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  • Madison Granger

Prof. track athlete Alli Ostrander & her ongoing legacy of body image/mental health advocacy

While Coaching the Whole Athlete primarily focuses on helping participants grow in ways that will impact their immediate circles (the athletes and teams they lead, etc.), we also aim to empower participants to positively influence their larger athletic communities (athletic departments, conferences, coaches’ associations, etc.), acting as change agents who challenge norms and advocate for more humanistic practices. We celebrate those around us who are bold enough to do this work and help bring about improved sports cultures that benefit us all. This month we want to highlight an example of a change agent who inspires us: Allie Ostrander, 3x NCAA Div. 1 Champion in the 3,000m steeplechase for Boise State, currently unsponsored professional runner, and mental health advocate.

Ostrander has been calling out damaging norms in her sport since 2019, specifically relating to the intersection between high performance and body image. When she was still a collegiate competitor vying for NCAA titles, she boldly used her platform on Instagram to express disappointment at repeated comments NCAA Championship commentators had made that “brought attention to [her] appearance more than [her] ability,” describing these comments as objectifying and unnecessary. Her post went viral within the track world and sparked deeper discussions between fans and athletes, including other elites who came forward about unappreciated comments that commentators had made about their bodies. One of the commentators who had contributed to Ostrander's negative experiences issued an apology statement.

This past October, Ostrander made headlines again when she shared her experiences with disordered eating and body image issues through an open letter and a short documentary film she released on the running platform MileSplit. In both, Ostrander is incredibly vulnerable and raw. While the letter (titled “Dear Body, I Love You”) is addressed to her own body, the documentary film (titled “Under Pressure, Gaining Your Life Back”) is addressed to the community at large. It includes statements like “I want to be a good example and I don’t want the next generation to feel the way that I feel” as well as “I am really passionate about eating disorder awareness and prevention because I don’t think I had enough awareness and I definitely didn’t have enough prevention growing up and I wish that I would have.” She continues to use her Instagram account to share her journey of embracing body positivity and overcoming disordered eating while competing at a world-class level.

We know these are challenges that far more athletes are dealing with than it may seem and that, when asking for help with issues like these, the first step is the most difficult. Each time Ostrander uses her voice, we believe she helps make others who are struggling feel more supported in taking steps towards treatment and recovery. She also helps encourage leaders within athletics to be more aware and take more preventive measures.

Who are the change-makers in your immediate athletic circles? What areas do you see in need of action, advocacy, education or awareness? Consider where you can make a dent, big or small, to embed more humanistic practices not just into your own coaching but also the communities that you work in. Together, we can all work to provide a more positive and healthy experience for athletes.

By Madison Granger

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