I recently bought some new running shoes. I went to a lovely local business where a nice man named Javier fit me personally and exemplified wonderful customer service. In conversing with him, I thought about something I hadn't in a long time.
When I was fifteen years old, I was diagnosed with Osgood-Schlatter Disease. My right leg was put in an immobilizing cast for a while, then a full-leg brace for several months while I was forced to rest and do physical therapy exercises to strengthen the muscles involved in the knee joint. This is still how severe cases of OSD are managed today, and it mostly worked (along with time) to lessen the degree of my knee pain. My right knee still hurt me for a few years, but eventually that went away.
The treatment and the duration of my symptoms after that treatment is not what I want to talk about tonight, however.
See, tonight, I just read a transcript of Wil Wheaton's lovely address from this year's Calgary Expo in which is tells a baby girl, “Don’t ever let anyone tell you you can’t love that, that’s for boys. You have to love this because you’re a girl.You find the things that you love, and you love them the most that you can.” Between this and my conversation about my knees the other day (which, for the record, are in far better shape now than they were twenty years ago), I want to share a little tale with you.
My knees first started to hurt when I was thirteen. By fourteen, they hurt a lot. I used to take 1200 mg of Motrin three times a day in high school (my doctor gave it to me!) and I would refuse to limp at home so that my mom wouldn't pull me out of sports, but I gimped around at school and in practice plenty. My right knee finally blew up like a balloon one day (I still don't know what I did to cause that) and eventually, I was diagnosed with a cartilage tear in that knee, chondromalacia patella in that knee, and OSD in both knees (with the right being much worse).
But that took about another year. When doctors first started suspecting OSD, I was told straight up that girls didn't get that. That only boys got OSD because girls were not active enough to get it. Um...at that time in my life, I played softball, did martial arts, did marching band, and ran track - and I ran hurdles. My right leg was my lead leg. I went from 98 lbs to 135 lbs in a year when I grew about six inches. I now know that that is textbook for development of OSD. But we didn't know that then, so we just did what the doctors told us. I took my pain meds and was told I'd get better with a few weeks rest. This is sort of true with OSD, but the rest period needed is often far longer - at least for wild ones like me. But I went to a military hospital back then, where dependents frankly don't count for much most of the time, so it took ages to get officially transferred to orthopedics (everything takes forever in a military hospital). When I finally was, they diagnosed me with OSD right away and got more aggressive with trying to fix it.
Now, OSD isn't a huge problem most of the time. Time generally fixes it. I didn't suffer from some horrible malady as a teen. I did have painful knees, possibly for longer than I "should" have, and my OSD (or at least my right knee problems) lasted until my early twenties, but I did get better.
For that, I am grateful. I couldn't run a mile as a teen without pain and now I can run much farther than that pain-free.
But the fact remains that it was only a little over twenty years ago that "girls didn't get Osgood-Schlatter." Of course, they did. They just weren't diagnosed. Now days, if you read the literature, it still says that OSD "is primarily a disease of adolescent boys," but other sources say that "girls are diagnosed almost as often as boys." So, athletes get it, regardless of gender? Huh. Imagine that.
I am often astounded by the changes I have seen in my lifetime, and this is one of the ones that just blows me away. I've always played sports. My sister has always played sports. But those women just a few years older than us did not. Sure, my mom played half-court basketball, but she wasn't really an athlete. Not like we were. Thus, because my sister and I and those like us were new patients in the world of sports medicine, we weren't diagnosed when we had developmental bone disease. As we got older and our bodies changed, we didn't have shoes that fit and clothes made for us. I still remember my dad driving my sister into Cleveland, an hour away, to buy her basketball shoes because Asics had a line for women that some store there sold. That was in the mid-eighties.
Ten years later, we had the WNBA, and girls these days officially get Osgood-Shlatter, too. Maybe soon, we'll have enough focus on strength and conditioning programs for younger female athletes to chip away at that 4-to-6 times more likely than males to blow an ACL issue, too. (Work on your hamstring-quadriceps ratio, ladies - just do it.)
One can only hope, anyway. Keep playing, ladies. Don’t ever let anyone tell you you can’t love that, that’s for boys. You have to love this because you’re a girl.You find the things that you love, and you love them the most that you can.
Oh, and while this entry is about physical sports and the changes I've seen in how girls and women are treated regarding those in just a few short decades, rest assured that that "keep playing" means board games, too. And RPGs and video games. You're welcome to come over for a game of chess. I'm out of practice, but I'd love to play anytime. Or we could read comics or watch Star Trek/Star Wars/Stargate/Firefly or sew or write. I do all those things, too. My sister, bless her, likes Hello Kitty and Twilight. Not my thing, but it doesn't have to be. I am a geek and an athlete. I like Trek and Wars and think we really all can just get along. So you find your thing, and you love it the most that you can. And remember, when you have a bad day, that it does get better. Every day, we humans struggle to improve ourselves, and I think we are succeeding, slowly but surely. Sports and geekery is just a tiny, insignificant part of that, but it's an example of how we are growing. One day, there won't be toys that are "for girls" or "for boys" and no one will care who marries whom or what religion anyone is. Yes, that's a long ways away, but we're getting there. It gets better. Peace out.
Don’t ever let anyone tell you you can’t love that, that’s for boys. You have to love this because you’re a girl.You find the things that you love, and you love them the most that you can. This line hits home for me more than any of the other lovely sentiments in Wil's address because I have always liked what was supposed to be "for boys." I loved Star Wars more than anything as a kid, and as a teen, I loved Star Trek and chess - and I also loved sports. The more contact, the better. I constantly found the thing that I loved and loved it the most that I could, which was a lot, but those things were things that "only boys liked." I was called all the names that girls who like "boy things" are called in school, and it sucked. I didn't know what a lesbian was the first time I was called that, and I was too young to know what sex was when a kid on the bus asked me if I was going to have a sex change when I grew up. (Granted, neither of those things ended up applying and neither are actually insults, but
children humans are stupid and cruel and use them as such.) But fortunately I was scrawny but strong and lived in a time when you could still pull a Ralphie and punch a bully in the mouth and they'd shut up (and before martial arts chilled me right the fuck out, I did do that from time to time - me and the principal's office were not on intimate terms, but we were friendly enough until karate saved me), so it wasn't too bad for me. I mostly successfully ignored the haters and did my thing. For giving me the means and ability to do that, since it's Thanksgiving here, I am grateful to my parents, my brothers, and oddly, most of all my sister, for though I didn't get along with her and she was graced with being both girly and athletic to my just athletic, she always had my back - and she led the way. Thanks, sis.