Team USA sprinter Natasha Hastings is already an Olympic gold medalist in the 4×400-meter relay event. Now, while training for the 2020 Olympic Games, which she hopes will be her third Olympic berth, she is also focused on empowering young girls through sport and in life.
Natasha grew up in the greater New York City area and has been active in working to improve self-confidence and body image stigmas in young female athletes. In addition to her vlog, “Tea Time with ‘Tasha,” which in part focuses on empowering female athletes, Natasha also recently started the Natasha Hastings Foundation.
WSF caught up with Hastings, who will be attending the 39th Annual Salute to Women in Sports in October, to talk about her background that shaped her desire to give back to young girls in sport.
WSF: What first inspired you to want to empower young girls in sport?
Natasha: I think for me, first and foremost, watching my mom make certain sacrifices for me to be able to do those things. I didn’t have a sponsor, our team didn’t cover that, so especially making the junior national team, my mom had to pay for me to go to Nationals and to make the team, and once I made the team, my mom came to every major track meet that I had, but she couldn’t come to Italy with me. I saw what my mom did to make sure I had those things, but also to sacrifice being there. Just thinking about those experiences and knowing that I’m not the only girl to have those experiences.
You see professional athletes and you almost think of them as superheroes, but we have those problems and we go through the same things you do.
WSF: Why is it important to you, as a female athlete, to lift others up?
Natasha: Giving back to teenage and adolescent girls has always been my passion, but thinking back on what my journey was and my experiences and what I’ve had to overcome and work on, the ‘Tea Time with ‘Tasha’ thing, for me it was so much of what I learned in my 20’s. Talking to some of my peers and realizing that we went through the same thing, and just kind of reiterating that notion of turning to your neighbor and realizing you have more in common than you thought. I just wanted to be able to be that tangible resource and pay it forward for the next girl and next generation coming forward.
WSF: You talk about body image in sport. Can you talk about your experience with that issue and how you want to change the narrative for female athletes?
Natasha: I went through a phase, and even to this day, body image is something that I deal with. I remember, I was probably 13 or 14 and just seeing how everyone else was developing, I’ve always had an athletic build, and it was just going through that inner turmoil of ‘I don’t look like the rest of the girls. I’m not as attractive as the rest of the girls.’ At some point, there was that feeling, but then there was also the feeling of ‘Wow, my body is taking me to places physically that not many other girls have been. Setting national records, being number one in the nation.’ Then it also got me to an education, which was huge for me as well.
With the body image though, I don’t want to say it was a love-hate relationship because I didn’t hate myself. There was that piece where I didn’t always like how I looked, but also understanding that my body was taking me to places and it was confidence-building and empowering to know that I could do those things. Also, I wasn’t that great of a student until I started running track. I took my competitive spirit on the track into the classroom. It did all those things for me while at the same time I was battling those body image issues. You see professional athletes and you almost think of them as superheroes, but we have those problems and we go through the same things you do.
WSF: How does the mission statement of your foundation align with your experiences as a professional female athlete?
Natasha: The mission statement is to be a starting block for girls to be women of confidence in sport and life. We wanted it to be something reflective of me, the track girl, but also to give girls the start or the initiative to love themselves, to be empowering, to believe that no matter what it is, they can achieve it. There will be bumps along the way, but to stay the course and work their way for life.