Ninja Athlete Sara Heesen destroys the cultural norms of being a female athlete
Ninja athlete Sara Heesen proves both on and off the course that women are capable of anything we set our minds too! Sara is athlete in every since of the word. Strong, competitive, and disciplined. However, even being a top women in the field of OCR (obstacle course racing) she still has to deal with her share of comments concerning her physical and athletic ability. Sara doesn’t let these comments deter her from achieving her goals! Rather she uses each remark to break-down stereotypes on what a female-athletes “should” look like or how dedicated they can be to a sport. As Sara says in our interview “beauty is
in the eye of the beholder and I’m okay with my definition being different
than that of the majority”. Read more about Sara and how her amazing, positive attitude proves she is #nevertoopretty to be a “beast”!
1) What does the Never Too Pretty Movement mean to you?
People are comfortable seeing women as an aesthetic to be enjoyed and get
confused when we opt to do something that would interfere with that. I get
told I look good but now but to not go ‘too far’ with lifting or training.
The implied ending to that thought is that if I go too far then I won’t be
as pretty and ‘Oh dear lord, no! That would be horrible!” People are
confused when I do OCR (obstacle course races) because I will undoubtedly get bruises all
over my body. They don’t understand why I would practice ninja to the
point of my hands getting rough with calloused or rip open and bleed. They
think I’m training too hard when I grunt, or my face grimaces in
determination, or when I cry (yes, I cry when I push my body to it’s limit
and the good workout buddies push me to keep going). They don’t understand
why I push my body to do things that take away from it’s beauty. Hahaha!
*heavy sigh* Lean in because this is the important part. One - beauty is
in the eye of the beholder and I’m okay with my definition being different
than that of the majority. I think that veins on arms are beautiful. I am
impressed when women sweat puddles in the gym. I love it when I can see
the definition of the quad muscles when a woman walks by me. So cool! Two
– my body is not a mobile aesthetic. My body is a tool I use to
accomplish my goals. My goals are not to be SEEN but to DO. My goals are
to be able to lift heavier, run faster, and move through obstacles with
ease. I will do whatever needs to be done to achieve these goals and
whatever my body looks like is a side effect of which I am proud. I will
never be too pretty to do the things I love doing. To the women who speak
the same language as me – you are not alone.
2) Why did you want to become a brand ambassador
I read about the brand and the founder and fell in love with her strength
and similar resistance to the status quo. I love that she is a boxer and
knows the beauty and strength of pushing her body to it’s limit on a
regular basis. She gets hit, she gets bruises, to become more skilled at
her sport. She confuses many onlookers with her willingness to ‘damage’
her beautiful face to develop her skills as a boxer and I fell in love with
her ‘I don’t give a shit’ mentality when people told her she was too pretty
to box. We have heard the same lines, we have had to overcome the same
lies that we were told, and it has been a windy and rocky road to stand
firm in our resolve to pursue our sport despite. Despite confusion,
despite discouragement, despite the internal struggle to want to conform to
those cultural norms. It’s tough, ladies. It’s good you’re tougher.
3) How do you "live" the movement of female empowerment?
It has taken me a while to figure out what I want and be okay with it being
different than what most other people deem desirable. I think the core of
the female empowerment is to do what you love regardless of what other
people think of it. Do you want to be a stay at home mom? If that makes
you happy and empowered and you are at a place to do it, awesome! Be the
best stay at home mom there ever was! Do you want to climb the corporate
ladder and dominate in your career? Yes, queen! Do the damn thing and see
how high you can go! Do you want to build a machine of a body and compete
with the best in your sport. Sweet! Set your alarm, drive to the gym,
and put in the work. I don’t care what your thing is. Figure out what you
want and go for it! I once met a woman who loved to sew and crochet and
craft AND she was one of the best shooters I’ve ever met. Rifle, shot gun,
muzzle loader, it dind’t matter. She loved to shoot and she was more than
capable with whatever you handed her. She was a little old lady with
homemade floral clothing that was covered by the most effeminate apron.
