Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Monday, April 27, 2015

Wetsuit Revival Project

Some of the "revived" wetsuits in action for a Dublin youth group
Windsurfer Rose Barrett is somone who acts on her ideas. When she heard an Irish youth group in Dublin had their wetsuits stolen last year, she instantly thought of  the old wetsuits being cast aside by her friends in the water-sports industry. And did something about it.

Wetsuits which are no longer suitable for elite standard sport or for use on expensive courses can still be used elsewhere. They might need a bit of TLC ie the odd neoprene patch. And for most kids knocking about in kayaks or splahing in the water, the label or year a wetsuit was made is the last thing on their mind. 

Sounds brilliantly simple now but it took Barrett to put it all together under the Wetsuit Revival Project. I spotted the project on Twitter  - re-tweeted by surfer Easkey Britton - and caught up with Barrett by phone a few days ago. 

She said:  "Word came through on Facebook, I think it was last April, that St Michael's group in Dublin had their wesits and all their gear stolen. The idea popped into my head; people have stuff just sitting around in their sheds. I knew a lot of the water sports centres dump wetsuits."

Starting with the University of Limerick's windsurfing club, social media soon spread her ideas through Ireland and even over to Scotland. 

It's not been completely straightforward. Finding people willing and able to deliver a van-load of wetsuits isn't always easy. One eager donor needed to know by 11pm on a Friday if Barrett could move the suits. Nothing came by the deadline, the suits went in the bin and then she got a call at 11am on the Saturday from a charity. But it was too late.

Barrett said: "I don't want to deal with money, so we're leveraging every contact! I delivered a bunch of wetsuits myself last week to Lanesborough.  The guy there works with teens who have a chequered background, he was delighted to get them out on the water." 

No matter how  brightly the sun shines, Irish waters are simply bitter - or Baltic as many ocean-goers grimly joke. 

"A wetsuit can make all the difference between trying a watersport or not. I've seen kids in the water in T-shirts, they're frozen. They get so much more out of with it this way," Barrett said.


Friday, April 24, 2015

Pink women's sports clothes

Just some of my Pink Collection
You know when you’re running and your mind drifts off into random thoughts? Sometimes it’s work, grocery shopping, pay the bills – this morning for me it was pink.

I suddenly realised I was dressed almost head to toe in pink; right down to my supposedly blue shoes which have a large pink streak.

How did this happen? Panic-stricken I examined my basket of sports clothes at home, and there was more pink. T-shirts, swimming goggles, socks not to mention pink stripes or splodges on most black leggins or shorts. I even found pink hand-wraps for boxing.

Now I don’t think of myself as a pink person. But as I type this I realise that maybe I am a pinkie and have just  never accepted it. Or is that the sports industry tells me I need pink to balance out all that sweat and strength?

I googled “pink women’s sports clothes” and one of the first sites to come up was linked to Victoria’s Secret. Yes, the sexy underwear company.

Then this: “should women wear pink sport?” brought up over 77m hits. Seems I am not alone in feeling conflicted about wearing pink while doing sport.

The Atlantic has an interesting piece on how pink has been co-opted by the Breast Cancer movement; in effect meaning no sport team could neutrally use pink.

The blog Fit is a Feminist Issue points out that as I discovered most women’s sports clothing has pink somewhere on it. She said: “I will not be coerced into wearing pink, even if I like the colour.”

But one Powder Room blogger on Jezebel had the most worrying finding. She writes in the US calling someone “a pink hat” means a women who has no clue about sport but goes along in search of a man. Ouch.

How much pink in your workout wardrobe? Does it bother you?


Monday, April 20, 2015

Irish Paralympians Road to Rio

Irish Mail on Sunday PHOTOS Thomas Honan

Sometimes I get to mix my love of sport with my actual job. Yesterday I had a story in the paper about four inspiring sports people from the world of Paralympics.

The road to the Rio Paralympic Games 2016 starts this summer for would-be Irish contenders.

The games, which take place straight after the Olympics every four years, involve elite athletes competing in a range of sports classified depending on the extent of a competitor’s disability.

At the 2012 games in London, the Irish team of 49 athletes won 16 medals including eight golds.


ELLEN KEANE was born with one arm much shorter than the other, but says every centimetre counts when she’s in the water.

Now 20, the Dubliner was 13 when she competed at the Beijing Paralympics. She won two bronze medals at the last World Championships and hopes to do at least as well at the World Championships in Glasgow in July to earn a place in Rio next year.

‘For my category, my arm has to be one quarter of my right arm and I am on the borderline. They put me in different categories to race depending on the measurement.

It can be the difference between winning a medal or not – every centimetre has to be so precise,’ she says.

