What an inspirational evening! One week on and I am still buzzing from the annual Sky Sports and Sunday Times Sportswomen of the Year Awards in association with Vitality. Firmly established as among the most influential and prestigious in the British sporting calendar, the Awards are in their 28th year and showcase and reward outstanding contributions to sport. It was an honour and privilege to be surrounded by such talented athletes – many of whom have become household names, representatives from different sporting bodies, journalists, coaches, volunteers and inspirational women.
Jess Ennis-Hill seemed to be the only person to be surprised that she had won the prestigious Sportswoman of the Year award (and for the second time) in celebration of her phenomenal gold medal win at the IAAF world championships in Beijing earlier this year. She was so humble in her receipt of the beautifully crafted glass award, batting away comments about her being a “super mum”. Yet, to win a gold medal 13 months after the birth of her son shows extreme dedication, drive and talent. And there are other mothers who are also elite athletes out there proving that you can have a family and return to the peak of your sporting career, such as Jo Pavey, Britain’s long distance runner who won a gold medal for the 10,000 metre at the 2014 European Championships, ten months after the birth of her second child. And Anna Watkins too, patron of the Women’s Sport Trust is back in rowing training after the birth of her second child, contending for the Rio 2016 Olympics. What fantastic role models they are for athletes considering a family and other mothers wishing to get back into sport or to be active post-baby. As an active forty-something year old mother of a toddler, I know how challenging it can be to get fit after a baby, which is why I feel inspired by Ennis-Hill and others who combine sport and motherhood and show what is possible.
Nineteen-year old Dina Asher-Smith, who broke two national records this year to become the fastest teenager in history, was the well-deserved winner of the Young Sportswoman of the Year Awards. As a keen teenage sprinter, I ran the 100 metres in just under 14 seconds (on a good day). Asher-Smith ran it in just under 11 seconds in the Olympic Park at the Sainsbury’s Anniversary Games this year and was the first British women to go sub 11 seconds, which is an incredible achievement. At the other end of the age spectrum, Enid Bakewell, now in her seventies, thrilled cricket fans by winning the Lifetime Achievement Award. As one of England’s finest cricketers, being one of only five, male or female, to have hit a century and taken 10 wickets in the same Test, she still plays and intends to keep doing so. As she said “This Award is a little bit too early, if I am honest, I intend to keep playing until I am 80. I turn 75 next month so I have at least five years left”. Another fine role model, who proves that age does not have to be a barrier to keeping active.
It’s not often that you come across a South Asian, Muslim woman whose goal is to coach men’s professional football. Well, that was kicked into perspective by the unstoppable Annie Zaidi, a Midland’s football coach, who won the Helen Rollason Award for Inspiration. This brought into sharp focus the determination, passion and sheer guts that some incredible women are prepared to go to navigate significant cultural and social challenges and discrimination to realise their dreams. She is the first South Asian and Muslim woman in her region to acquire a Level 2 coaching certification badge from the Football Association and has undertaken her UEFA B license.
It was game, set and match to wheelchair tennis grand slam winner, Jordanne Whiley who took the Disability Sportswoman of the Year Award. She is currently ranked GB #1 and World #5 and #1 in World doubles rankings, with her partner Yui Kamiji. She won the US Open Women’s wheelchair final in September as well as the Australian Open and Wimbledon in the wheelchair doubles.
The judges must have had their work cut out deciding the winner of the Community Award, as evidenced by the strong shortlist of five compelling award contenders. They included Kay Salter from Flacon Spartak gym club for young people with disabilities; Marnie Swindells of the Double Jab boxing club in Sidcup; Brighton and Hove hockey club coach Wendy Russell for her sessions for deaf people their friends and family; Eddie Brocklesby for Silverfit – the lifelong fitness charity and Liverpool homeless football club – the winner of the award. This award was a fantastic opportunity to highlight and remind us of some of the incredible work undertaken by volunteers to make sport and physical activity available and accessible to people, who otherwise, might not have been able or felt welcome to participate.
The winner of the Vitality Team of the Year Award was the one award where the public could have their say. What a tough choice though as the shortlist included Chelsea Ladies, England women’s football team, rowers Helen Glover and Heather Stanning and the England Women’s Hockey Team. The hockey team were triumphant, which was hardly surprising following their phenomenal win at the EuroHockey Championships in August this year – their first victory in the competition since 1991. Gracious in their glory, the hockey team said that they had drawn inspiration from the women’s football team and hoped to inspire a new generation of young players.
On reflection, these Awards made me realise how important it is to have a diverse range of visible role models, who have the opportunity to tell their story. Great sport can inspire ambition and send positive messages about what women and girls are capable of. Although I am not, and never will be, an elite athlete, I still drew great inspiration from the Award contenders and their stories. I want to be active when I’m in my mid-seventies like Enid Bakewell. Dina Asher-Smith’s success reminds me of my teenage dream to be a sprinter and Jess Ennis-Hill proves you can be an elite athlete and mother – so if she can win a gold, I can at least run around our local park. Jordanne Whiley refuelled my keen interest in tennis and made me want to seek out more fantastic Paralympic sport and Annie Zaidi and the Liverpool homeless football club and their inspirational stories show that dreams can be realised and that there is a breathtaking amount of work being undertaken at community level to make sport accessible. Hearing the England women’s hockey team talk of their incredible achievements reminded me of the camaraderie that comes from being part of a team.
A simply inspirational evening marked by phenomenal Award winners.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ros Kirkland is a Trustee of the Women’s Sport Trust with over 18 years of humanitarian experience working predominantly with the Red Cross in overseas, headquarter and consultancy roles. She specialised in natural disaster and conflict response and has worked in North Korea, China and Mongolia and has regularly visited countries in East and Central Africa and South East Asia. She has extensive experience of strategic planning, programme management, grant management, report writing and monitoring and evaluation. She has recently completed a Masters in research skills and International Development. She also trained as a journalist and is a keen photographer. At school, she competed in the annual Independent Schools’ National Athletics Championships three years running. She is a keen walker and enjoys running and tennis.