People 18 October 2018
Sometimes life throws unexpected difficulties at you and you just have to face it head-on. That's exactly what Rachel Brenke did. Brenke is a mother of 5, a cancer survivor, a successful entrepreneur, and an athlete. All at the same time. She has faced difficult adversities in her life but she chose to face those demons.
She focused on positivity and has overcome a great deal because of her positive outlook. Her battles have led her to achieve great health and fitness goals. Brenke was awarded a slot to compete in the IRONMAN World Championship in Kona, Hawaii October 13. All of her adversities have allowed her to be who she is now.
Brenke trains 6 days a week. She gets up early before her kids are up to begin her day. “I do my long runs and biking during the week so I have the weekend for my family," she says. Her training is broken up into 3 days with two training slots consisting of a 100-mile bike ride, followed by an 18-mile run. Being a mother it's hard to find the time, but Brenke makes time doing what she loves, “I maximize my schedule, I put family commitments on my calendar first then training. On some days training has to be done at night but for the most part, it is concrete in my schedule."
Rachel Brenke prepares for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.
Thursdays and Fridays are her long training days, Saturday is her rest day and Sunday is her light training day. She says consistency is the key to her training. “Training for an Ironman or any race is a big commitment and requires a lot of focus to do it," Brenke says.
However, training for the Ironman is not the only thing she does, she juggles being a mom, entrepreneur, and athlete. “It has changed my life and has given me a great lifestyle."
"Quit focusing on the numbers. Focus on being remarkable? and the numbers will follow."
Brenke started her journey to entrepreneurship at the age of 20 when she had her oldest son, now 13 years old. She told herself if she made it through she didn't want to be away from him. “I didn't want to work a 9-5 job and stick him in daycare all the time. I also didn't want to be working for someone else. They would be pocketing all the dreams and goals." Though Brenke was in the corporeal world for a while, she didn't enjoy it. She knew it wasn't meant for her, she pulled through it because she knew she had to do it and so, this led to her being her own boss. Now, she has been working for herself for 13 years. Brenke owns a law firm, runs an online website, makes podcasts, and has written a couple books. Because Brenke is her own boss and is busy taking on all her businesses, she said the key to balancing her work is not to balance but to juggle. “For me, it's all about making choices that I want to make, you have to be committed, your family has to be committed, and at times, I'm not able to do it all."
ADVERSITIES & POSITIVITY
Brenke has faced hurdles on her way to success. From her mental battle with deep depression and her fight against cancer to her physical battle with training. Brenke said she overcame her adversities by have a positive mentality. Brenke looks at all these adversities as preparing her for a positive mindset. “ It prepared me for doing something like this, it's all about how much can you take on to stay in a positive light." Brenke believes it's all about focusing on staying positive and being very disciplined. Brenke also tries to find positivity by keeping busy. “I'm somebody that thrives on a busy schedule, but on negative days I just try to be more focused."
Brenke has learned many lessons along the way, be it entrepreneurship or training for the Ironman Championship, she says it all goes hand in hand. “You have an end goal in mind. Developing a plan and trusting that plan. It's easy to give up, especially for me with my training. It's easy to let doubt creep in when you get tired and fear that you're going to fail." Brenke said this is the same worry with entrepreneurship “You just need to tell yourself to focus. This is just temporary emotions, don't make decisions based on this. It's also surrounding yourself with people who will step in to talk you up on these hard times."
Her journey has led her to where she is today. Brenke said it didn't just happen overnight. All in the face of her mental and physical adversities, she has become a successful business owner and has led her to great opportunities. “I have been on this entrepreneurship journey for 13 years now, I didn't set all this up at one time, the same thing for the Ironman, I didn't just decide I'm going to do the Ironman, there is a lot of training and hours and steps that go into the process."
Brenke offers advice to anyone who is wanting to achieve a goal but may be hesitant, “You just have to be yourself, be authentic and just don't be afraid to go for it." Brenke is an example that you can do anything you set your mind to.
“It's all about making a choice and sticking to it, even when you're tired, or you don't want to get out of bed or run another step, you just gotta do it because, in the end, it will all be worth it."
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.