Women Athletes are Not Underdogs.

They are systematically left behind.

 

The Guinness Book of World Records lists Lhakpa Sherpa as the woman with the most summits of Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world.

Yesterday, the New York Post headline read, “Whole Foods worker plans 9th Everest Climb”.

I was familiar with Lhakpa Sherpa's story due to a 2016 Outside Online Article "The Most Successful Female Everest Climber of All Time is a Housekeeper in Hartford, Connecticut"


The summation of the story? An incredibly talented Sherpa climber battles domestic violence while summiting Everest a record number of times. The article goes through the backstory of Lhakpa Sherpa's relationship with her abusive ex husband and mountaineer. It follows her across the ocean to her job (at the time) housekeeping and taking care of her children. It also contrasts Lhakpa Sherpa's existence with that of Mountaineering's most well known female climber, American mountaineer Melissa Arnot. Highlighting the latter's multiple sponsorships with high profile mountaineering brands such as Eddie Bauer with the former's greater accomplishments and humble existence. The story is compelling. It's also sickening.

 

As Lhakpa Sherpa's name pops up in the headlines again, I wonder will there be a different response?

 

In two years, we've seen the #metoo movement. We've seen the recognition of the systematic oppression of women in the workplace. We've also seen the recognition of rampant, systematic racism that effects the lives, health, and safety of black and brown people in the United States. In the outdoor industry, we've seen big name companies recognize and invest in women as never before with targeted advertising campaigns.

 

At these intersections, maybe there is a place for Lhakpa Sherpa.

But will these recent social and political movements toward equality reach far enough into the highly gendered world of sport? Women athletes in more "mainstream" sports have fought an uphill battle toward pay equality. 

And what about Mountaineering? Mountaineering's history is not only sprinkled with tall tales of high adventure and bravado but outright racism of native peoples. The tenuous relationship between Mountaineering and Sherpa people around Everest is still a hot topic. 

Mountaineering's "pay scale" is also not as transparent as mainstream sports. In many outdoor sports "pay" is a much more ambiguous term, wrapped up in gear sponsorships, speaking engagements, content creation, and sponsored posts on social media.

Why does this matter?

 

Women have proven, time and time again, that we can perform at the upper echelons of sport. We have, can, and will out perform men.

And every time it makes headlines as an anomaly.

We run fast enough to place on podiums, but not to be sponsored.

Our stories make headlines and news articles, but not book deals from high profile publishers.

Our instagram followers matter more than our medals or our track records.

Though the world of sport is stacked against women, we are still reaching the upper echelons of sport. Summiting tallest mountains in the world.