It all started with a team, a friend, a core belief and a t-shirt. And then it progressed.
Hello! I’m the founder of Strong Athletic. My name is Nadia Kean. I used to play roller derby with Texas Rollergirls. In 2013, in protest of being called a “girl” by many people involved in the sport, I started to call my teammates “a fine group of strong, athletic women”. I think that the word “girl” is great, but in most cases I’m infuriated when people refer to adult women as girls. Everyone on my team became very used to this message and in December of 2013, my teammate and friend Cristen Perks designed and screen printed a shirt that said, “Strong Athletic Woman” in bold white ink, in distressed-block letters, spaced equal distance apart on a simple grey t-shirt.
This Christmas present essentially changed my life. I started to wear the shirt everywhere and because I was traveling a lot for roller derby the shirt soon made it to Australia, New Zealand, England, Belgium, Columbia, Argentina, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Mexico, Canada, France, Spain, India, Thailand, Finland, Ireland and Scotland. I felt so much pride when I wore the shirt and I enjoyed the smiles of camaraderie that I received from other women.
It wasn’t long before these same women started asking me where they could get a shirt. Cristen and I decided to make a batch of shirts and I sold them out of a blue duffle bag at ECDX in June of 2014. (It didn’t even occur to me to get a booth from Philly, sorry Philly.....)
A few years earlier I had established Get Smarty Coaching, to put a name to what I had already been doing- coaching roller derby. It was very common then for coaches to have their own merch. I never wanted merch with my face or name on it, but I could stand behind the Strong Athletic Woman shirt because I strongly believed in the message behind it. As a result, the first Strong Athletic Woman shirts were branded with the Get Smarty Coaching logo for about the first year that I sold them. In the fall of 2015 I decided that I wanted to separate Get Smarty Coaching and Strong Athletic and make them into two different entities. I hired Angel Ortega, the creator of the GSC logo, to create the SA logo. It was at that point that the Strong Athletic logo replaced the Get Smarty Coaching logo on all of our apparel.
If you ever get your hands on an unlabeled Strong Athletic shirt or one with the GSC shirt, keep it, because it’s special and was probably printed in 2014 or early 2015! Although we didn’t start branding everything as Strong Athletic until 2015, we consider our origin date to be two years prior, the date that Cristen made that first t-shirt in November 2013 and in doing so, changed my life.
We estimate that about 10,000 humans are currently proud owners of something from Strong Athletic. Our goal is complicated in comparison to other companies in sports. Our key goal is to do our part to get humans into sports and then to help keep them in sports. This is a massive goal. There are organizations that are a million times larger than ours that are helping with this goal and even sometimes their contribution seems to fall short.
Our goal is to work toward the effort to make it so playing sports and being active one day becomes a human right. We believe that sports and athleticism are human rights, yet they are a privilege. Not all humans are allowed to play sports or be active. The country you live in, the gender you identify as, your sexual orientation, the color of your skin, the god you worship (or don’t), the language you speak, the beliefs of your parents or your community, your access to money, the political regime you live under, your health... all of these aspects and many more determine if you’re able to play sports and be active. As I write this, I’m reminded of a story I recently read by the talented Diaa Hadid about girls in Pakistan who are riding bikes in their city even though some people think that they should not even be out in public, much less on a bike in the middle of town. I don’t think that enough people realize that choosing to ride your bike one day is not the same for everybody. For one person it might be simply a matter of deciding how they want to exercise for the day and for another person it might be the most daring act of defiance they have ever done. Those two people could be next door neighbors or they could live continents apart, yet the thing that brings them together is that they want to be active and have the choice to be active.
Our goal is to help give athletes a voice in sports, in their community and in the world. Often times, athletes are adored and respected in isolation of who they are as humans. We want to obsess about who they are on the track, and we don’t want to know about the very fabric that makes them unique. We don’t want them to speak up about politics or what is going on in their community. We want to watch them make every basket, break every record, smile for the cameras and stay in their lane. Strong Athletic believes that all humans, athletes included should have a voice. As the leaders in many cultures, they should voice what they believe in and stand for because they can be highly influential advocates for positive change. Strong Athletic believes that people in sports and people who are active should speak their mind, not just as humans who have the right to do so, but as athletes. Being an athlete is empowering. There are billions of people in the world who share the same identity: they are athletes. Athletics and sports can bring people together when nothing else can.
Our final goal is that we want to encourage people to use the word “strong”, “athlete” and “athletic” without shame, embarrassment or question. I have worked with thousands of athletes and I’ve met even more. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people say disparaging comments about themselves as athletes. “I’m not an athlete” when they’re about to run a half marathon, they say, “I’m just running it, I’m not actually a runner.” “I’m so weak, I’m not as strong as them.” “I’m not athletic, I’m so fat.” “I was never good enough for sports.” “I’m not coordinated enough to do that.” “I’m so dumb, I have no sense of strategy.” These remarks are hurtful to say about anyone, much less yourself. They are very common and every time I hear a person say something like this I feel hurt for them. I want people to realize that only one person decides when you are called an athlete, strong or athletic: you. Those words are badges of honor, yet at the same time, there is no single person whose job it is to give out that title. I want all humans to feel that they have equal access to those three words. There is no permission needed.
Although Strong Athletic is a tiny company in comparison to our peers, we have massive goals. The beauty of our goals is that we do not have to achieve them alone. Our goals are similar to the goals of a sports team: we must work together, regardless of our differences, if we’re going to achieve what needs to happen. We know that sports are not for everyone and that some people simply do not have the interest to play sports, yet we do know that being physically active in one way or another and having a team can do wonderful things for humans.
Let’s all do our part to keep humans in sports.
And remember, you do not need anyone’s permission to demonstrate your strength. You are Strong Athletic.