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SHIRA SPRINGER I FAIR PLAY

A powerful message behind getting ‘chicked’

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A team of female cyclists wears "You Just Got Chicked" shirts.

By Shira Springer Globe Correspondent 

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Jennifer Martin (left) and Gretchen Heim, co-founders of chicked.com.

Have you ever been chicked? Yes, chicked.

That’s what happens when you get passed by a female athlete while running, cycling, trying to finish a triathlon, or tackling an obstacle race. Getting chicked isn’t a new expression, but it’s gaining popularity. A Minnesota-based company even makes “You Just Got Chicked” T-shirts with the phrase in bold, hot-pink letters down the back.

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Maybe you’ve seen the T-shirts in local races. If not, you might soon.

Of course, the more people become aware of getting chicked, the more the expression sparks controversy. Some love it. Some hate it. Chalk up the haters to a low tolerance for female feistiness. Or the male ego. Or the sexism that inevitably bubbles up when women upset the supposed natural order of things and get to the finish line faster than men. Or all of the above.

For fans of the you-go-girl, I-am-woman-hear-me-roar brand of female empowerment, female athletes taking pride in being strong enough to pass people (is that being the chickee?) has obvious appeal. And let’s be honest: Some women love beating men in races, whether it’s a sibling, boyfriend, husband, or stranger. It’s a rush. There’s nothing wrong with that or with using that to get a personal best.

Jennifer Martin, who cofounded the company that makes “You Just Got Chicked” athletic apparel, said the expression reclaimed the word “chick,” making it stand for something positive rather than something demeaning. She also said the clothing motivates girls and women, celebrates their natural strength, and encourages pride in their accomplishments.

Those are some weighty symbolic messages to send along via T-shirts, cycling kits, triathlon tops, and Nordic ski suits.

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Martin added that the apparel is having fun with the phrase and that “it’s always said with a smile, never a sharp tongue.” That’s also the way she hears other people use it.

The company started when Martin’s cousin, a talented female cyclist, qualified for a national men’s competition while training and racing with a men’s team.

Martin wanted to give her cousin a gift, something to mark the accomplishment with a little humor. Martin knew about getting chicked and liked what it represented.

With the help of company cofounder Gretchen Heim, Martin went about creating the first “You Just Got Chicked” T-shirt for her cousin. When it turned out that making 20 T-shirts was more feasible than making one, she printed up 20 and gave the remaining 19 to athletic friends. Women saw them at local races and asked where they could get one, and a side business was born. The company sells, on average, 1,000 items of “You Just Got Chicked” athletic wear each year.

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Gretchen Heim and her message.

Interest in the gear took off when Chrissie Wellington, four-time Ironman world champion, posed for a photo with the earliest version of the T-shirt after winning the women’s race at the 2010 Ford Ironman in Arizona. With an eighth overall finish, she left a lot of guys chicked. And in the photo, she seemed to get a good laugh from the T-shirt’s message.

But for the 50-year-old man who sees a young woman speed by with “You Just Got Chicked” proudly displayed on her T-shirt, the expression doesn’t prompt much laughter. Understandable. No one likes to race as hard as possible, then see or hear someone relish being faster. Some racers who get chicked might substitute “rub it in your face” for relish. Fair enough. One person’s feisty can be another person’s trash talk.

Though, let’s be honest here, too: The threat of being beaten by women works as a pretty good motivator for men. So, kind of a win-win.

Too bad it’s not easy for some chicked athletes (and their fans) to recognize girls and women as tough competitors and let it go. It can be that easy. But it often isn’t. Consider the Spanish girls’ soccer team that entered a boys’ league and won the championship, defying skeptics and sexists in the process.

While technically any gender can get chicked, after a very unscientific survey of message boards, blogs posts, and random comments about the expression, it seems almost all the complaints come from men. On a LetsRun.com message board, a 40-plus runner (a “master” in the racing world), responded to a “You Just Got Chicked” conversation in a unique way. He claimed he said, “You got Mastered” upon beating someone.

Even if he was commenting tongue-in-cheek, why not?

Odds are “You Just Got Mastered” would be more positively received than “You Just Got Chicked.” Part of it is that “getting Mastered” is more inclusive by applying equally to any gender. Another part of it is that getting beaten by an older competitor (usually an older male) doesn’t rankle some the way getting beaten by a woman does.

Why? Why is there something cool, admirable, impressive, role model-y about a 50- or 60-year-old keeping up with younger competitors and even sometimes kicking you-know-what? Why isn’t there a similar reaction when a 30-something woman blows by fit men? Why do elite female athletes capable of taking on top male athletes prompt respect tinged with concern? Or praise via backhanded compliment? After all, both the older racer and the women are pushing their limits and defying expectations.

If you’ve read this far, you know why: Age-old gender hangups. And oftentimes no place puts those hangups on a larger, more debate-ready stage than the sports world. See the recent talk about skier Lindsey Vonn competing against men or Serena Williams being the best tennis player ever, male or female, or comments from sports leaders that diminish and objectify female athletes. Here’s looking at you, Sepp Blatter, Atle Skaardal, Raymond Moore. Just for starters.

But there’s always hope for change. After asking multiple times to race against men, Vonn might finally get the chance to do it before she retires. She now has the backing of US Ski Team Alpine director Patrick Riml. He has promised to lobby the powers-that-be in international ski racing, even though there’s a lot of resistance to the idea for all the obvious, traditionalist reasons. Vonn doesn’t expect to win, but she wants an opportunity to push herself against the toughest competition available.

If she’s allowed into a men’s World Cup race, she could beat a handful of male skiers, maybe more. And if Vonn does go faster than a bunch of men, the ones who finish behind her should take it in stride and applaud her talent and skill and fearlessness. A bunch of Spanish teenage boys were able to do that when they lost a soccer league title to a bunch of teenage girls.

Or, even better, the male skiers could embrace finishing behind Vonn.

And if they do embrace it, there’s a T-shirt for that. Martin’s company makes men’s shirts that read, “I get chicked and I like it.”


Shira Springer can be reached at shira.springer@globe.com.