Women’s Sport Week 2016
We’re supporting Women’s Sport Week from 3 – 9 October by sharing stories from our members, athletes and volunteers about their passion for the sport. Get in touch with us to share your experience and inspire other women to get into rowing by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet us @BritishRowing and tag in #WSW16.
Women in Rowing Infographic
Interviews with women in rowing
Throughout the week, hear from female rowers, coaches, volunteering and staff at British Rowing about their love of the sport.
“I coach a number of crews which I find extremely rewarding. I am conscious how much rowing does for people’s wellbeing: over the months you see them change physically and mentally. Some of the people I coach have quite challenging lives and rowing not only helps them cope but helps them to deal with their problems.”
Read Jane's interview
Jane is pictured above in the stroke-seat with her crewmates at Minerva Bath RC.
Q. How did you get into rowing?
A. I first learned to row at University – quite a long time ago! I came back to rowing about 7 years ago when my children were getting older and I had more time.
I first tried rowing because I was at Oxford and it felt like everyone rowed. I wasn’t particularly drawn to it, I’m just a believer that you should try everything if you are given the opportunity. When I was growing up the only images of rowing I had ever seen were of the Boat Race and the assumption was that only posh young men rowed. Women did not even row in the Olympics until I was 16. I am sure it helped that I was at a women’s college at Oxford, so all of the people I saw rowing were women.
Q. What do you enjoy about the sport?
A. I have many roles in rowing: most of all I love rowing with my crew. We compete at WE 4+ and 4-. We train four times a week and they are like my sisters: I can’t imagine life without them.
I coach a number of crews which I find extremely rewarding. I really enjoy getting a novice to experience the pleasure I get from rowing.
I am also conscious how much rowing does for people’s wellbeing: over the months you see them change physically and mentally.
I am aware that quite a few of the people I coach have quite challenging lives and rowing not only helps them cope but helps them to deal with their problems.
Last year I started up a new program teaching people to scull on weekday mornings. It has been incredibly successful and we now have vibrant squads out sculling four mornings a week. We were initially supported by British Rowing and now our local authority is funding a paid coach to lead it. Most of the people taking part are older women – and they really are the loveliest people. I get a real kick out of giving these women a chance to do something they otherwise would not have been able to do as most have caring responsibilities and cannot row at weekends.
Finally I am also chairman of my Club. I took on this role because I thought there was a lot of potential for our club to grow and develop. I want as many people as possible in our community to have the chance to learn to row. I also want everyone who rows at Minerva to have the best possible experience.
Q. What do you think makes rowing a good sport for women?
There is a depth to the relationship with people you row with that I have not experienced in other sports.
A. I think rowing is a good sport for women because we are good at using technique rather than just brute force and this helps to focus on the importance of getting it right. Women also value social interaction and friendship. Hence they not only really value the team aspect of rowing, but are good at keeping crews together.
Q. What preconceptions do you think women who have never rowed before may have about the sport?
A. It’s all about having big muscly arms! Many of our beginners – men and women have the idea that the sport is all about the arms – possibly because they have only ever rowed a boat in the local park. I think women are worried about body image and are concerned they will end up with overdeveloped muscles. I believe the best way to overcome this is with the really positive images of the leading women in our sport. If you looked at Helen Glover and Heather Stanning (who learnt to row at Minerva) on the podium at Rio, I defy anyone to tell me they are not incredibly beautiful women with bodies to be envied.
Q. Does your club have any activities/events which are geared towards encouraging women to take up the sport?
A. Our midweek sculling program is all about women. We have had some excellent media coverage which has made women realise this is something they can do. Also in a place like Bath, women have incredible networks. Once you get one woman from a particular school or area you get ten of her friends joining.
Q. Which women in sport have inspired you?
A. I would have to say Katherine Grainger. As a Masters rower, you look at what she achieved this year and she has demonstrated that age does not have to be a barrier. The majority of our post-Rio enquiries have been from women.
Q. Do you have any further comments or thoughts about women in rowing to share?
A. If you look at the data for North America, and continental Europe, sculling is a massive sport for older women. It is heartening to see so many older athletes competing at Masters’ events, but in British rowing clubs, I don’t think we have even started to scratch the surface of potential interest. If you work from home or part time, you will know that all over the country there are tens of thousands of women going running, going to gyms, going to boot camps, doing yoga and so on. We have demonstrated in Bath that if you set it up in the right way, those women want to row too. And once they try it they are hooked!
Want to give rowing a go? Use our Club Finder tool to discover your closest Learn to Row Club.
Fiona Rennie, British Rowing Volunteer
“Do come and volunteer if you want to be part of a team, make friends, have fun and take part in new experiences.”
“My rowing adventure is always a team effort.”
