Monday, August 31, 2015

Meeting women in windsurfing

When you’ve done one sport for years, it can be hard to throw all of that comfort away and take on a new one. 

But just to keep things interesting, I started windsurfing in May. It’s so different to MuayThai but does share the coordination-of-every-limb-thing. Plus I’m grateful for all the core workouts I’ve ever done.  

Also sadly windsurfing seems to share the man-woman imbalance. So I was quite excited on my last day out to meet Ding, an English woman working in The Maharees with Jamie Knox Watersports. I paid for my lesson so don’t worry these are my unvarnished thoughts. 

When I’m out on the water I think about women like Dr Katie McAnena (Ire). The reality is a bit different …. think waddling rather than running. 

But the great thing about having come to terms with one sport is the confidence it gives you for other sports. And the patience – it’s going to take a lot of time and effort but at least I know it can be done. 

Ding had four beginners to deal with including a young boy on his very first outing. The bay was crowded with more experienced windsurfers, kayakers and …. a giant floating bouncy-castle with heaps of kids jumping on and off it.  They got great entertainment watching me try to swing the board around, and as they were there swearing was out as a stress-reliever! 

With Hannah, another windsurfing novice on the Maharees Penninsula
Somehow she got us all going, coped with me mixing up techniques I’ve picked up from going to different windsurfing schools over the summer and she kept smiling all the way through. She did head out on her own board as soon as we were done so I’m thinking that’s how she keeps her sanity … 

How do you find learning new sports?

Friday, August 28, 2015

Review: Ronda Rousey's 'My Fight, Your Fight'

Ronda Rousey MMA Book
PIC: Harry How/Getty Images via KSFM
There is so much hype now around Ronda Rousey that I sometimes forget what she is – she’s a fighter.  The first sentence of her book is simply that: “I am a fighter” and the following chapters are a gripping reveal which will resonate with anyone who’s competed seriously at any sport.

I’m still reading so this post is on the childhood and judo sections. It’s so rare to read a book like this by and about a woman, rare and refreshing.

So why should you read  "My Fight, Your Fight"?

  • If you’re coping with injuries you will love how Rousey finds strength in every ACL tear or broken bone. And this started even as a child with what could have been a debilitating speech impediment – I’m sure Floyd Mayweather would agree she’s lost that now! 
  • If you have strong thoughts on doping, you’ll enjoy her thoughts. At one point, she says: “A person who is taking a substance which makes him or her stronger than normal (in MMA) could really kill someone.” 
  • If you’re beating yourself up at training, pushing, pushing refusing to laugh in case it makes you less successful – read how Rousey went from being that person in 2004 before the Athens Olympics to someone who loves the highs and lows of training.
     “Back then I still believed that the more miserable I was, the more productive I was being
  • If you’ve gone days without talking to anyone except your training partners or even alone on the roads, you’ll smile ruefully at Rousey and her soppy movies.
  • If the Olympics are your dream, Rousey’s brutally honest assessment of her 2004 rounds in Athens will make you wince, and then feel inspired to keep on going. One kick, one punch, one run at a time …
MMA Ronda Rousey Book My fight Your fight
Rousey on my Kindle

And on a more superficial note, I’ve always wondered why Ronda isn’t spelled Rhonda; turns out it was a bit of mistake. Her dad’s name was Ron and he spelled it that way just because.

To be continued ... 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: MuayThai Dublin

Wordless Wednesday - mutual respect after a MuayThai fight: Eimear Codd vs Ce Gordon (w)

Thai boxing MuayThai Hammerhead Eimer Codd Cecile Gordon

Thai boxing MuayThai Hammerhead Eimer Codd Cecile Gordon
and earlier ....  (not my pic this one)

More Wordless Wednesday bloggers here. And here on Image-in-ing

Monday, August 24, 2015

Fun weekend of women's sports

Dun Laoghaire Harbour Swim via Leinster Open Swimming FB
Fans of women's sport had too much to choose from in Dublin weekend -  harbour swimming, rugby 7s, camogie, MuayThai and lots more all hitting the headlines.