She balances sessions in the pool and the gym with study at the Dublin Institute of Technology.

‘My lecturers probably wonder who is that girl falling asleep all the time,’she says laughing.

‘It’s all about swimming.’


Born without knees or shin-bones, Corkwoman Orla Barry, 25, had both legs amputated aged 11 months. But the Paralympic bronze medallist has never let this hold her back.

‘I just think nothing is too big to get in your way,’ she says. ‘Everyone in Paralympics has had to overcome something to get where we are.
'If you stick with something, and work hard at it no matter what is in the way, you can overcome anything.’

She throws a 1kg discus, the same as in the Olympics.

Deciding what to do with her prosthetic legs in competition can be tricky. ‘I went through a stage of wearing one and not the other. It’s all trial and error to try to get as much out of your body as you can.

'You’re trying different things, putting yourself in different positions… all strapped down maybe so your bum doesn’t lift as you throw.’

Orla spends much of her week driving to training in Wexford and Limerick. While she had 96 supporters with her in London, she jokes that not that many will make it all the way to Brazil.


Friday, April 17, 2015

Polish boxers are "Down but not Out"

womens boxing Poland documentary film movie

A group of worried looking young people sit on a bus driving through the night, they try to play with their phones and chat nervously.  Only one man looks relaxed, slightly older than the others, he tries to joke but no-one is listening.

They are boxers heading to a tournament in their native Poland filmed for ‘Down but not Out’. The men appear to have some experience but the four women are first-timers. Cue tension. 

Readers of this blog can get a 50% discount when the documentary goes on sale through Vimeo in June. Discount for download with Promo code: “Niamh”

To my eyes the film-makers really capture the excitement, dread and humour of being a fighter. They take you from that bus, to a hostel (and obligatory toilet humour) right through the day of the fights.

Unlike an American or Irish film, they avoid taking the women - Daria, Anja, Alicja and Anja – or any fighters for ‘one to one’ chats with the camera.  Instead they draw you in with the camera until you are suddenly cheering for one or the other. This becomes complicated by problems besetting the female side of the show.

Anyone familiar with sport at all will love Coach Prezmek. Watching how he relates to the fighters, changing his approach between the men and women is fascinating. The pep talks in the bus going and returning from the show are worth the download price alone.

His best line? Trying to cheer up the fighters who lost, he says: “All of you are modelling clay” and encourages them to see the loss as just a step on the road to success. Not quite sure if it works going by the glum faces though!

I’ll post about this again closer to launch time in June.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Surf and social change Bali

Easkey Britton Waves of Freedom Iran PIC via Indobarrels
Surfers have the life really don't they? Bali, Hawaii, Australian beaches and the west coast of Ireland; what great places to ply your sport. 

But for a growing number of surfers led by Irishwoman Easkey Britton that chilled lifestyle isn't enough on its own. I've posted before about her Waves of Freedom project in Iran.

That initial film and surf-lessons idea has grown legs and now under the same name she is bringing groups of surfers together to make social change. Cause that's the thing with many of these beaches, the communities around them are so poor that even a hippy surfer is wealthy beyond their dreams.

Their latest newsletter promotes a change-making festival in Bali called ‘Surf and Social Good Summit’.

I swam with dolphins off one of the black sand beaches in the east of the island - it's been years now but the memories won't leave. The volcanic soil creates an unusual sand mix so as you walk out to the water you feel you are sinking deep into the earth. At that time it wasn't such a popular place to go so just a few fishing boats rowed tourists like me out to meet the dolphins as the sun rose. 

It was inspiring, and I'm sure if there had been a festival focused on change going on around us every single person there that morning would have volunteered. As it was, we swam, laughed and then just headed off for breakast with huge grins. End of inspiration. 

The summit has sessions like 'Girls Make Waves' and 'Impact' with reduced ticket rates for people from developing countries. 

The blurb reads: 'Our vision is to create a global surfing community and social network across sectors: from business, non-profit, academia and civil society. This collaborative, cross-sectoral approach allows us to find meaningful, effective solutions and strategies applying surfing as a tool for sustainable social impact.'

Naturally there will be a strong focus on climate change. Again those coastal communities are the ones first feeling the effects of rising tide-levels, shrinking ice-caps and erosion.


Friday, April 10, 2015

Sharing passion for sport with women

Olympian Gabby Douglas PIC via Politics365
Women and being strong – how did we reach a place where those concepts don’t go together. For me coming from a Celtic culture where female warriors were respected as much as men, it’s always been hard to accept the more modern view of women as passive.

One of the great heroines of Celtic mythology was a Queen named Maeve or Meadbh (or even Medb sometimes). It’s said she ruled for 60 years in the west of Ireland, in what’s now called Connaught and she apparently had five husbands.

