Ellie 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.
Ellie talks to us about how sport has given her confidence in public speaking, how it can be for everyone, and how rowing is something she’s only recently learned!
Tell us a bit about your sporting background?
As a child at school, I was involved in a lot of sports clubs both in and out of school, but I was never very good at anything. I stopped doing most of these at about 14 because I started to get more self-conscious and the netball teams were always chosen by the stereotypical netball girls who would only choose their friends; I did not fit in with the “popular” girls so I was never chosen and that put me off. At sixth form I was not overly sporty but started to become obsessed with exercise to hide an eating disorder. This carried on through the first year of university, where I took up triathlon for a number of reasons – it was a lot which I wanted; it was individual so there was no team element where I feared judgment or imposter syndrome; it was fun and very addictive; and the main selling point was the club worked out the best value for money! Eventually I overcame my eating disorder and was doing the sport for the love of it, and training because I wanted to be stronger more than anything. I had my first serious race season in 2019 then worked my way up to my first Ironman (full distance triathlon: 3.8km swim, 180km bike, 42.2km run) in 2021 with my eyes set on the world champs as my end goal. In July 2022 I qualified, and in October 2022 I raced the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. In November, I learnt to row!
What do you think sport has taught you?
Sport has without doubt given me a whole lot more confidence. I used to be a quiet and shy person that didn’t like speaking in front of big groups and would never start a conversation with a stranger. In the last three months alone, I have given public talks to over 800 people and have walked into job interviews feeling quite sure of myself and with far less anxiety. It’s also taught me that ambition pays off – there’s a cheesy quote about shooting for the moon and landing among the stars if you miss, and I really think this rings true!
What has sport given you that you think has helped to shape your professional life?
Seeing and feeling the impact that sport has on people has actually entirely reshaped my professional life; I have just entered the sports industry on a total change of career path. It has definitely given me greater resilience, confidence in myself and better skills with people. Although I largely stuck to individual sports, my experiences around sports through being on the committee of clubs has given me so many transferable skills that pretty much landed me a job in an industry I had no qualifications for!
What improvements would you like to see when it comes to women’s involvement with sport?
Ultimately it would be nice to see equality go as far as there being no need to specify women’s sport; a world where any sport is promoted and supported regardless of gender. In the shorter term, I think professional sportswomen need more support for pregnancy – more and more athletes are demonstrating that they can be new mothers and still top of their game, but they are all forced to be taking more financial and career risks than men that become parents as athletes.
Who are your female sporting heroes?
My biggest one has to be Lucy Gossage. I went to a talk she gave in I think 2018 or maybe 2019 and she just struck me as a superwoman, yet someone I felt I could relate to. She holds 5 Ironman champion titles and is a crazy adventurer in her spare time, running insane distances and bikepacking all over. She’s also an oncologist and voluntarily founded the 5K-Your-Way movement, a group for cancer patients supporting them to do parkrun every week. I remember being utterly inspired by her story into sport (a drunken dare to do an Ironman!), her commitment and her wider attitude to life. In this talk she said something that has truly stuck with me forever and I’m sure I will carry it with me on the Atlantic: it is a privilege to be able to choose to suffer; we put ourselves through physically tough situations for the feeling of reward and achievement at the end, and that is a huge blessing that we can make that choice. I also never expected to be in her shoes in the exact building where I went to hear her speak five years later talking about my own experience of the world championships, so I put a lot of that inspiration down to her!
Laura Siddall is another of my sporting heroes, also a triathlete. I love all the work she has done with the Women’s Sport Trust and the campaign for equality in long distance triathlon. She also personally helped me out through my own training; she’s giving back to a sport that has given her so much!
If you could say anything to a young girl embarking on her sporting ‘career’ / journey, what would it be?
To ignore what people say you can’t or shouldn’t do. To ignore the voice in your own head that might be saying “I can’t do that” or “I’m not good enough” and to just stick at what you love. If you’re out there to be competitive, give it your best. If you’re out there to have a laugh, go have a laugh! Sport really is for everyone, there is something out there whatever your ability and whatever your intentions. If you try one sport and you don’t like it, try a different one! Guarantee you will find something to fall in love with!
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.