I saw a great women's fight on Saturday night, pictures to come for this week's Wordless Wednesday. And Lorna Farren who wrote this guest-post on open-water swimming drew my attention these pics of to hundreds of people diving into the freezing harbour waters in Dun Laoghaire yesterday afternoon. And as you can see, most of them didn't even take the wetsuit option. More pics here.

Rugby fans had an treat with two days of Sevens.  In spite of working I saw bits online, quite exciting that it was streamed online live. And of course you can catch up via Twitter - @ScrumQueens of course had the best analysis with the @Action81 account doing well also. 

I'm posting this from the wilds of County Kerry - and really getting to see why people complain so much about internet access in Ireland. For a country that's supposed to be so high-tech and at the centre of the Tech Bubble a little bit more speed  outside the main cities would definitely not go astray. Giving up on shifting photos from my phone onto this, they will have to wait for another post!

We're heading out windsurfing later, well still very much on the learning curve but that's part of the fun (for people watching me at least!).

Friday, August 21, 2015

Clean up athletics for these women

Steph Twell back in action after injuries
Just days remain before the athletics World Championships in Bejing, back in the 'Bird's Nest' you might remmber from the Beijing Olympics. It should be a great celebration but with allegations of doping and hiding doping results coming weekly now, I wonder what the clean athletes are thinking?

I'm writing this listening to Seb Coe, newly-elected head of the IAAF defending and justifying their anti-doping record on the radio. It's all quite sordid, and must be depressing for runners who're out there training even as I chill on the computer.

A line from an old post popped into my head earlier - back in 2010 I did  this interview with British long distance runner Steph Twell.

Click on photo to go to full interview I did for Life and Fitness mag
Speaking about getting over losses, she said to me: "It's like a test of human endeavour, that's what I love." 

That's what competitive sport should be about. We spoke just before she hit a string of nasty injuries which left her out of London2012. How nasty? She fractured her ankle in three places during a Cross-country race in 2011, had to re-learn how to walk and then fractured it again.

Trained by Mick Woods since she was nine, she told me: "This is the beauty of what makes me the athlete I am, it makes me tick. Knowing I have that support and encouragement makes the difference." But even with that, she's had some dark days before hitting her stride again this year and running times she hasn't seen since 2010. 

This week she said in an interview with Athletics Weekly: "On my darkest days I used to question more if I would get back to the times I have run and until last year I probably had reduced my belief, but I have grown as a person in life and now I have learnt what gives me strength."

She tweeted a few days ago from @StefApril : "Blood and urine tested all the way up in the mountains today in Font Romeu 👍 Thanks @ukantidoping for keeping up the integrity of my sport!"

How grim to think Twell and so many other athletes in different disciplines are doing all this, and yet possibly running against women powered by chemical changes. Seb Coe, a 4-time Olympic medallist himself, really must take a hard look in the mirror and ask himself who he is going to represent?

Is he going to stand up for inspiring sports women like Steph Twell? Or is he going to allow the present allegations to continue without investigation?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Monday, August 17, 2015

Must you be a champion to succeed at sport?

Bangkok Beat book muaythai Melissa Ray
Blogging about sport can be so vast sometimes I lose track of who or what I want to focus on, maybe you find the same?

But in the last few weeks I've noticed a few people picking up on a trend in martial arts/ boxing posts: do we all need to be a world champion to succeed in our sport?

One blogger answers this pretty definitively, but in book form unusually.

My copy of 'Bangkok Beat' by Kevin Cummins got squashed through the letter-box this week and includes an interview with female MuayThai fighter Melissa Ray.

The book itself is more a fascinating catch-gatherum of foreigners who move to Thailand to produce art - books mainly but also jazz music, photography and painting. You forget these people exist behind the more obvious sex-tourists, backpackers and MuayThai fans.

Among the usual questions asked of Melissa (who blogs at MuayThai on the Brain) about women's role in the sport, the buzz of fighting Cummins got in a rather brilliant open-shot when he asked what she hates being asked about.

Reply: “I have always hated answering questions about my record. In the West people can  be quite judgemental about records, however I don't believe a boxer's fight record necessarily provides an accurate reflection of their fighting abilities.

