4 Impactful Life Lessons from Inspiring Womxn in Sport

From a distance, the pursuit of athletic accomplishment can easily be interpreted as a linear and straightforward process: put in the consistent, hard work and reap the benefits at the finish line. But like so many other experiences in life, the process is much more varied and complex than it appears on the surface.

The Nuuness community has invited thousands of womxn across North America to share and connect over their complex and unique journeys. Having the chance to work with so many inspiring female athletes has given us the opportunity to reflect on some of those tough and enlightening conversations.

As athletes, the following 4 lessons ring true to continuous pursuit of goals and performance. As womxn (and humans), the same lessons apply to the pursuit of any of life’s big dreams.

Don't Let the Labels Define You

In a world of personality tests & which-____-are-you? Instagram filters, it is abundantly clear that we are a society obsessed with labels. In an effort to validate our particular set of behaviors and preferences, we’ve grown up in systems that quickly identify us as certain types of learners, athletes, mothers…(the list goes on). While the cultural obsession is fairly harmless overall, it begs the question: is there risk in leaning too hard into our labels? Are they creating more polarization and thus, less connection?

Three-time Ironman 70.3 champion, Rachel McBride is creating more conversation around letting go of binary identification systems. Rachel (identifying as pronoun, “they”) is an advocate for trans/non-binary access and awareness within the world of sport. Having a career in sport (which is strictly gender binary) creates difficulty for personal identification within their own line of work. Rachel has been a voice for ALL humans participating in sport, shining light unto the fact that a label doesn’t define our being and our substance.

"The experience has been really eye opening in the past couple of years. I’ve found  the ability to be fully expressed and to be myself and that’s okay. It’s okay to be in this space as who I am, and who I feel." -Rachel, on the non-binary athlete experience

As human beings, we are so much more than a set of curated labels. Our deep curiosities, our grit, our intelligence…these are the elements of being human that transcend labels. It’s okay to be an athlete AND an academic. It’s okay to take a season off from your primary sport or hobby and still maintain your identity in that space. Giving ourselves the permission to explore spaces outside (and spectrums within) these labels is what makes us human and when we allow labels to define us, we begin to restrict our own potential.


 Be the Voice for the Change You Want to See in the World

Just because a system has historically conditioned us to behave within a certain process or set of limitations does not mean that those same boundaries should apply to our tomorrows. If there is a barrier blocking the path to your own personal success, be the advocate for your own change. Chances are likely that your voice will represent not just your dreams, but also the collective voice of others who have experienced the same limitations along their own journeys.

As both an accomplished athlete and a dedicated mother, Alysia Montano has been a shining example of how to use her voice to break through barriers that created inequality for womxn in sport. In 2019, Alysia went public about her experience in balancing a life that included both motherhood and a professional career in running.

“We live in a world where our men have been at the top of the totem pole with easier access “to the top” and the voices of women are often times muted when it comes to future {female} generations’ access to climbing to the top. It’s something we’ve been battling forever." -Alysia Montano

The traditional sponsorship models that enable careers in professional sports did not intersect or embrace the idea of having children along that same timeline. As it turns out, recommended child-bearing years and peak performance years in professional sport have a major overlap. Alysia’s voice behind #DreamMaternity and the greater female athlete collective opened up lines of communication between sponsors and professional womxn in sport. Multiple companies have begun to shift their contract structures to be more inclusive of support for female athletes through all major stages of their personal and professional careers (including pregnancy).

Sometimes all it takes is the courage to speak up for a brighter future.

Optimize the Space and Time Around Your Goals

There is obvious return in “putting in the hard work” to achieve our goals, but can the time outside of the hard work have impact on our progress as well? According to Kristen Holmes (VP of Performance at Whoop), our ultimate competitive advantage is in the time that’s spent AROUND the hard work, otherwise known as our downtime.

"How we spend our downtime is our ultimate competitive advantage" -Kristen Holmes

Fundamentally, this makes sense. The “hard work” is typically a set of tried and true strategies that output the most efficient ways to grow and evolve. Endurance training, for instance, follows a very systematic approach for continued VO2 stress and recovery that results in long term performance gains. The calculations have been determined, and with some degree of variability, we all follow the same primary training strategies. What differentiates one athlete from another is the time spent outside of the “hard work”. Ask yourself: how is your surrounding environment supporting your end goal?

Emma Coburn has been walking this talk for years. Her top advice for reaching for your dreams it to, “Make the world around you support your goals”. Her top-notch support systems come from creating hard boundaries and eliminating influences that are not in line with her goals. She is also extremely thoughtful about surrounding herself with a supportive network of people.

The womxn in my life are hugely important in my own personal success. Surround yourself with those that support your goals and challenge you to be a better version of yourself”-Emma Coburn

Being more mindful of the ways that we apply our energy outside of the “hard work” is the key to setting up a long-term infrastructure for positive output.

Don’t Chase the Dream, BE the Dream

A big goal or dream can exist as a big shiny object that looms in the distance as long as we let it. The watch-out with hanging a goal up on a fantasized future-facing pedestal is that we create unnecessary space between who we are today and who we imagine being at the time of completing said goal.

Skier, Writer and world record smasher, Steph Jagger, begs us to approach our goals from a different angle. Rather than admiring our “closer-to-perfect & more-accomplished” future selves from a safely past-tensed distance, begin to step into that person and that feeling of accomplished goals and dreams TODAY.

“All thriving is being right with time. Are you listening to what you’re called to do?” -Steph Jagger

By beginning a daily practice of being that glorified version of ourselves vs. putting the tactical plan in place to somehow/someday reach that “end-state”, we create a present-tense platform for ourselves to begin a life more fulfilled, today. It has been with this mindset that Steph has paved her own way in the world of sport and writing.

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