Stephanie Bruce is the person you want on your side when a bully tries to body-shame you.
After she won the USATF 10K Championships in 32:21 at the AJC Peachtree Road Race July 4, some guy posted a picture of Bruce in her running kit, American flag across her shoulders, on a running website. His comment about this athlete who had just won her first national championship? “Why is there a baby face on her stomach?”
Months later, she still gets fired up by the memory. “They have mothers. I wanted them to imagine saying that to their mom. That would be horrible!”
It wasn’t the first time Bruce’s stomach has been a topic of conversation. When the professional athlete and mother of two boys (and Flagstaff resident since 2010) posted photos of her belly on Instagram in 2016, with its “stretch marks that are here to stay,” she sparked international press coverage.
Her message, then and now: “All women who give birth have a postpartum body. I want to effect change by showing people the reality of our bodies, giving them confidence to live their lives without feeling they have to hide.”
Bruce works out with Northern Arizona Elite, sponsored by HOKA ONE ONE.
“It’s been a great opportunity,” she says about the team and coach Ben Rosario. Like her male teammates, she runs with her shirt off to stay cool. “I’m comfortable running in a sports bra, and I hope other women are, too,” she said. “And I want everyone to feel comfortable seeing a postpartum stomach. Other moms can and should run in a sports bra if they like, and not feel ashamed.”
On her website (www.stephbruce.com), blog and social media, Bruce shows fans the ups and downs of training. To her, providing motivation, inspiration and information are “part of the job of a professional athlete. I try to tell the story of competing as a runner while being a mother.”
To the most recent body-shamers, Bruce replied on Twitter, “I hope to raise my sons the opposite of these young, inconsiderate men, who saw my stomach after giving birth as something to mock.”
Bruce admits that the response the public sees isn’t always her first one. “I can be trigger-happy; if I have something to say, I can be fast on the draw.” She credits her husband, Ben Bruce, also a professional athlete as well as a coach, with helping her think calmly before speaking out.
“If I’m frustrated, he can tell me that it’s fine to be passionate, but that I also have to be tough. He reminds me to use all the comments as a source of energy but concentrate on what really matters.”
What really matters to Stephanie Bruce right now? Coming off her 11th-place finish at the TCS New York City Marathon Nov. 4, she’s competing in today’s USATF Marathon Championships in Sacramento. Flagstaff is sending a strong contingent of competitors, including Sarah Crouch and Janet Bawcom on the women’s side, and Ben Bruce, Matt Llano and Flagstaff alum Nick Arciniaga among the men.
I know who’s earned my loudest cheers, though: The badass mother of two in the front row.