"A friend of mine has had a few losses in a row against top Thais in his weight division. Another fighting might have had a string of easy KO wins against less opponents but accord to this record looks the better fighter on paper. People say you learn from more a loss than a win and that is certainly true.”

Of course the average fighter, myself included back in the day, will take opportunities for belts - that's what you have after you retire. It makes people sit up and listen when you drop 'champion' into the conversation at job interviews, or if you're setting up a fitness-releated business. It's a smart thing to have some - but do you have to have one to be successful I wonder? 

More thoughts on this:

Friday, August 14, 2015

Money, money, money

Danica Patrick via
The Forbes list of the top earning female sports stars is pretty exciting if you're a tennis player but not too encouraging if you're thinking other sports can pay the rent. Although I was shocked to see an MMA fighter in there - Ronda Rousey of course but what a huge step up for a small sport. 

Top of the list as she has been for the last decade is Maria Sharapova with Forbes estimating she earned €26.65m. That's more than Serena Williams which I was a bit surprised at but there you go - she clocks in at €22.08m. 
 Just three non-tennis players creep into the highest earning female sports stars. 
That's NASCAR race-driver Danica Patrick at the top of this post at No4 earning €12.47m. Ronda Rousey came in at No8 with €5.8m and golfer Stacey Lewis with €5.73m 

It should also be noted that except for Serena Williams the list is of white Caucasian women even though they come from different countries. Chinese tennis player Li Na had featured in past years but since retiring in 2014 has dropped off the top earners.

That screams loudly about the prejudices of sponsors and viewers - the big money is clearly in watches and high-end sports goods which we still associate with the white blonde beauties. Quite depressing. 


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: San Shou

Wordless Wednesday -    doing an intense sports interview w/ Laura O' Neill for this old post. 
                                        Pic snapped by Ce Photography

 More Wordless Wednesday bloggers here.     And here on Image-in-ing

Monday, August 10, 2015

Guest Post: Why do the Liffey Swim

Lorna Farren in action Liffey Swim
Swimming is one thing, swimming down the Liffey river in Dublin along with 400 other people is quite another. The 95th outing takes place in just over a month. 

Lorna Farren (Twitter: @lfarren36) is one of  about 150 women racing this year, and she shares with us here why she does it: 

I’m often asked if I’ll be getting a tetanus shot (no) and how filthy the water is (not very- it’s mostly salt water), so I’d like to explain why this swim is a highlight of my year.

I’ve spent the last few months training  - qualification is through open water events of  at least one mile (1.6km) for Irish swimmers. This is the 25th consecutive year women can take part in the 2.2km race.

The Liffey Swim is unique in Europe, as the only swimming race directly though a capital city.  It started in 1920 (men only), the brainchild of a city engineer who wanted to illustrate the cleanliness of Dublin’s waterways.

It took 70 years for a women’s race to become a permanent fixture. The delay is well explained by Cyril J Smyth of TCD here, and illustrates Irish culture of the time.  Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid felt women should not compete in mixed sports as it was “unbecoming for them to display themselves before public gaze.”

Given the power of the Catholic Church in Ireland at the time, it is unsurprising women were not to be found swimming through the centre of the city where they could be seen in their swimwear.

And this is why I especially love this race:
  • Open water swimming is nothing short of life affirming.  As the cold water hits you, you feel both powerful and inconsequential at the same time. You can’t stop the tide, but you can glide through the water. 
  • For the less accomplished swimmers like me who go at a slower pace, it’s your own sightseeing tour of the capital - starting at the Guinness Brewery, swimming under 13 of Dublin’s bridges while taking in the best of Dublin’s Georgian architecture.  
  • It’s about community.  The swimming community participating will range in age from teens right through to pensioners; from channel swimmers to relative novices and the local community will turn out in force to cheer you on from each bridge.  It’s all about participation and overseas entrants are welcome.  
  • The race is handicapped depending on your level of ability, with the fastest swimmers entering last.  So it’s anyone’s race to win.

