Ana is next to be introduced in our series interviewing There She Rows – an all-female team and InsightX partner – who will be undertaking an unassisted, 3,000-mile row across the Atlantic Ocean to not only challenge themselves but also to inspire the next generation of girls through sport.
Ana talks to us about how sport has helped her to advocate for herself, the barriers to women participating sport she’d like to see addressed and some of her female sporting heroes.
Tell us a bit about your sporting background?
I have always been a rower, having started the sport back in 2008. It was sort of a happy accident, I never particularly enjoyed rounders or netball, mainly because I didn’t quite understand why we had gender segregated sport. Because of my disinterest in these sports, I was swiftly sent to the river, and at first hated how cold and wet it all was! But in year 9 they made team selections, and people who made the team were invited to Saturday training sessions, and I was left off this list. My competitive nature kicked in and I worked hard to earn my seat in the boat, and come my final years at school I had won oarswoman of the year twice, vice captained my club and raced at Henley Women’s Regatta.
I had a few periods of time I had to leave rowing due to complications from my Endometriosis and PCOS, my first surgery for the former was a game changer and I was back in a boat only a month post op after having had to take two years off due to pain. I guess once you get into rowing there isn’t really any getting out of it, and I’ve now found myself as part of the There She Rows crew preparing to row the Atlantic!
What do you think sport has taught you?
When I was younger I struggled to channel my energy into the right places, I was often distracted and might have come across as possibly non committed to the task at hand. Later I would find out that school was challenging because I had undiagnosed Dyslexia, and I was also dealing with undiagnosed Endometriosis and PCOS that wrought havoc on my hormones impacting both my physical and mental health. Sport somehow provided a shelter to all this, and I was able to learn discipline, routine, and channel my energy to be committed to my team and training. Being involved in sport led me to meeting people who had similar stories to me, as well as how to be confident and advocate for myself. I couldn’t even begin to list everything that sport has taught me and given me, as I don’t think there are enough characters in the world to type it all out! But it is definitely one of the key vehicles for change that led to me becoming the person I am today.
What has sport given you that you think has helped to shape your professional life?
Sport and my passion for it led me to doing my masters in Sport Business and Leadership, and into my career in sport marketing. The confidence and interpersonal skills that I learned in sport, combined with resilience and problem solving skills it taught me, has allowed me to thrive in my chosen path. It has made me the ambitious, head-strong person that I am today, whilst also providing a much needed support network. My experiences have allowed me to be confident and speak up from the back of the room, even on my first day of the job, and to challenge people where appropriate to influence strategies to be as meaningful as possible. I’m a firm believer in sport for good, and development, and want to continue to shine a light on the brilliance of diversity and intersectionality in sport.
What improvements would you like to see when it comes to women’s involvement with sport?
It is amazing to see buzz growing behind professional women’s sport following the successes of the Lionesses and this translates into a more consistent interest in women’s sport outside of the big events! However, I think there is a lot to be done at grassroots level that will continue to feed into the higher levels of sport positively. More needs to be done to challenge the barriers women and girls currently face, in terms of institutional issues, and cultural and social challenges. What I mean by this is that there is not enough access to sport for girls on a structural level, often football pitches used by girls grassroots teams are poorly maintained still, and no one considers that women might not be able to join Monday night football on the common in the winter as this means walking home in the dark. Or simply with the majority of the burden of childcare often falling on women, there is simply not the time, which is why we saw such a huge drop off of women playing sport throughout Covid. Other factors involve familial and cultural opinions girls may face from loved ones about their participation in sport, harassment that women athletes regularly receive both in person and online, through to issues such as a lack of access to period products or sports bras.
If we want women’s sport to continue to grow and thrive, all these barriers all need to be addressed, as well as driving for equal investment and media coverage of professional women’s sports that will continue to inspire the next generation to get involved.
Who are your female sporting heroes?
I think I would have to list two! First of all my mum, who is not herself a sports woman and openly admits she has zero hand eye coordination. But, she is a HUGE sports fan, in particular sports that, when I was growing up, were not considered to be “for girls”. She got me into American Football, Basketball and F1. The first two of which I went on to play at points in my life as a result of my upbringing. She signed me up to every sport I wanted to try growing up at great personal sacrifice, and showed up to every competition and race. My mum never for one second allowed me to doubt my ability or my right to belong due to me being a girl, and is my fiercest supporter.
If I were to choose an athlete, I think I would need to jointly choose Megan Rapinoe and Sue Bird, who have been trailblazers in football and basketball respectively. They are both beyond inspiring in the way that they are totally unapologetic about being exactly who they are, phenomenal athletes in their own right, and as a result rightly demand the respect, coverage and investment that their sports rightly deserve.
If you could say anything to a young girl embarking on her sporting ‘career’ / journey, what would it be?
Sport can be anything that you want it to be – it can be competitive, casual, or simply an opportunity to be social. Don’t worry if you don’t find “your sport” straight away, try lots of different sports and activities, from mainstream sport like football, to the niche and whacky like underwater hockey! Enjoy everything that it provides, from the support network that comes from the team or community, through the mental and physical health benefits that it should provide. It should always be fun, even when it is hard, and never be afraid to advocate for yourself and what you deserve.
There She Rows are raising money for the Women’s Sport Trust, a leading UK charity whose aim is to raise the visibility and increase the impact of women’s sport. Find out more about our partnership with the team here.