena doesn’t always have to be some big thing. Sometimes it’s more about supporting and encouraging others in the arena. It can be lacing up your running shoes to try a speed workout that you know will be challenging. It may also be pitching an idea, standing at the start line of your first ultra, or advocating for positive and necessary changes in this world. Whatever it is, remember you are meant to be the woman in the arena, even if your voice shakes.

By Sandi Nypaver

Click here to shop Sandi Nypaver’s “Be the Woman in the Arena” tank

Proceeds support a women’s scholarship to climb Mount Kilimanjaro

Read more about Run Your Own Trail here

Supporting female athletes in the outdoors