She had specially designed this apron to be perfectly fitted with all
kinds of rifle cleaning equipment dangling from hand-crafted crocheted
strings tucked away in hand sewn pockets. She was the most interesting
person I had ever met because she was so bad ass on the shooting range and
so delicate with her stitching. Before her, I had boxed women into the
‘girly’ or ‘tomboy’ category. She did not fit in any kind of box I was
familiar and that is why I loved her so hard. She lived her life the way
she wanted to live it and didn’t give two hoots what you thought of it.
Other people’s opinions on her weird life didn’t seem to sway her or shake
her at all. She lived her life to the fullest the way she wanted to do it
and she had an utter disregard for other people being confused or
uncomfortable with it. Ever since meeting her, I have been striving to do
4) What drives you to show others that women are just as capable as men?
I want women to be fully aware of the options in front of them and to not
limit themselves or box them into a smaller life. You can do whatever you
want to do! I coach women and girls and I train hard. I think the best
way to encourage others to train hard is to be an example of just that.
5) Have you had any unique challenges as a woman in business, sports, etc?
I have had challenges and unfortunately, I think they are all fairly
common. I’ve been told to be careful or excluded from contact sports at
church and school. I’ve been made fun of or reprimanded by classmates for
being too visibly strong. Blah, blah, blah. They aren’t even creative
anymore it’s the same stuff every time. I’m not offended over here. I’m
just bored. If you’re going to take the time to put me down at least have
the courtesy to be creative about it.
A recent example of discrimination in my sport:
"The pro men have a completely different course than the pro women." This
is what I heard at this weeks competition.
That can't be right. Ninja has always had one course for pro men and pro
women. It's one of the many things I absolutely LOVE about this sport.
Unlike most other sports, with ninja there is one standard for all pros.
One course to run. Can you do it or not? Then there are awards for the top
three males and top three females.
I went up and asked to run the male pro course. They told me that if I did
that I wouldn't qualify for finals. "Okay. That's fine. Then I won't
qualify for finals. I would like to run the pro male course." I think that
answer surprised them. "What if we let you run both?" They offered. "No." I
said. I want to see how I'll do on the course when I'm fresh not after
running a full course before hand. They looked confused and a little
frustrated at my unwillingness to compromise so I told them, "This is your
gym. This is your competition. You don't have to accommodate my request. I
want to run the male pro course. If I can't, that's okay, then I choose not
to run at all."
It may seem like a little thing but it was important for me to push back on
their decision to segregate the pro courses based on gender. I train hard
to be able to compete at a pro level for ninja and it felt like I was being
told that I couldn't because I was a female. They met with some other
people to discuss the matter and came to the conclusion that I would be
able to run the male pro course. Huzzah!! I'm grateful that they heard me
out and changed their initial decision. I ran the course and ended up
getting first (and last) for pro women. (I was the only pro female to
compete. 😆) It felt like a bigger win to be able to run with all the other
6) Do you have any stories or experiences about having to overcome biases
in your life?
I stand up to what I believe it right and I’ve learned to be firm without
being angry. I am a professional athlete in ninja competitions. One of my
jobs is with Alpha Warrior. They are a company that travels from military
base to military base all over the world, certifying troops in obstacle
fitness. I was at a base, walking the troops through the proper way to go
through the course and was being dismissed left and right. What was
happening!? This never happens to me. Then I looked around. I realized
that I was the only woman in a room of about 40 army men and was reminded
that sexism is alive and well. Sure, I was disappointed, but I didn’t get
angry. I decided to run through the entire obstacle course and I completed
it with ease. The shift in their perspective of me was immediate. The men
came up to me and started asking me for advice and technique on how to get
through the obstacles. They began to listen to what I had to say and
respected what I was saying. It was one of the coolest protests I’d ever
done because I believe that progress what made that day and I didn’t have
to say a thing. I just had to show them that I was capable.
7) Please share your best piece of advice for inspiring the next generation:
Impossible! I can’t just leave one. I’ll try to limit it to a few though.
You get to create your one beautiful life. Create one you love. No one
else has to like it or understand it, it’s YOURS!
Let bravery, not fear, have the deciding vote. Stop looking for what can
go wrong and make it a habit to ask, ‘what if it works out?’ first.
You have two jobs in this life as far as I figure: 1 – Enjoy it. 2 – Make
it better. And there are a million ways to do both.