In Their Own Words: Female empowerment through participation in sport

In Their Own Words: Female empowerment through participation in sport

Cadence Currie, Fifth Year, York Lions Volleyball

For those of you who have had the privilege of growing up with brothers, you understand first hand what I mean when I say boys will be boys. To me, it meant that one could compete at the highest level of aggression, skill, and power without any dismissal of character or undermining of capability. As a young girl, even though I never fully understood why the words female, woman, and girl held connotations of fragility in relation to sport, I perceived this phrase as a level of respect. I made it my goal to become the best athlete I could be, to develop my talent to such a degree that I would no longer be considered a “female” athlete. I remember spending most of my days with my older brothers playing every sport under the sun and my nights counting the cuts and bruises I had earned as if they were badges of honor. It was as if each scrape I received disassociated the burdens and limitations of my gender from my athletic prowess.

As I grew older, the magic of being compared to my fellow male athletes began to wear off. Phrases such as “you’re talented for a girl” started to feel more like a back-handed compliment as opposed to an actual statement of appreciation. It was with comments such as these that made me question my underlying goals. I realized that my true aspirations were not to be as good as my male counterparts, but instead to be acknowledged for my talent irrespective of my gender. Little did I know that it would take a few short years for me to physically and mentally reach a place that fostered these desired attitudes of equality, family, and acceptance.

“[Volleyball] has led me to accept myself for the powerful, confident athlete that I am.”

I began playing for York University’s Volleyball team in 2014. Since then, I have experienced challenges such as injuries, positional switches, and coaching changes, each one contributing to the development of my sense of self in relation to my sport and society. My sport has not only given me the opportunity to associate with people who support and share common goals, it has given me the ability to view myself as more than just a replication of stereotypes placed upon female athletes. Volleyball has been the platform from which I came to appreciate the intersectionality of aspects such as gender, sexuality, and heritage, that make each athlete unique. It has also led me to accept myself for the powerful, confident athlete that I am. 

Nevertheless, this realization didn’t just appear over night. Like all things you work for, building a new mindset takes time and nurturing. There was a period in my third year of university sport where I began to believe the limitations that where placed upon me. False ideas of not being good enough, over-analyzation of minimal playing time, and dissatisfaction towards weight room statistics all hindered my perception of my capabilities, and love for the sport. I was told to stop being so emotional and to “man up”. I began to feel as if all the progress I had made was leading me towards the stereotypes I was trying to avoid.

“Without her guidance, I would have never come to recognize the power behind women working together.”

 As I look back on that year now, I am extremely appreciative of the vast amounts of moral support given from my teammates. One person who provided me with unwavering support was my 2018-2019 coach, Jen Neilson. Her presence in a room demands authority, but her demeanor is one of kindness and mutual respect. Without her guidance I would have never come to recognize the power behind women working together. Her vision transcended past the concept of team chemistry to build a collective power and confidence that resided in us all. My team became my family and my support system.  Without those strong women in my life, I wouldn’t have been able to see through the one barrier that was holding me back from success: myself. They allowed me to see that emotion equates to caring about the situations in which you find yourself. Capabilities are what an individual makes of them instead of defined by other perceptions. What you do in the weight room may prove that women are capable of higher levels of competition, but more importantly, it proves that you are capable of bettering yourself. It wasn’t until those final years of university that I realized the one thing about myself that I tried so hard to disassociate from in the past was my main source of empowerment.   

My university experience has not only allowed me to discover the strength, courage and capabilities that reside within me, it has also placed me in an environment full of women who are determined to continue to create future opportunities for empowering generations of women through sport. While varsity sport has given me the knowledge to accept that people will have initial perceptions of how I am supposed to think, preform, and behave, it has also given me the wisdom and power to keep those constructs from defining me. As my time with York as well as with the OUA comes to an end, my feelings are bittersweet. For one thing I am leaving a program which I will miss with all my heart, but I am also satisfied knowing that future generations of talented women entering varsity sport will only continue to solidify the notion that the future is female and it’s powerful.