From supportive school teachers to trailblazing grannies, our Ambassadors and Performance Champions tell us which women played an inspirational role in their lives, in celebration of International Women’s Day on 8 March.
“I first met Hanli Prinsloo in 2015 on what was a trip of a lifetime to Mozambique with ITV. I was recording a TV documentary about conquering my fear of the ocean, while simultaneously achieving my lifelong dream of swimming with dolphins. It was a trip which truly changed the course of my life. Hanli, amongst her many wonderful achievements, is a former champion free diver, with many records under her belt, and these days a passionate ocean conservationist. She is the founder and CEO of I Am Water, which believes in ocean conservation through transformative ocean experience. After my first meeting with Hanli on our first day in Mozambique, I was in absolute awe of her passion and love for the ocean. While I can’t quite say my fears where fully diminished there and then, she certainly got me half way there by coaxing me into the water; something no-one else could have done at the time. Right there and then, she opened my eyes to a whole new magical world I did not know existed and had never even thought about discovering.
From that couple of weeks back in 2005, we became great friends, and ever since, whenever I have time away from training, I use it to visit her, more often than not freediving in some amazing place around the world. Just this summer I went on the most amazing trip with her to Madagascar, alongside a group of ocean enthusiasts from all over the globe. I’ve also become an ambassador for her charity and have spent time working in her shop out in South Africa, raising money for ocean conservation. It was during this time I was learned how to surf and got to enjoy another element of the ocean, I never thought possible. One of the many things I absolutely adore about Hanli and I Am Water is their passion in working with underprivileged coastal communities where, despite living walking distance from the shore line, they often find young people who have never seen the world beneath the waves yet.
Meeting Hanli changed my life. She radiates passion through everyone she meets and taught me just how important it is to protect this planet. I feel inspired and mesmerised by her every time we meet up.”
“I was always watching my mum play sport when I was a youngster. I used to love watching her play squash, especially when she took on men (and often won) and we even played a mother daughter football match together! She made it normal for me to see women play sport, despite all the pressures that come with playing a very male dominated sport growing up.”
“My mum is my inspiration, because she always encourages me to just go for things, even when they seem scary. At the age of 56 she’s just done her first bungee jump! She also has a hugely positive impact on the people around her – there isn’t a single person in her life who isn’t better off for knowing her. Sometimes, when I’m caught up in trying to succeed at things, I use her as a reminder that the achievements that matter the most are the impact we have on others.”
“My sports teacher at school, Jo Welch, is my inspirational woman. I arrived from Africa a little unsettled and scared for what the next chapter at Oakham school in the midlands would have in store for me. I was right, I was a bit different and struggled to fit in. Thousands of miles away from my family and thrown into a new culture is a very disconcerting place for a 12 year old, and Jo was someone who immediately took me under her wing.
She showed me that if I really wanted to succeed enough, and was committed she would return the favour and support me. Travelling weekly on her one day off in a boarding school environment to make sure I could attend the progressive training camps in the build up to getting into the International set up.
Without her support, encouragement, and positivity, I would never have become the athlete that I ended up being. We all have someone in our lives and some are lucky enough to have more thank one, that we owe a huge amount to. Jo is that for me! Thank you, and if I can help just one other athlete realise their dreams I know I would have continued in her footsteps…”
“My grandmother May Wiggs worked at Stoke Mandeville when Ludwig Guttman, the founder of the Paralympics, first starting getting people with disabilities into sport. Her love of sport flows through me, from spending our childhood outdoors being active & playing cricket in the garden to watching me now compete in Paracanoe as a Paralympic champion myself. Her energy, her attitude, her resilience and her love of all things active make me who I am today.”
“My Mum inspired me to understand the power of food. She trained at Le Cordon Bleu in London as a chef after leaving school and ran her catering business from home whilst also trying to keep three growing boys fed! She not only taught me to cook which is a skill I am lucky to enjoy and practice every day, but also the value of food in bringing a household together each day to eat, talk, and laugh.
Having not been particularly engaged with sport and exercise as a youngster, she bravely went and learnt to swim at 40 and never looked back. This escalated to gym memberships, an addiction to bodypump classes, and now many tens of thousands of steps walking with dad every week. With three sons and six grandsons she feels a little outnumbered but can definitely still hold her own!”