Read Fiona's interview
Fiona is pictured above on the far right, bottom row, with her fellow volunteers at the Boat Race.
Q. Tell us about your role as a volunteer in rowing
A. I help out at Senior Champs, Junior Champs, BRIC and JIRR, generally looking after volunteers. I also sit on the Junior Rowing Committee, JIRR committee, BRIC organising committee and am Secretary to Sport Committee. I provide input on University rowing as Chair of the BUCS (British Universities & Colleges Sport) group for Rowing.
Q. How long have you been volunteering with British Rowing?
A. Just over 8 years when I started as Chair of the BUCS group for Rowing – focused on developing and supporting plans for rowing within the University sector.
Q. What do you enjoy about it?
A. I enjoy the planning and organising – working with people to discuss plans, make decisions, and make things happen. Then I really enjoy the events themselves, there is always such an excitement from seeing people competing and taking part and having a shared experience.
My rowing adventure is always a team effort.
Q. Why do you think rowing is a good sport for women?
A. I don’t think rowing is specifically a good sport for women – it’s just a good all round sport. It doesn’t matter whether you’re male / female / young / old, everyone can come and have a go and there will always be someone around to encourage you to get into a boat. Or just to come and be part of the wider family and help on the volunteering side.
Do come and volunteer if you want to be part of a team, make friends, have fun and take part in new experiences.
Don’t ever think that your age / sex / shoe size / colour of eyes / what you had for breakfast might mean that you wouldn’t have something to add. Everyone can smile and offer help in their own way.
Q. Which women in sport inspire you?
A. For me it was always about being nudged rather than inspired – once you are in ‘sport’ then there is a continuum of inspiration – people going beyond expectations in lots of ways and often it’s been those in the background rather than those in the limelight. It was my dad who got me into sport, he loved it – rugby, tennis, golf, it didn’t matter. He just always wanted us to enjoy it too.
Interested in becoming a volunteer? Find out more.
Helen Rowbotham, Director of Innovation at British Rowing
“The range and quantum of opportunities to enter the sector is at an all-time high so my advice would be to find a role and sport that you feel passionate about and just go for it!”
Read Helen's interview
Q. How long have you been working at British Rowing, and in sport?
A. I have been at British Rowing for 8 months prior to which I spent 18 years in international sports consultancy, most recently at CSM.
Q. What does your job involve and which elements do you most enjoy?
A. I’m responsible for driving innovation across British Rowing’s varied activities and overseeing the development and implementation of new projects and initiatives. I love the variety of my role, throwing myself into new challenges and working with a first class team.
I think rowing, in all its forms, is a great sport for everyone
Q. What drew you to working at British Rowing?
A. The opportunity to be involved in a period of significant change within a great sport, and to help make it more open and accessible to people of all backgrounds and abilities.
Q. Why do you think rowing is a good sport for women?
A. I think rowing, in all its forms, is a great sport for everyone – whether it be on your own or in a team, for fun or fitness, as a challenge or an escape, rowers tend to get quickly hooked and with good reason!
Q. What preconceptions do you think women may have about working in sport, and what advice would you give to those who wish to break into the sector?
A. Some parts of sector remain male dominated, particularly at an international level, which has its challenges but hasn’t held me back and at times can be an advantage, allowing you to stand out from the crowd. Some women also question sport as a long term career option, as from the outside it can be difficult to understand the wide range of roles available, potential career pathways and the varied skill sets required. But the range and quantum of opportunities to enter the sector is at an all-time high so my advice would be to find a role and sport that you feel passionate about and just go for it!
My advice would be to find a role and sport that you feel passionate about and just go for it!
Q. Final thoughts on Women’s Sport Week:
A. This week is a perfect opportunity to celebrate, raise awareness and increase the profile of women’s rowing across the UK so please share your stories #WSW2016.
Kirsten West & Rosie Adamson , Coastal Rowers, Jersey Rowing Club
“What I love most, apart from being out on the water that is, is the feeling of being fit and strong.
Rowing teaches you the importance of control, both physical and emotional, which is incredibly useful in almost all other aspects of life.”
Read Rosie & Kirsten's interview
Q. How long have you been involved in rowing?
A. (Rosie) I’ve been rowing since I was 13 (I am now 22, so currently in my 9th year) and fall in love with the sport more every year! I am now at my third club having rowed at school (Canford, Dorset) and at university (Magdalene College, Cambridge). However, this time is a bit different as now I have moved onto coastal rowing.
A. ( Kirsten) I have only been rowing for 4 years. I was on maternity leave with my first child, watching the 2012 Olympics and was inspired to try rowing at a ‘have a go row’ session that October. After my first season in a novice boat, I was lucky enough to start rowing with an extremely experienced coastal rower, from whom I learned so much, in a mixed pair. I have since had my second child in 2015 and, although I was unable to compete during the 2015 season, I continued to erg until 7 months pregnant and I was back on the water and the erg 6 weeks after my daughter was born.
