Running along the trails or cross-country skiing at the sno-parks in Central Oregon, you never know what sort of world-class athletes you might come across.
Lauren Fleshman is one such athlete who has made Bend her home and is fully engaged in the trail running, mountain biking and nordic skiing lifestyle of our region.
Fleshman, 41, who has lived in Bend for 10 years, was one of the most decorated collegiate athletes of all time and a national champion as a pro. She is one of the fastest U.S. distance runners to never make the Olympics.
But with her new book, “Good for a Girl: A Woman Running in a Man’s World,” Fleshman has the chance to help change women’s athletics in a way that no amount of Olympic team qualifications, or Olympic medals for that matter, ever could.
The book — which debuted this week at No. 10 on the New York Times Best Seller list — is a moving, emotional memoir, but also a call-to-action to fix the broken sports systems that continue to fail young women and girls.
“One of the motivators to writing this book was that I had frightened feelings about my daughter turning out to be good at running,” Fleshman said. “And that really told me a lot.”
According to the book, girls drop out of sports at alarming rates once they hit puberty, and female collegiate athletes routinely experience injuries, eating disorders or mental health struggles as they try to force their way past a natural dip in performance.
From her time in high school near Los Angeles, to Stanford University, to her career as a Nike-sponsored professional, Fleshman experienced some of these issues and argues for a better path forward for young athletes. She calls on coaches, parents and organizations to enact changes.
In “Good for a Girl,” Fleshman draws on her own experiences, but also on emerging research on the physiology and psychology of young athletes.
She said writing the book was a challenge and “took an emotional toll.”
“But I felt that it would be sad to not finish, and that it could contribute to some change if I did finish,” Fleshman said. “I think it would have ate at me if I didn’t do it.”
Fleshman won five NCAA championships at Stanford and two national championships as a professional. She is the brand strategy advisor for Oiselle, a fitness apparel company for women, and the co-founder of Picky Bars, a natural food company. Fleshman and her husband, Jesse Thomas, a former pro triathlete, have a 9-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter.
After retiring from professional running in 2016, Fleshman coached several women in Bend on the Oiselle-sponsored, all-female Littlewing Athletics team. Several of those runners competed in the 2021 Olympic Trials in Eugene.
Fleshman is now taking a sabbatical from coaching and hopes to continue her running-and-writing retreats at Suttle Lake.
“I’m at a place of transitioning how much of my life I’m spending on elite running, and running in general,” she said. “It was such a huge part of my life for so long, that it felt like a good way to close out that chapter of my life, and leave my community with an offering.”
Fleshman said she felt a sense of responsibility to write “Good for a Girl.”
“I worked hard at so many different levels of my career to try to nudge change, but I was also young and immature a lot of the time,” Fleshman said. “My methods weren’t ideal. So I think I felt an obligation as a midlife person who now had enough distance from her career to be more objective and honest.”
In her book, Fleshman details in heartbreaking honesty how ill-timed injuries prevented her from ever making a U.S. Olympic team. She also details her clashes with Nike about how it treated its female-sponsored athletes.
“We need to actually look at the athletes in front of us and understand puberty and physiology, and create appropriate rewards and incentives, and ways of talking about things that reflect that,” Fleshman said. “So much of what is happening now is in places where the female body differs from the male; those are kind of viewed as unfortunate, or something to fear.”
Fleshman said that while “Good for a Girl” tackles some heavy issues, it is not a negative book.
“The joy of running is apparent in the book,” she said. “It is a love letter to sports and the running life and that community.”
Fleshman said she still runs a few days a week, and some of her favorite trails include the Deschutes River Trail from Lava Island to Benham Falls, the Old Mill District Loop and First Street Rapids.
“I also nordic ski and mountain bike,” she said. “I’ve diversified. But I’ll probably always be a runner.”
Author event at Roundabout Books
What: Bend’s Lauren Fleshman will give a talk about her new book “Good for a Girl: A Woman Running in a Man’s World.” The book was published on Jan. 10 by Penguin Press and is an instant New York Times Bestseller.
When: 6 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 26
Where: Roundabout Books, 900 N.W. Mount Washington Drive No. 110, Bend
Information and registration: roundaboutbookshop.com
— Mark Morical, email@example.com