When Judy Mahle …

by Susan Filkins

When Judy Mahle Lutter held up her blue gym suit from sixth grade, she commented on the snaps up the center of it and the elastic waist. Some members of the audience snickered, remembering the era before women were allowed to participate in sports.
“I am a pre-Title IX woman,” Lutter said. “I am a woman whose mother’s only chance to be an athlete was to be on the synchronized swimming team in college. I am a woman who played baseball in the alley, and I was really pretty good. At least I thought so until my brother said that I was the oldest kid in the neighborhood and I owned the only bat.”
The Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport sponsored the fifth lecture of a series titled, “Heroes, Hopes, and Level Playing Fields: Nurturing and Empowering Women through Sports”, on Wednesday night at Coffman Union.
Lutter, the president and founder of the Melpomene Institute, addressed a small audience of students, faculty, and coaches.
She holds an undergraduate degree from Grinnell College and two Masters Degrees from the University of Minnesota in Educational Psychology and American Studies.
The Melpomene Institute for Women’s Health Research helps women and girls of all ages link physical activity and health through research, publication and education. The non-profit organization founded in 1982 is the nation’s leading source of reliable information on the relationship between women’s health and physical activity.
The Institute has over 1,800 members nationwide. The Melpomene Institute and the Tucker Center originated in Minnesota and are the only two centers in the nation that are researching women in sport.
In the past, the institute has studied physical activity as it relates to osteoporosis, menstrual function, pregnancy, body image, menopause, larger women, raising fit kids and aging well. Much of this information is compiled in books, packets, brochures and videos that are shelved in the Melpomene Resource Center in St. Paul. The center contains more than 4,500 books and articles.
The Tucker Center was founded by director Dr. Mary Jo Kane, who is the first Tucker professor for women in exercise in sports. The Tucker Center is dedicated to exploring how sports, recreation, and physical activity affect the lives of girls and women. Although Kane thinks women have made a great deal of progress, she still says there is a long way to go.
“The glass is both half empty and half full,” Kane said. “If you think about where we were two decades ago, the glass is flat; if you think about where we still need to go to be equal to what men have, we still have a lot to fill.”
Women’s athletics director Chris Voelz attended the speech and was noted by Kane and Lutter as one of the influential leaders for women in sport at the University. Voelz said Lutter and the Melpomene Institute have done several positive things to increase the image of women in sport.
“She really expands so many ages and dimensions in sport and activity. It is very special to have her here,” Voelz said.
Lutter expressed the need to speak out against issues of homophobia, size, and eating disorders.
“My challenge to you is to this week make a difference in the life of one person,” Lutter said. “Go for a walk, cheer girls on at an athletic event, send a congratulations note, or volunteer.”
Lutter describes all women as heroes.
“I believe that all heroes encourage us to be more of our better selves,” Lutter said. “A hero dares to be herself, takes pride in who she is, does what she wants to do, stands up for beliefs, takes chances and is different.”