I probably escaped quite lightly: only one reader took me to task for failing to mention International Women’s Day last week, and focusing instead on National No Smoking Day.
Hopefully, this look at the new campaign from Sport England to improve women’s health through exercise will redress the balance…
This Girl Can! proved inspirational
Sport England scored a notable success with their campaign to get more girls and women involved in sport. This Girl Can! launched two years ago, and nearly three million women were inspired to become more active.
The video was viewed over 100 million times, and on social media, the hashtag #thisgirlcan caught people’s imagination to such an extent that it has apparently been used thousands of times a day, every day, since the original campaign was over.
The new This Girl Can! campaign is more inclusive
Despite the success of Sport England and their ad agency FCB Inferno in encouraging more women into sport, the statistics about women and exercise still aren’t as positive as they might be.
Two million fewer women than men exercise regularly in England, but three quarters say that they would like to be more active.
The new campaign has a different emphasis from the original. Rather than focusing on appearance, it looks at the emotional barriers to taking up sport.
Negative ideas around age, size or physical ability can prevent women exercising. Many feel that, having once given up a particular sport, they can’t go back to it.
If you have a busy life with family, work and other commitments, finding time for exercise regularly can be a real challenge.
This time around, This Girl Can! is not just focused on girls and their mothers, but grandmothers as well. The video and posters feature older women and disabled women, as well as a more diverse range of sports.
Paralympic athlete Carly Tait used to be a girl who didn’t “do” sport
Her account of being inspired to get active
The message is loud and clear: whatever your size, ability or experience, you can take part in sport and what’s more, enjoy it!
I have identified with this campaign because I was very much the girl who thought exercise was a dirty word. Furthermore, as someone with a disability, the notion of taking part in sport was unthinkable.
I have Cerebral Palsy and my relationship with sport and exercise has always been a turbulent one. At school I would participate in P.E. lessons with the help of a support worker, which was great in terms of feeling included, but the lessons themselves were often physically impossible and not hugely rewarding. I always remember playing rounders and taking my turn to bat, whilst my helper would run around the bases on my behalf!
Sport was embarrassing for a disabled teenager
As an awkward teenager lacking in confidence, sport was often embarrassing. I’d adapt myself to the lessons and come up with new ways to stay involved, but my constant rule-breaking in netball never made me a first choice when it came to picking teams!
After a while I resigned myself to thinking I was no good at sport and I would only have to put up with it for a couple more years.
Thankfully this has started to change, but for me it wasn’t until the 2012 London Paralympic Games that I was even aware of just how successfully disabled people could take part sport.
After being inspired by our nation of Paralympians, I found a nearby wheelchair racing club after researching a mix of disability sites such as the British Paralympic Association, Scope and the English Federation of Disability Sport.
So much more difficult and exhausting than I imagined
I started at Stockport Wheelchair Racing and to tell the truth I completely underestimated how difficult it would be. As a T34, my body would not do what I was telling it to do, my co-ordination was terrible and the sheer effort of just pushing in a straight line was exhausting.
I have cried and stormed off the track several times in frustration, but I’ve always come back because I have the drive to prove that you can do what you think is impossible, that your limits are only what you make them.
I now compete all over the UK. I’ve represented Great Britain at two Diamond League events. I’ve raced in Europe and Dubai, and realised my ambition to compete in the Rio 2016 Paralympics.
If you’re reading this and it sounds familiar, don’t be afraid to get out there and break down barriers. Whether it’s wheelchair racing, basketball or swimming, get in touch with your local club and get involved. I did, and I’ve never looked back.
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Arthritis Research UK has just launched a range of simple daily exercises to help relieve joint pain. Pain is often given as a reason not to exercise, though in fact it has been shown that regular exercise can actually reduce both pain and stiffness. You can see more on their website
There is a neat para-sport app, to help you decide which sport would suit you best – you can give it a go in our adapted sport section