November Project DC — A Home for Female-Athletes
Dear Superintendent Vietzke and Director Vogel,
I first showed up to the steps of our good friend Abe on Thanksgiving Day at 6:19 am, in the pouring rain, with no idea what to expect. I had seen my childhood soccer friend Sarah Jung’s pictures online for quite some time and wondered about this thing called November Project. It looked like something I just might absolutely love. We bounced around in a tight huddle as sheets of rain ran down our faces, then suddenly were lined up for PR day. I didn’t yet know or care what PR day was. I cared that maybe I had found a community in DC who loved sweaty mornings and endurance-enhanced positivity just as much as I did.
For most people, some mornings can feel hard. It can be hard to muster the courage you need to take on the challenges of the day. It can feel hard to trust that you have enough to give to the world around you. In my life thus far, I’ve had mornings that felt extremely fortunate, and mornings that felt incredibly dark. November Project mornings on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial are anything but dark. In fact, they provide the spark that lights the rest of the day.
I am an athlete. I have always craved movement and physical challenge. By age nine, I was on a Division 1 soccer team with some of the best female athletes in the area. Despite absolutely incredible support from my parents and friends, being a female athlete was hard. I was often the only girl who played soccer at recess, constantly being told that I was “not a real girl” because I didn’t want to use the dirt on the side of the field to create fake make-up kits or because I wanted to throw off my shoes and race with the boys.
Teachers would look me up and down and tell me to please go and brush the dirt off my clothes before coming into class, as I sat next to boys whose shoelaces oozed with mud and whose t-shirts left squishy imprints on the backs of their seats. At age eleven, a soccer coach told me that I wouldn’t be good enough at soccer until I focused seriously on losing weight (I was medically in the “low” range of healthy), and that I needed to go on an immediate diet.
I quickly learned to downplay athletic successes. When asked if I was good at soccer, I learned to automatically say, “I’m okay…” which morphed alarmingly rapidly into, “I’m not very good.” By high school, my confidence level was so shot that I needed to speak with a sports psychologist. I knew on a logical level that I was in fact quite good at sports, but also realized that for some reason I wasn’t “allowed” to admit that to others. I began to feel paralyzed right before the whistle blew. I lost a fundamental faith in myself.
Enter November Project and that first Thanksgiving morning. The Lincoln Memorial, to me, is a place for people to be exactly who they are. Through the November Project DC community and its ever-generous leadership, Lincoln has become a place for female athletes. Lincoln has never once asked me to diet. Lincoln has never told me that my body didn’t look thin enough, that my hair wasn’t straight enough for a proper ponytail, or that my legs were too muddy. In fact, the leaders at November Project LOVE when legs are muddy, or snowy, or scraped, because it means you are fully invested. You are completely there. You are giving your heart to that moment, to that place in time, and trusting that you will be seen and valued despite or maybe even because of your level of muddy chaos.
The steps of Lincoln, to me, represent hope. They feel like optimism, look like friendship, and smell like determination. The Lincoln Memorial is a place for female athletes because it doesn’t take anything away from us or ask us to be a lesser version of ourselves. It simply asks us to show up, with love in our hearts, and to shine.
I thank you, Lincoln and November Project, DC, for your non-judgment. I am grateful for muddiness that doesn’t come at the cost of self-esteem. I am grateful for friends at sunrise, positive embraces, and the chance to feel excellent about our collective athletic abilities. Most of all, I am grateful that in a world where it is hard to be a woman and even harder to be a woman who loves to move, this female athlete has learned to embrace her sporty, community-oriented and movement-loving self.
I hope that you will let us continue using the steps of this memorial, where women of all ages can feel confident and learn to love their bodies within a supportive community. I hope, too, that you can feel proud of a physical space that provides this level of empowerment. Lastly, if you are indeed able to realize just how much this community can offer, I hope that you choose to help.