Q. What drew you to the sport initially?
A. (Rosie) Initially I was drawn to rowing by its inclusivity. It seemed like anyone could give it a go and have fun out on the water. After I started, I saw that my preconceptions were true but I soon came to realise that hard work and many hours of both land and water training (all of which, or almost all, were great fun) would be needed to become more competitive.
What I love most, apart from being out on the water that is, is the feeling of being fit and strong. Two physical attributes fundamental to rowing, which I have been able to develop over time and that I am always looking to improve.
A. (Kirsten) I must admit, I had considered trying rowing before but, regretfully, had hesitated due to believing the misconception that rowing makes women too muscly and masculine. The female Olympic rowers, who inspired me to start, made it clear this wasn’t the case and I love the (ladylike) muscles that I now have! I think being a mum shapes my attitude and what I see as my role within the sport. It was no mean feat to get back to fitness after pregnancy, especially after my second child. There were times on the erg that I just wanted to give up, my splits were terrible and it was just so hard. However, I just ‘kept on erging’ and, however much I hated it at that moment, I kept getting back on the erg and eventually the fitness and power came back. I have a very supportive and understanding husband and family, however, even so, it’s very difficult to carve out the time to train with two young children. Therefore, part of me hopes that my role in the sport is to inspire mums that you can still do sport and you can still be competitive, you just have to be flexible and make the most of every session. I want my children to be proud of me and, as a latecomer to the sport (I started rowing at 33) I would also love to think that I could inspire people to believe that they can still achieve, whatever age or stage of life.
Q. Why do you think rowing is a good sport for women?
A. (Rosie) Rowing is a great sport for both women and men as it develops numerous skills such commitment, team work and organisation, while also being hugely enjoyable. It teaches you the importance of control, both physical and emotional, which is incredibly useful in almost all other aspects of life. In addition as a result of the amount of training you do you end up developing strong friendships with people who you trust intimately.
It teaches you the importance of control, both physical and emotional, which is incredibly useful in almost all other aspects of life.
A. (Kirsten) As well as the more obvious physical benefits, I think rowing can be a powerful tool for mental health. I think many people have stressful lifestyles and find it hard to switch off and, without being stereotypical, women can be especially bad at this! Rowing can be a great help in this regard because as soon as your mind starts to wander, you run the risk of making mistakes and catching a crab. Rowing is like a wonderful type of meditation, your mind and focus should be on your rowing and keeping your head in the boat. The combination of concentration, rhythm, physical exercise and fresh air means you are likely to come off the water in a better frame of mind than when you went out.
Coastal rowing in particular (I have never tried river rowing) is also very empowering, which I think is something that can be a benefit to women. There are a lot of sea skills involved such as awareness of tides and currents, shipping movements, reading the water, navigation and surfing and many of our races are long (our main race of the season is 27km). There is something quite satisfying in gaining knowledge and experience of the sea and coming over the finish line of the longer races makes you feel like you can do anything!!
Coastal rowing in particular is also very empowering, which I think is something that can be a benefit to women.
Q. What preconceptions do you think non-rowing women may have about the sport, and how can these be overcome?
A. (Rosie) I have heard many people suggest that rowing makes you super-muscly and bulky. I think this often puts women off as they are fearful of developing “unfeminine” bodies. I find this such a travesty as it just isn’t true! Rowing will tone your muscles and improve your fitness but its not going to make your legs double in size and your arms look like Pop-Eye’s. To overcome this I think we just need to raise awareness about what women who row actually look like and focus more thought onto how they feel.
A. (Kirsten) As well as the misconceptions about bulking up, I think a preconception that many women have is that it is a pulling, not a pushing sport and they don’t have the upper body strength for it. I think the best way to overcome this is possibly to highlight the physiology of rowing, showing which muscles are used and when, which hopefully might overcome the preconception that you need heavy-duty upper body strength to row.
Q. Does your club have any activities which are geared towards encouraging women to take up the sport?
A (Rosie) In the off-season we host “Have-a-go-rows” periodically on Sundays, for both men and women. We try to have as many of the regular club members around to help out with all the novices and naturally try to have some women. In addition once ladies have joined the club, if they are keen to, we invite them to our “Girls who erg” group on Facebook where we post when we are erging/training and then the results (if you want to it’s not compulsory) and encourage one another.
