No matter how serious and enthusiastic about a sport someone might be, turning it into a long-term career after high school or college can seem impossible — especially for young women and girls. It’s an important distinction to make, because while there are actual fewer spots for women to step into professional sport roles, the outside support and encouragement it requires to go pro is offered far lass than it is for men.
So, how do you cut through the noise? We spoke to three female athletes — Deajah Stevens, olympic track and field sprinter; Ingrid Silva, Dance Theatre of Harlem ballerina; and Kirsty Godso, Nike master trainer — each with their own and completely unique story and path to where they are today. Read on below to hear straight from the sources about how they got to where they are today, what it actually looks like to turn a passion into a career, and how to trust your instinct over anyone’s opinion.
Deajah Stevens, Olympic Track and Field Athlete, Portland, Oregon
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Teen Vogue: Let’s take it all the way back to basics — were you an active kid?
Deajah Stevens: Yeah. I was pretty active. I did like soccer and I did ballet most of my life, until I actually got serious with track.
TV: Was track just something you were trying or was it more intentional?
DS: It was so ironic. My former coach saw me outside of the YMCA and I was leaving from camp or something after school. He was like, ‘Do you run track?’. I was with my mom and I was like, ‘No.’ This is when I was playing soccer, which I was really bad at.
TV: How old were you?
DS: I was 11. Then my mom was like, ‘She’s doing soccer right now, so she can’t quit until the season’s over.’ My mom wouldn’t let me quit anything. She would make me go through the whole season. So, she was like, ‘But she’ll come try out when her season’s done.’ So, then the summer went by, I didn’t go. And when I turned 12, when I was still in school, I started running. I went to one practice, that was it. I never stopped going.
TV: So, you actually liked it at first?
DS: Yeah, I liked it. With other sports, I was just doing it just to do it. But when track came, I put everything else aside for track.
TV: When did you start to realize you wanted to take this seriously outside of school?
DS: It started becoming serious during junior, senior year of high school. People started coming to me about getting scholarships. I had no other way of paying for school, so I was like, ‘That’s probably a good idea. I should probably really take this seriously.’ So, I started taking it a little bit more seriously, got a scholarship, went to school. And then I transferred and went to Oregon because I really like the coach there. After I transferred in 2016, I made the Olympic team that year. I was like, ‘Okay, I really have to be serious now.’
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TV: Did it not really hit you until then?
DS: No. And people are always like, ‘Wait, what? You made the Olympics and then you got serious?’ I’m like, yeah kind of. I didn’t expect to make it. When I made it, everybody was shocked. I was shocked. After that, I was like, ‘Okay, I can turn this into my career.’