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I love sport, I always have.

At primary school, I tried every sport and physical activity going, rounders, cricket, football, ballet, athletics, judo, taekwondo, barn dancing, brownies, tap dance…run outs, knock down ginger, climbing trees, running away from trouble.

I loved to move my body.

That was until I started believing that my body wasn’t actually designed for sport.

I figured this out because…

  1. My dancing teacher told me at age 11 I wasn’t good enough to audition for stage school
  2. I then realised at aged 12-13 that I wasn’t actually any good at any sports in PE, as I never got picked for school teams
  3. Aged 16 all of a sudden grew boobs from nowhere, and I didn’t even know what a sports bra was

So I stopped playing sport.

Interestingly by the time I fell out with sport and organised physical activity, I found myself in a StreetDance crew…and took part in a range of different dance activities through college and university which kept me reasonably active.

I emerged as an adult though wondering how women who were not sporty were supposed to fit exercise into their lives…the three options that seemed available to me was,

  1. Gym or Aerobics – Too Expensive
  2. Swimming – To wet…I didn’t have GHDs back then
  3. Running – Too bloody hard and embarrassing (remember previous note about sports bra?)

A massive contributing factor also was I didn’t know any other women who played sport.

Like seriously…I didn’t.

My friends were ravers, not runners back then, and the women in my family run around after their kids and jumped on their high horse from time to time and that was about it.

But somehow I found sport, just when my life really needed it.

I couldn’t imagine a life without sport and physical activity now.

Sport and physical activity are the norm for me.

It’s part of who I am.

But, there are so many barriers to being active as a woman…some might seem trivial but when life is challenging already and then you have to take into consideration the following, you can see why so many women just don’t manage it.

Judgment

Sport Englands research a few years back revealed that 2 million fewer women played sport than men because of judgement. That judgement is crippling. It is the feeling that you are not welcome, not good enough, too old, too fat, too ugly. Women carry these thoughts around with them through life generally, sport just seems to amplify it somehow. some of this judgement is in our heads, but some of it is confirmed with heckling, and patronising statements, people pointing and laughing…and that look when you enter a sports shop and the assistant looks at you as if you are there by accident, or for a friend.

Kit That Fits

It is not even about looking great in Lycra, because let’s face it no amount of hold is going to help my arse look like Kate Moss’s, but finding suitable attire that literally covers your flesh can be a real challenge. Yes it’s got a bit better…but if you are larger than a size 18, or are tall, or short, or have big boobs, or a wide belly…then finding functional kit that doesn’t make you look like a numpty is hard work. If you have never half died in a sports bra in a changing room, or had chaffing so bad you literally have to just hang out at home with no clothes on for days, then you are one of the lucky ones.

Being Rubbish

There is often an unspoken rule that you have to be good at sport to play it. And even if you are not good, you should want to be. If you can run 5K in 40 minutes then you should be working towards 35, and if you have done a half marathon then the logical step is a full right? We can’t just take part for enjoyments sake. Have you ever conscidered that for some women they get to train so infrequently, and often as a way of switching off from the challenges of life that the idea of improving by even 5% just makes the whole thing not fun?

Cost

Yes…running is FREE. But is it really? Really? Not unless you want to run naked and bare foot, and never enter a race, or train with a club. Yes you can do it on the cheap, but for some women the thought of spending even £50 on trainers is just not on. For some women they have the choice of putting electric on the meter or getting the bus to £3 track session.

Childcare

Training consistently when you are the main carer for small people (or elderly relatives) is a challenge. Yes you can involve them sometimes…but so often our plans have to be adjusted because of family priorities. So many women I know would love to do parkrun, but Saturday mornings are taken up with ferrying kids around to clubs, or catching up on laundry or the weekly shop. Evening sessions are just a no-no if you are a single parent with no one available to pick up the slack.

Now this blog post might come across as a big old moan, or quite negative…and maybe even a bit “Poor me, Poor me” but that’s not why I wrote it.

The fact is inequality exists in sport…it does.

Last week at a big sports conference I heard Lisa O’Keefe from Sport England say,

“I don’t think there is such a thing as “Hard to Reach Groups”, we are just not trying hard enough to reach them” and I couldn’t agree more.

For a good few years, I was told that what I was doing with Too Fat to Run was just a gimmick, and that there was already a good enough offer for women who wanted to run. I was made to feel like I was tricking women into believing they needed the courses I ran, and that we should all just pull on our big girl pants and get on with doing sport like everyone else.

At that conference last week, I heard every group of people you could think of being discussed. Young People, the elderly, disabled people, those suffering from mental health challenges…but not one mention of the F word.

Why are we so scared as a sector to talk about FAT people?

Sorry to break it to you but FAT people kind of already know they are FAT…they are well aware of it, and no amount of skirting around the issue is going to change the status quo in terms of obesity or inactivity levels.

“But people don’t like being called FAT” I was told by people in the running sector, “isn’t it a bit offensive” some nice young sports students at a uni once asked me.

Well, it depends on who you are asking.

Too Fat to Run have recently been working in Barking & Dagenham one of the least active boroughs in the country, with high levels of obesity and diabetes, and low levels of participation…in EVERYTHING.

Yet in 11 months, we managed to work with almost 1000 overweight or inactive women.

We managed to deliver 140 targetted activities for this group…in some abysmal weather

We led outreach activities with over 4000 individuals, at more than 90 events across the borough.

And we touched peoples lives….like really touched them.

Especially the 14 ladies who stuck with the programme from start to finish, grew in confidence and then trained to become run leaders, gaining an England Athletics Leadership in Running Fitness qualification…then going on to run their own sessions.

Don’t believe me?

Watch this video. (I dare you not to be moved)

I am going to be writing and speaking about this Sport England funded pilot a lot more over the next few months.

We now have some robust evidence to back up our claims that this approach works.

We will be looking for ways to grow across the country.

We will be looking for commercial, national and local partners to support the work.

We will be looking for women from my community to step up and get involved.

But today?

Well, today my focus is elsewhere, my focus is on a campaign that although seperate is very much helping with the breaking down of barriers. Today I am celebrating being featured in Decathlon UK’s Sport is for Everybody campaign.

A campaign that truly embraces what sport is about in my view…fun, inclusion, diversity, participation.

I love what Decathlon stand for. I love that they are helping women to overcome many of the barriers I talked about above.

This campaign which is featuring different folk who play sport (and not always your normal sporty types) is helping break down stereotypes about who actually plays sport, and why, and they are making sports something the whole family can get involved in too. Their pricing strategy is nothing but inclusive, and I love that their stores encourage you to try out kit and equipment without any judgement.

Sport for inactive and overweight women isn’t something that can be addressed by any one brand, company or set of individuals. There is no one size fit all intervention…go figure. But I tell you something, a lot of brands could learn from Decathlon, because they actually listen, and they listen so they can understand.

I am proud to be involved in Decathlons #sportsforeverybody campaign and can’t wait to see how their continued commitment to sports for the underrepresented plus-size demographic plays out.

Check out today’s campaign video featuring yours truly…there are more than 20 individuals being featured and it is a real celebration of sport and physical activity. 

Look out later this week for more findings from our Too Fat to Run in Barking & Dagenham pilot, with details of our next steps.

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