She was running across D.C.'s 14th Street Bridge when an idea came to longtime runner and athlete Kelaine Conochan.
Despite playing sports for most of her life, Conochan, 38, said she never thought she could become a professional athlete because she never saw a female professional athlete as a kid.
Starting in middle school, Conochan said she started to notice disparities between the boys' teams and the girls' teams. From resources and funding to standards and exposure, boys always seemed to have it better.
"I want people to pay attention to women in sports,“ Conochan said. "I want to make sure that girls and women continue to have the opportunity to play, to compete, and for things to get better."
This is why Conochan started “Recognize,” a blog and shortform podcast project dedicated to educating people about accomplished female athletes and providing more media coverage of women’s sports. Each podcast episode is 60 seconds or less.
Conochan began the "135 Challenge" as part of the project. For 135 days, she'll highlight one female athlete through Instagram, Spotify and her blog. She challenged herself to do this before she runs one of the toughest ultramarathons in the country: the Badwater 135, a 135-mile marathon in Death Valley, California.
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“I felt so ready to take on the challenge last year, but COVID took that away from me,” she said. “This year, I've got to get one up on COVID ... This has got to be bigger than me just crossing that finish line.”
Conochan is also raising money for the Women’s Sports Foundation, with a goal to raise $20,000. The Women's Sports Foundation is dedicated to advancing the lives of women and girls through sports and physical activity.
Conochan said she wants to “impact the hearts and minds of those who watch sports” and encourage people to take action and start having conversations about the importance of women’s sports.
“In many ways, women’s sports is flourishing," said Karen Issokson-Silver, vice president of research and education for the Women’s Sports Foundation. “Part of the Women’s Sports Foundation’s role is to ensure that people recognize that both men and women are huge fans of women’s sports.”
Forty percent of teen girls are not actively participating in sports, according to a study by the Women’s Sports Foundation.
“Research is at the heart of what we do,” Issokson-Silver said. “We’ve made a lot of progress, but the gender gap is glaring.”
Conochan said she believes it can be difficult for the average sports fan to become engaged in the stories, characters and narratives of women athletes and their teams.
Later this spring, Conochan will release a longform podcast on which she will interview female athletes and discuss the issues and struggles they face in their fields, such as the pay gap and beauty standards.
“These are stories that are important to people,” Conochan said. “Not just to the athletes themselves, but to the people that look up to them.”