Q. Which women in sport have inspired you?
A.(Rosie) My main inspiration comes from Anastasia Chitty, who I was at school with. She is just incredible! She was the captain of the OUWBC the first year that the women raced the same boat race course as the men. She has always been a driven, dedicated athlete commanding respect from all at the boat club at school, however, what inspired me more than all her amazing achievements and jaw-dropping erg scores, was how she encouraged others in the sport. Now whenever I have a tough moment in training, or even in a race, I just think “What would Anastasia do?” and somehow I manage to push through.
A. (Kirsten) Katherine Grainger is a great rowing inspiration. I have also been very inspired from reading the autobiographies of Ironman Chrissy Wellington and cyclist Nicole Cooke. Lately I have also been inspired by Jessica Ennis Hill and her post pregnancy achievements.
Q. What has been your favourite moment in your rowing career to date?
A (Rosie) I think the best moment has got to be this year when I completed my first long distance coastal race from Sark to Jersey (27km in 2hours 27 mins). As a result of being a spare member of my crew I entered the race in a single and somehow managed to win my class! I was so relieved to finish I didn’t even realise that I had won until I heard the commentator saying, “and now here comes the first ladies’ single”. It is a memory I will cherish for the rest of my life. However, in the mean time I look forward to making many more to add to it!
A. (Kirsten) There have been lots of very special and memorable moments but I think my favourite was coming first over the line in the 2016 Jersey to Carterat race, in a mixed quad (with Rosie and my previous mixed pairs rowing partner). The men’s pairs and quads had been given a 15 minute handicap and although we saw one on the horizon near the finish, they never caught us! Rowing towards the finish flanked by spectators cheering and the French media boat following us in, was just amazing!
Victoria Taylor, Indoor Rowing Champion
“Indoor rowing is the perfect tool for improving both my physical and mental strength. It teaches me to focus, tolerate and challenge doubts, which in turn helps me build self-confidence and competence, whilst also de-stressing.”
Victoria's journey to Indoor Rowing Champion
My introduction to indoor rowing was random in the sense that I never had any exposure to rowing as a sport until rowing machine intervals formed part of a programme I did at the gym with a PT I was training with. He happened to comment that I was “naturally good” at rowing, something which is a bit of a novelty for someone of my height, as with many of the sports/fitness ventures I enjoyed it was usually a disadvantage! He suggested I take it a bit more seriously and check out a few online groups centred around indoor rowing. I posted my first 2k attempt on Facebook and almost immediately had a number of teams messaging me about the option of joining, willing to assist with my training and motivation. A month later I was part of a team and I’d entered the British Indoor Rowing Championships which despite going against my predisposed self-conscious nature, was actually the start of what has so far turned out to be a fairly successful indoor rowing career.
Indoor rowing is the perfect tool for improving both my physical and mental strength. It teaches me to focus, tolerate and challenge doubts, which in turn helps me build self-confidence and competence, whilst also de-stressing.
On many occasions the physical gains have been of secondary importance to me. Like an added bonus rather than the main focus. I will however admit that I like the feeling of being ‘strong’ and rowing definitely enhances that. I’ve also found that as someone with a busy work and family life, it is one of the most time efficient forms of training I have ever come across!
I’ve met plenty of female indoor rowers during my time involved with the community. Their backgrounds are incredibly varied, as are their goals. I’m always keen to encourage greater female participation in the sport and particularly at indoor rowing events. In my experience women are more reluctant to attend events and participate competitively in the online challenges available. With a bit of direction, encouragement and team support however, they demonstrate a great capacity to confront any insecurities and develop a real passion for all things indoor row. There’s a real sense of being ‘in it together’. Whether it’s a speed or distance goal they might hold, they’re equally valid so regardless of gender, age or ability, everyone has a valuable contribution to make to the sport and the community that surrounds it. There are a lot of busy, hard working women, with family responsibilities, who are very dedicated to the sport.
I find people who demonstrate ‘strength in adversity’ and qualities such as determination and unwavering commitment inspiring. David Smith MBE (www.davidsmithmbe.co.uk) former Team GB athlete in Karate, Bobsleigh, Paralympic rowing and now cyclist has one of the most inspirational life stories I’ve ever come across. On a day to day basis, my coach at Fitness Matters Indoor Rowing, my team mates and the community inspire me to keep going, be better and step outside of my comfort zones.
The one piece of advice I would give to someone who wasn’t sure if they wanted to take part would be to go for it – the rewards outweigh any imagined risks and everyone inspires someone. This could be your thing! And you might be all someone else needs to see to be inspired to take the plunge themselves.
Women’s Rowing in the News
In a year that saw the 40th anniversary of women’s rowing joining the Olympic programme, it was fitting that the GB Rowing Team should mark the occasion with three pieces of history at the Rio 2016 Games. Read more.
Teresa Aslett, Chair of Isle of Ely RC tells us about her journey into the sport and her forthcoming fundraising challenge. Read more.