This is Interview No. 3 of 3. If you missed the first two posts in the series, look under RECENT POSTS and click on “Blurred Lines: What it is and what it means to be a Female Athlete: Post 1 of 3 featuring Amy Huling” and “Blurred Lines: What it is and what it means to be a Female Athlete: Post 2 of 3 featuring Aimee Kodat Plumb.”

(All interview question text is in the respective athletes’ favorite color, notice none of them chose pink).

Interviewee No. 3: Jenni Purdum. Played Division I soccer at Old Dominion University (ODU) in Norfolk, VA. Purdum played midfield. ODU was the Colonial Atlantic Association (CAA) Conference Champions and made a NCAA tournament appearance in 2010. During her tenure at ODU Purdum was a 4 year CAA Athletic Scholar and served her team as Captain her senior season.

Purdum playing soccer at Loyola University (on left) and at ODU (on right).

How do you feel about the way female athletes are portrayed in the media today? Do you think there are some positive female athlete role models for young girls to look up to and if so, who?

I think the media portrays female athletes, much like every other person in the public eye, as celebrities. Celebrities, and now athletes, are always glamorized and made larger than life. I personally don’t have a problem with this because it gives the female athletes a larger platform and allows them to reach more young women. Previously female athletes were stereotyped as predominantly unattractive and gay figures that most young girls could not relate to, but now female athletes are becoming more “the girls next door.”

I think two really great examples of female athlete role models from a modern era are USWNT soccer players, Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan. Yes, they play soccer but aside from that they are two women who have worked extremely hard for their dreams and are blazing a trail for all the future stars. Alex Morgan is the more stereotyped beauty queen who happens to be very talented, whereas Megan Rapinoe is a figure that identifies with a different population, the Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, & Transgendered (LBGT) community. Megan Rapinoe has been very open about her sexuality, but hasn’t let it slow her down, but rather used it to ignite her stardom, now that is a role model.

How strong were you in college? and how did stereotypical images of what the female body should look like make you feel?

I was one of the stronger girls on the team, always at the top of fitness testing. We lifted once a week while we were in season, and 3 days a week in the off season. During my freshman year I did all of the required lifting because I was scared to say anything, but as I had suspected, because I am so in tune with my body, my legs bulked immediately. My jeans became too tight, my hips hurt, and I was slower on the field; sophomore year I took things into my own hands and spoke to the coaching staff. I explained to them that I understood the purpose of lifting and proposed an alternate solution of modified lifting and additional cardio. Thankfully the coach respected my opinion and knowledge of my body and allowed me to still participate with team workouts with my modified routine. I quickly bounced back to my old self and was back on top.

I love muscles on a female. I find athletic, defined muscles more attractive than curves. I think this stems from the respect I have for females who can achieve the lean, cut physique, because I know the tough work it takes. Not everyone can be cut, the discipline in the weight room and the kitchen are the necessary evils and not everyone can do it.

What do you think makes a strong female athlete?

A strong female athlete isn’t necessarily a physical attribute, but a personality trait. It’s the girl who was told she’s too short to play basketball, but then makes the team. It’s the girl who was too slow to play soccer, but then makes the team. So on and so forth. It’s the girl who overcame some sort of adversity to become the athlete she is today. It’s all about getting through the “no’s” until you get that “yes”.

As far as image goes, I think a strong female can look many different ways. She can have short hair, long hair, straight hair, curly hair, white skin, black skin, makeup, no makeup, short, tall, etc. They are all acceptable! I personally wear makeup and do my hair every single day, and yes I wear it all to the gym. It’s a personal pride issue for me; I want to look my best all the time, no matter where I am. Unfortunately people are always watching you can’t let them see you slip.

How do you feel about the color pink always being associated with female athletes?

Not a huge fan of pink in sports. I think it belittles women, and pulls us back to a time when we weren’t respected and were not seen as competitive members of society. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a female’s right to wear pink if she chooses to, however, if I go to buy women’s athletic clothing or shoes, I want another colorful option aside from pink.

Tell us about your life now and how being involved in sports has shaped who you are today

Playing Division I soccer was a life changing experience in 4 major ways …

  1. I built a life-long network of friends and family. I lived, ate, breathed, and slept with that team for 4 years and no one will ever understand what we went through but us. The bond that is created between the girls, coaching staff, and the University itself is indescribable. I am confident that no matter what we went through during those years, or how we left our friendships, I can count on all three to be there for me when I need it. I grew and developed so much as young women during those four years and those were my catalysts and witnesses.
  2. The experience of playing a Division I sport was quite humbling. During my club career I played on a top Division I WAGS, played in the top Super Y summer league, and had great success in both. I was the Captain of my club team, the leader my fellow teammates looked up to; based off my past I thought college soccer would be no different. I quickly learned that I was not the only successful club player that would be playing in college, but every one of my teammates had been the same leader on their club teams. It was an interesting mix of talent, egos, and attitudes that lead to a semi-disappointing start to my collegiate career. I played almost every game of my college career and was deemed the “go-to-girl” or the “utility player,” which is flattering but not what I had dreamed of.

    Jenni 2013 with longtime boyfriend Andrew.
  3. I learned how important the sport of soccer is to me and what a huge role it has played in my life. Soccer is what kept me focused in both high school and college, it gave me life-long friends, it keeps my healthy and in shape, but most importantly it makes me most happy. There truly is nothing more free then being on the pitch, not worried about anything in the world other than “how am I going to get the ball, score, and win?” After a brief stint with my college coach, I thought I might never play soccer again. He was extra hard on me expected so much from me, the pressure got to me and failed to deliver from time to time when it came down to it. His tough love nearly pushed me away from the game. I moved back home and took a few weeks off from the beautiful game, it was by far the most depressing weeks of my life. I quickly hopped back into the game again and all was right in the world. As cheesy as it sounds, I love the game, I need the game in my life, it’s not a part of me, but it’s who I am.
  4. Most importantly my team taught me tolerance and acceptance of everyone. I never had an issue with those who have different sexual orientations than me; however, after coexisting in that environment for four years I had a new respect for that culture. I learned that love is love no matter whom you are or who you love. I also gained a whole new perspective on how difficult it is to live a lifestyle that is different than what is the norm. I have a tremendous amount of respect for those women and will support them in any of their life choices, no matter what.

Soccer will always be a part of my life, as mentioned above it’s who I am; the game is such a part of my heart. I started coaching as soon as I came home from college and loved being able to share such a special sport with the girls in my community. I had to take two years off from coaching while I complete my MBA, but I will pick up a team as soon as I graduate.