Dr. Carole Oglesby:
Trailblazer of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW)
Growing up in the 1940s, most women were discouraged from participating in sports, but not Carole Oglesby. Luckily, she had influential parents and mentors who encouraged her to pursue her dreams. Most of these dreams surrounded sport, and this passion provided the motivation for her life’s work. Oglesby has dedicated the majority of her life to encouraging physical activity and sport participation among women while attempting to close the gender equity gap in athletics.
Oglesby grew up in a very athletic family. Her father was a semiprofessional baseball player and avid golfer, while her mother had always been athletic as well. Sports naturally became an outlet for Oglesby’s competitive and intense nature. She was addicted to everything about sport: the challenge, the goal setting, and the idea of mastery. After playing on a softball team, Oglesby found another group of women who shared this same love, a rarity for that era.
Oglesby was eager to share this love for sport with other women as she pursued her physical education degree at UCLA. However, she quickly discovered that not all women shared her same passion. She described her first student teaching experience as miserable. “The girls were not about to even change into gym clothes and complained about sweating.”1 Thankfully, Oglesby did not let this attitude stall her teaching career. In fact, it actually provoked her to learn why her students were behaving that way. This should have been no surprise to Oglesby, given societal ideals for women at this time. “I was raised in a time when aspects of traditional feminism were perceived as laughable and expressiveness was looked at as a flaw.”2 Oglesby never felt that women should fit into one mold, so instead, she searched for the flexibility of the whole of human nature and not just half of it.
One of the turning points in her professional development came after a 1972 trip to Finland. At the time, Oglesby was a new professor at the University of Massachusetts. She was amazed by how important personal fitness was to the Fins. All over the country there were signs detailing the kilometers one had traveled, so the Fins always knew how far they were walking or running. Because she had always been surrounded by the competitive-natured Americans, Oglesby realized that sport was as much about physical activity and personal health as it was about winning and losing.
Early on, Oglesby got involved with the women’s political movement even though sport was not on the agenda at that time. She addressed women’s sport issues as a positive and encouraged physical activity among people of all ages. After meeting Katherine Switzer, who would later become the first woman to run in the all-male Boston marathon, Oglesby began doing advocacy work for women’s marathons. She organized rallies, publications, and seminars providing evidence and facts supporting physical activity among women. For decades, there was a gross misconception about women in sport, sometimes even claiming it was bad for their health. Oglesby hoped to clear up many of these fallacies in her book, Women and Sport: From Myth to Reality. Betty Spears, a contributor to this book, writes:
Sport for women has been more a myth than a reality because the western world has both accepted and rejected women in sport. Society has always been enthralled by the athletic skill and prowess of a few women, for these women, sport is real. But for most women society has created a role which excludes them from sport and, for these women, sport has been a myth. While accepting the idea of sport for a few women, society has created many myths and folk tales which reinforce the reject of sport for most women.3
Oglesby eventually extended her work to include not just women, but everyone. After all, everyone should have an equal opportunity to participate in sports and stay physically active. Oglesby focused on Olympism, an idea dating back to ancient Greece. The goal of Olympism is “to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man [humankind], with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.”4 Oglesby strove to change perceptions about participation along with winning and losing, specifically among the United States Olympic Committee (USOC). “The Olympic Committee, especially in the 1970, 1980 and early 1990s, was only paying attention to the gold medalist. Only one winner was recognized and only one person was thought to win.”5 In Oglesby’s eyes, to focus only upon the Olympic Games was not an effective use of money or resources. Instead, all governing bodies should place high importance on their grassroots programs bringing high-level sport to everyone—including women. Furthermore, there should be equitable funds for men’s and women’s sports. Not surprising for the time, Oglesby’s views were met with incredible resistance.
Ignoring her critics, Oglesby pressed on. She continued teaching while becoming more involved in sport psychology. One of Oglesby’s few regrets in life is that she was never seriously viewed as an athlete, even though she was a really good athlete. However, looking back on her experience in athletics, Oglesby realized the psychology aspect did not come easy to her. “I struggled with performing at my best due to the pressure that I put on myself.”6 After gaining expertise in the field of sport psychology, Oglesby realized she never had access to this information growing up. In fact, there still is a large imbalance between the hundreds of thousands of U.S. athletes and only 300+ certified sport psychology consultants. Oglesby has made it her mission to provide athletes with what she had never been given. One of her current athletes, Renee Hykel, recently competed in the Beijing Olympics. Hykel rowed in the Lightweight Women’s Doubles placing in the top 10 and was less than one second away from competing in the Olympic Finals.
Currently, Dr. Oglesby serves as the chairperson of the department of kinesiology at California State University, Northridge (CSUN). Although she plans on retiring from CSUN soon, she is looking forward to getting involved with, and continuing, other initiatives. In 2007, Oglesby worked with the United Nations Division of Advancement for Women (DAW) in releasing a publication titled, “Women, Gender Equality, and Sport.” This publication was translated worldwide and should help in advocacy especially in developing countries. She plans to continue her work with this publication as well as her work with Women Sport International (WSI), an organization over which she once presided.
Fortunately, Dr. Oglesby’s work has not gone unnoticed. In fact, she has a distinguished list of awards and honors. The Women’s Sports Foundation’s Billie Jean King Contribution Award, the National Association of Girls and Women in Sport Honor Fellow, and the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women Award of Merit are just a few of her many awards.
Despite these honors, Carole Oglesby wants her legacy to be simple. “I hope to live in the memories of my students and mentees as a person who never gave up and never ever stopped fighting.”7 This is a humble request for such an amazing woman. Women—and sports participants everywhere—should be indebted to Carole Oglesby for her countless contributions to society and sport. After all, she is a big reason for the opportunities in sport we see today.
 Carole Oglesby, phone interview, May 16, 2008.
3 Carole Oglesby, Women and Sport: From Myth to Reality (Philadelphia: Lea & Febiger Publishers, 1978), 3.