Shalane Flanagan's NYC Marathon win would be inspiring any year, but especially 2017
I've watched the clip of Shalane Flanagan breaking the tape at the NYC Marathon over 50 times. In the video, Flanagan's face is wrenched in exhaustion and elation.
"F--- yes!" she yells, pumping her fist in the air.
I rewind and watch again. "F--- yes!"
The 36-year-old Olympic athlete isn't accustomed to first place. She has been competing for over 10 years and has never won a major marathon. Earlier in the year, she missed the Boston Marathon because she was recovering from an iliac fracture (along the pelvic ring). She told ESPN in April:
"How my career ends is super-important to me. ... It doesn't mean I'm going to win a major, but at least I'm going to try to win a major marathon in the U.S., and I need at least two more events."
Despite that doubt, or maybe because of it, on Sunday, Flanagan became the first American woman to win the New York City Marathon since 1977.
Flanagan's win would be inspiring in any year. But it is especially so in 2017, a year that has pushed women to their physical and emotional limits. Our bodies are besieged. Every day, we wake up to news about allegations of rampant sexual abuse across industries. Watching women such as Flanagan, Serena Williams, and Sloane Stephens use their bodies to exert raw, physical strength and power outside of the limits of cultural control is more necessary now than ever.
Stephens did this in September with her first major title at the U.S. Open. Williams did this earlier in the year, winning the Australian Open while eight weeks pregnant.
Williams is one of the greatest athletes of all time, and I often find myself watching Instagram videos of a pregnant Williams playing tennis. She makes pregnancy and womanhood look like the source of her strength rather than an encumbrance. Her physicality doesn't transcend the experience of her body, it claims ownership to it -- every part of it -- and makes her body her center.
Gliding across the finish line, pumping her fist, and blowing a kiss in the air, Flanagan also made her win not a transcendence of the female experience, but ownership of it.
And we need to see more of these wins that come not in spite of our bodily experience, but because of it. Watching a woman win will not save us from this constant battle over the ownership of our bodies. But watching that exuberant fist pump does remind us that these beleaguered and besieged bodies are capable of so much more than we give them credit for, and that is what will save us.
Lyz Lenz's writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The New York Times, Marie Claire, Pacific Standard, Buzzfeed and the LA Review of Books. She lives in Iowa, but you can find her on Twitter @lyzl