Susie Niedermeyer Neighbors Reflects on Title IX

Susie Neidermeyer Neighbors, former UO Track & Field student-athlete, reflects on time as a female athlete during the Title IX era. Written by Neighbors and featured in the June 2022 edition of The Winged M, a magazine by Multnomah Athletic Club.

Susie Niedermeyer in Sapporo, Japan in 1982; at UO in 1980.

Written by Susie Neidermeyer Neighbors, featured in the June 2022 edition of the The Winged M magazine by Multnomah Athletic Club

In 1974, I helped form St. Mary’s Academy’s first cross-country team with no funding, no coach, and no uniforms. We drove across the river to run with the Central Catholic boys, convincing Coach Bill Sprinkle to “adopt” us. I helped recruit and coach my senior year cross-country team to the state championships, where I finished eighth. By then we had uniforms!

As a varsity track and cross-country runner at the University of Oregon, I was coached by Tom Heinonen, who was one of the first full-time women’s coaches hired at UO in 1976. Of course we had uniforms and were flown to the regional meet in Montana in 1981, which we won! While at Oregon, my teammates and I had the opportunity to work with Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman on some of their first women’s running shoes and spikes. Yes we were making history, but at the time we were just excited about free shoes!

It’s crazy to think that there were no women’s running shoes before then. We just bought men’s shoes 1.5 sizes smaller. We became adept at fancy lacing, or wear-ing double socks, to try to make up for heel slippage, and toe boxes that were too wide. We even crammed our feet into racing flats two times smaller and would wear spikes with bare feet for a sleeker fit. No wonder we always struggled with blisters!

Post-college, I have won many local, regional, and national races. In 1982, I was chosen as Portland’s Best Runner to represent the city in an international 10K race in Sapporo, Japan, where I brought home the gold! If I were running like that today, I’d be making a good living at it, but in those days there was no money, just invitations to races, free shoes from Nike, and prizes.

In 2011, the University of Oregon retroactively awarded hundreds of varsity letters to women, including me and my teammates, as well as to athletes from decades prior to Title IX’s implementation. The NCAA didn’t award varsity letters to women pre-1982. In 2019, I was given an Academy Award for Achievement in Athletics from St. Mary’s Academy, 42 years after graduation.

Title IX afforded me and so many women opportunities in sports and beyond. But we continued to fight for an equal playing field. Sadly, statistics show a very high percentage of high schools in the U.S. are in violation of Title IX to this day. We still have a way to go!

– Susie Neidermeyer Neighbors