Was she real? Well some of her exploits are definitely exaggerated but historians put her dates around 50BC. Most famously she was ordered the Táin Bó Cuailnge – or the Cattle Raid of Cooley. She launched the raid when she realised her then husband, king of a neighbouring province, was richer than her – so naturally Meave went to war to capture a valuable white bull and redress the balance.

Aimee Fuller snowboarder/biker PIC BBC Sport
How did we move from that to a world where being weak is attractive?  Where did this world where studies show girls afraid to take up sports because it might give them muscles come from? This Loughborough University study even found teenage girls put off sport because sweating isn’t feminine.

I have to confess at the height of my boxing days I avoided certain dresses because the cut made me look too strong! Incredible now when I’d love to have those muscles but am too caught up in a different way to life to train so hard anymore.

We can all get involved in changing this – it can be as simple as telling your friends how much you love your sport. Tell them about how you started, how exciting it felt to get strong.

I’m guessing if you’re reading this that you love some type of sport, so how do we take our passion and give it to other women?

RungArun MuayThai fighter Pic via GETTY


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Monday, April 6, 2015

Women rowing into history

PIC via Sunday Times article on women's rowing Oxford Cambridge
Every now and then a ripple runs through women's sport and you can actually see change happening. Next Saturday is one of those days. 

In England the 183-year old men's rowing race between Oxford and Cambridge universities has taken on a cultural significance far beyond the actual sport. Not many people know the female students have their own race but on a shorter, and less public course. 

This year is different. Different because of money, money donated by a woman who asked one simple question. Why don't the women and men race on the same course, and on the same day? 

Reading bits in the English papers over the weekend, it seems Helena Morrissey of BNY Mellon had to sponsor the men's race to ensure parity (coughs) and then could get her way on the women's. She was already sponsoring gear and transport for both women's teams. 

Unfortunately the Oxford women sank last week, but I haven't seen anywhere they are cancelling. I'm sure the sinking fed into the stereotypes about women in sport and women in rowing. Quite a few sexist comments quoted in the articles anyhow, though it's hardly surprising considering they locked the women out of the course for so long.

If you can get hold of yesterday's Sunday Times, the magazine has powerful shots of both teams by Andrew Testa. It's behind a paywall online here.

And The Telegraph sent a journalist to join the Cambridge team with predictably disasterous results even though she just goes to the gym.  

This is already resonating beyond rowing. Clare Balding, racing presenter extraordinaire is desterting her usual post at the Grand National to commentate the women's race.

Speaking at the BNY Mellon Boat Races Weigh-In and Launch, she said: "There was a big decision to make. But there will never be another first women’s Boat Race on the Tideway. This will have a ripple effect all across society, business and sport.”

And on Balding's Twitter page later, she didn't have much time for criticism of that choice. She tartly (and rightly IMHO) pointed out: "@Kevdoolan73 and I can't believe you're bothered. But for the record, the Grand National doesn't need my help, women's sport does"

BBC1 will show the race live on Saturday at  16.50 and presumably on BBCiPlayer later.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Cuba's only female boxer leaves
Namibia Flores in action PIC via BBC
A few weeks ago I posted about 'Boxedora' a documentary on a woman who wants to box but she lives in Cuba where it's stricly men only.

A reader (thank you!) sent me a link this week to an interview with Namibia Flores on her last day in Cuba. Yes, she is leaving her home - which by the way is the home of the sweetest male boxing style you'll ever see - to train in America. 

I know there are many bigger problems in the world but this just doesn't make sense. Men's boxing in Cuba is revered. Their boxers have won more gold medals at the Olympics than any other country.  That means of course they have the best coaches and gyms, a depth of talent you simply won't find anywhere else. 

American Meg Smaker made that powerful doco about Flores which caught global attention. In this clip from the BBC interview (below) Namibia says: 'I always trained in the hope that someday they might approve women's boxing.' 

How good is Flores? She trained and sparred with the national youth (male) team and says: 'I was the same'. 

Coming from Ireland this breaks my heart for an additional reason. The first female boxer here was Deirdre Gogarty, who left Ireland for America in the early 1990s. She left because women's boxing was banned here, and having fought some 'demonstration' fights without earning any change in the system, she simply left. 

Deirdre Gogarty today PIC via Gogarty's Twitter
I  met Gogarty at her old boxing gym when she was in Dublin in 2012 promoting her book 'Call to the Ring'. Her most famous fight was against Christy Martin in 1996, clips from that are on her blog here. 

An inspiration to fighters like Olympian Katie Taylor, it's sad that her battle continues to be fought today.

BBC: Cuba's only woman boxer leaves to puruse her dream   (Produced by Will Grant, Alberto Moreno)