Dr. Ackerman is the medical director of the Female Athlete Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, team doctor for U.S. Rowing, and a huge advocate for women in sports. Here's how she's changing the game.

By Mirel Zaman
August 16, 2019
Molly Hamill

Kathryn Ackerman, M.D., M.P.H., has a low-key resume (LOL): She's the medical director of the Female Athlete Program at Boston Children’s Hospital and team doctor for U.S. Rowing, a team she once trained for herself. Even better than her resume, though, is the mission she's on to make equal treatment of female athletes—meaning, resources, opportunities, and consideration—the norm.

Her Watershed Realization:

“In the late 1990s, I took a leave of absence from medical school to train for the U.S. rowing team. Friends were overtraining, getting stress fractures, developing eating disorders, and struggling with depression and anxiety. Yet they received little formal guidance. Talented athletes were marginalized, and I knew there was a better way. I started digging and quickly learned that the lack of resources partially stemmed from a lack of scientific knowledge and coach awareness about female athletes. So when I returned to school, I had a new focus.” (Related: The Full-Body Rowing Workout to Burn a Crapload of Calories)

The Obstacles of Being a Female Athlete Activist:

“I have been told to stop focusing on women because it 'annoys men' and 'of course women are included.' I have been called 'bossy' and 'aggressive' and 'difficult,' which made me worry that I was getting in the way of the message. I’ve been told that women don’t contribute as much to the revenue of sports organizations or media outlets, so they don’t deserve as much funding or coverage. Most female sports advocates have heard the same things.

But women are half the population. And we gain confidence and life skills through sports. So I’ll continue to advocate for their fair allocation of resources and attention. I take those comments in, reflect on them, try to learn from them, and then decide what I believe. Many challenges remain, but change is happening and women and men are making it happen.” (Related: #CoverTheAthlete Fights Sexism In Sports Reporting)

Why Women Supporting Women Matters In Sport, Too:

"When I stopped focusing on what I hadn’t accomplished, but what I could accomplish and spread that message to others, I was dumbfounded at how that resonated with women. We often don’t recognize the talents and gifts we have. I've learned to see the strengths in myself and in others and love helping to promote that. I absolutely get inspired and motivated when I see mentees and positive young women find their voices and thrive!

One thing that surprised me most about this area of sports research is that it's created an amazing international sisterhood. The limited resources currently dedicated to women’s sports science has caused many of us around the globe interested in this work to lean in and collaborate and promote one another. It's been so fun to learn from each other, understand each other’s experiences, and try to build something as a supportive network."

Her Bet On The Future:

“My goal is for women to have more resources and evidence-based information to help them achieve their athletic and personal potential. Seeing female athletes, sports scientists, and clinicians knock down barriers and use their platforms to help other women makes me hopeful for the future.” (Related: Why Do We Ignore Some Sports Where Female Athletes Dominate Until the Olympics?)

Shape Magazine, September 2019
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