International Women’s Day celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women, and in a world where progress towards gender parity has slowed in many places, this year’s theme was #BeBoldForChange. A few years ago I marked the day with a post about women I find inspirational in the world of sport, and I’d like to to something similar today.
Personally, I marked International Women’s Day with a run. Nothing unusual there, but this week my Wednesday run was also my entry to an IWD virtual race organised by Women’s Running magazine. Perhaps it was the thought of all those inspiring women who have helped make it possible for me to vote, travel freely and yes, run marathons, that helped to power me up that hill multiple times, but I felt strong and now I can’t wait for my medal to arrive:
My run also gave me a chance to think about the women who inspire me NOW and why their words/actions are so significant.
I recently read Jo Pavey’s book This Mum Runs (review coming soon!) and was struck by what a trailblazer she is. Jo Pavey is only a few years older than me, and while I may joke about being “ancient” to my pupils, I certainly don’t think of myself as old – I know I’m fitter and stronger now than I’ve ever been. But when it comes to competing in major competitions such as the Olympics, Pavey can easily find herself twice the age of some of her competitors, yet this just drives her on to achieve more. In a world where women can still feel sidelined due to being older than others in their field or because they become mothers, Jo Pavey has used experience and the balance found from family life to perform better than ever before. She is a fine example of a woman continuing to chase her dreams no matter what, and for that I applaud her.
One of those younger athletes is Laura Muir, a Scot currently creating quite a stir on the track as she breaks record after record. Not only is she putting in fantastic performances on the track, but she is working hard of the track as well as she studies veterinary medicine at university. I have watched Muir as she has fought to find the form she is in now and have cheered as she has dominated recent indoor events, but what is really drawing me to her is the confidence she is showing. Rather than being coy about her plans for each race, Muir is now setting out her stall very firmly, even going so far as to make clear that in one particular race she was looking to set a record and nothing less would do (and she got it!). For me, Laura Muir is a great role model as a woman who knows what she wants and will do everything she can to achieve it.
I may not have the most encyclopaedic knowledge of tennis, but I do know that Serena Williams has redefined the women’s game with her strength, speed and athleticism. Not only that, but she has challenged the “norms” of what has traditionally been a predominantly white sport. Most importantly, she knows what she wants when it comes to women’s rights. When described as one of the “world’s greatest female athletes” she countered with the strong and considered argument that she would prefer to be described as one of the greatest athletes, with gender being removed from the discussion: “If I were a man, I would have 100 percent been considered the greatest ever a long time ago…I think if I were a man, I would have been in that conversation a long time ago. I think being a woman is just a whole new set of problems from society that you have to deal with, as well as being black, so it’s a lot to deal with—and especially lately. I’ve been able to speak up for women’s rights because I think that gets lost in color, or gets lost in cultures.” She may ruffle a few feathers from time to time, but that’s exactly what’s needed to effect change in the world.
If you haven’t heard of her, Sophie Radcliffe is an adventurer, endurance athlete, blogger and speaker. She’s the only person in history to have climbed the highest mountains in the eight Alpine countries and cycled between them, climbing five times the height of Mount Everest in 32 days. She’s cycled 300km from London to Paris in 24 hours on nine occasions, completed multi-sport adventure races around the world, raced her bike coast to coast across the USA, completed 100km ultra-marathons, and is a two-time Ironman finisher. All very impressive, and Radcliffe’s mission is “to empower you to feel invincible and as though you can do the most badass, inspiring and challenging things that scare and excite you in equal measure. To explore what your body and mind can do through the world of adventure and endurance sport.” Radcliffe believes firmly in her motto one life, live it and she doesn’t let anything stand in her way, hence her appearance in the media when her application to feature on the tv programme World’s Toughest Army was rejected because of her gender. She responded with dignity, in reiterating her belief in equality, and for that I continue to admire her.
Sarah Williams is the founder of Tough Girl Challenges and host of the Tough Girl podcast. I listen to the podcast every week, and more recently have become a patron of the podcast as I believe so strongly in Sarah’s message of motivating and inspiring women and girls. Working with young people day to day, I see more and more the need for positive female role models to show women and girls that they can do whatever they want to do, that they don’t have to be defined by their appearance or restricted in what they can do because of their gender. Each week the podcast provides examples of women who have taken on a variety of fantastic challenges, and this year is also following the journey of 7 women as they prepare for and take on a challenge of their own. And Sarah doesn’t just talk the talk, she (quite literally) walks the walk. Having completed the Marathon des Sables in 2016, this year she will be thru hiking the Appalachian Trail in 100 days! I think what Sarah is doing in creating change is so important, and her drive and enthusiasm motivated me not only to become a patron, but to join her team of volunteers and support her by helping to manage her Facebook page and closed group The Tough Girl Tribe. Together, the Tough Girls can continue to motivate, inspire and support. We have Sarah to thank for that.
We are surrounded every day by strong, inspirational women who embody the spirit of IWD, these are just some of the more high-profile ones who inspire me. I also find inspiration in the girls I teach, the women I watch juggling work, family and all the other facets of their lives, and every other woman who goes out there day after day and tries to make the world a better place. Change has to start somewhere…
How have you marked International Women’s Day?
What women inspire you?