Having just turned 17 and thinking about the decisions I’ll have to make my senior year, I find the only way to avoid the future, or at least ignore it, is to go to the past: my childhood.

I disavowed dresses at three. I had learned to use my words, and apparently the message that “dresses are not me” was urgent. My mother packed away dress after dress with enough flower print to wallpaper my bedroom; I was the one child that escaped Hannah Anderson. I wanted shorts. I wanted shirts. I wanted clothes that would let me play.

I never denied that I was a girl. I just never owned it. I preferred the boys, not because they were nicer, but because no other girls saw pickup football games the way I did. Recess and after school activities revolved around sports, so naturally my best friends were boys.

In organized sports, such as soccer, basketball and T-ball, the teams were co-ed, starting in kindergarten. After the second grade, opportunities to play on traveling sports teams for basketball and softball were available to me, and soon I began playing competitively with my own gender. I never second guessed the idea of an all-girls team, because I thought if all girls were as eager as me to get in the game, then of course there should be competition available to us.

But competition solely for girls was not assured in educational institutions until Title IX, the groundbreaking legislation signed into effect on June 23, 1972. The law aimed to improve educational programs and activities, including athletics, receiving federal funding in schools across the United States, by ending discrimination “on the basis of sex.”

Coming from a generation where the participation of girls in sports and the creation of all-girl teams seem natural, even effortless, I didn’t understand that equal opportunity was not always a reality for female athletes.

In the 40-year anniversary of the legendary passing of Title IX, I was blown away watching the United States women win 29 gold medals a the 30th Olympiad in London.

The way the United States women competed this summer was as if they had been training for this moment since the beginning of time, and in a way, they were. More than that, the American women found success together, dominating team events, like soccer, gymnastics, beach volleyball, water polo, the track and field relays and the swimming relays.

New generations of American female athletes and older ones alike found success this summer, not because they were the best, but because they wanted to represent the female athletes who may not have lived an Olympic dream before Title IX. The essence of equal opportunity for women has spread beyond our borders, too, and for the first time in the history of the Olympiad, each country sent both male and female athletes to compete.

To know where athletic opportunity has been in the United States for women and to see it now this summer makes me excited about where we’re going. Yes, my childhood was fun playing with the boys. But now, I welcome the fierce competition of female athletes —I welcome the future.

Eleanor Van Buren is a senior at Riverdale High School and lives in Portland. She writes a monthly column for the Lake Oswego Review. To contact her, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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