It's not too late for you to enter - deadline is Friday 13th September (6th September for overseas applicants).   More info at: Leinster Open Sea  or on Twitter:  @leinsteropensea 

Friday, August 7, 2015

IFMA Hall of Fame nominee Sue Latta

MuayThai IFMA Sue Latta New Zealand
Sue in 2014 with IFMA's children in Bangkok classes

Final votes are going in online for the IFMA Awards 2015.

Sue Latta from New Zealand is one of the women nominated. To me Sue sums up the story of women in MuayThai. She started in 1992 when women were nothing more than a sideshow to the boys, earned respect in the tough gyms of New Zealand and Thailand across MuayThai, kickingboxing, boxing and MMA. 

She holds titles from WKA, ISKA, WFSB, SKA, the South Pacific boxing title, IFMA world championships gold, silver and bronze as well as world titles from the WMC, WKBF, WFKKO and the WFSB titles at 65 and 70kgs*. 

Sue then turned to opening the door even wider for the next generation of women fighters. 

We chatted by email about her nomination to the Hall of Fame Female (IFMA Awards 2015). The International Federation of MuayThai Amateur has brought the amateur sport to a place where Olympic inclusion is no longer just a fantasy. 

MuayThai IFMA Sue Latta New Zealand
Q:  What keeps your passion for MuayThai burning?

I love the sense of family and belonging Muaythai brings to my life. My friends are from a diverse range of cultures and backgrounds but we all share the same love of Muaythai and its rich culture. We share a passion that creates a bond across the world regardless of language, gender, religion and more.

The stark contrast between the pugilistic side of our sport and the depth of caring and compassion that seems to be typical of Muaythai athletes and participants has always fascinated me. 

And it’s inspired me to help break down the barriers and misconceptions of fighting athletes whether they are male or female.  

Q: You're head of the IFMA Female Commission - why did you take that on?

There were very few international opportunities for me during my competitive career. I had to beg ‘n’ plead with promoters to put on female fights beyond my own local region.

Gaining an international title was close to impossible. The female fight pool was small and promoters were more interested in promoting male athletes as they received more coverage.

Q:  How have attitudes to women fighters changed in your time?

The growth of women's Muaythai has increased so significantly over the last 15 years that in some countries the participation is higher amongst their female athletes.

But it’s the respect given to our female athletes amongst the Muaythai community that makes me most proud. Women and girls are described as ‘a talented fighter’ or ‘a skilled athlete’ rather than being wholly defined by their gender as used to happen. 

MuayThai IFMA Sue Latta New Zealand
New Zealand team for IFMA Championships 2007
Q: What makes your heart sing now about the MuayThai scene for women?

I’m really proud of the federation itself.

My dream was to participate as an equal in a male dominated sport; to be respected as an educated woman and retired athlete. Now I’ve been given the task of building the International Female Commission. This allows me to help women around the world both within the sport and in collaboration with the UN Women and their UNiTE campaign to stop violence against all women and girls.

MuayThai IFMA Sue Latta New Zealand
Sue representing on the IFMA Committee

It is my greatest desire to help empower woman and IFMA has given me the opportunity to realize this dream.

What more could I want?


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Monday, August 3, 2015

How badly do we want to win at sport?

Running in the park yesterday morning I spotted a squad of teenage girls warming up for football* practice. It made me smile cause you just know how many stressed out mums n dads were behind getting them there just after 9am. It was inspiring to see.

But later in the morning I read an expose done by the Sunday Times UK on doping in athletics. Grim and grimmer is all that can be said. If you missed it a whistleblower handed over a database of over 12,000 blood tests from 5,000 athletes and shockingly so many are positive for doping but nothing was done about it.

The last time we had such a huge doping scandal it was men’s cycling and it had a terrible impact on women's cycling. But this time women have to put their hands up too. The pic above is from the 2005 1,500m when Ethiopian Maryam Yusuf Jamal lost out to a suddenly accelerating Russian pack. She now knows she should have won.

British runner Helen Clitheroe (10th in that race) told the Sunday Times team: ‘I didn’t think there was any cheating going on. After that race  I just thought well, maybe I’m just not as good as them. It’s disappointing because perhaps I was as good as them after all. That’s the disappointment. But that race is something I can never change.’

And there it is. No matter how many acres of newsprint are given over to this scandal, women like Yusuf Jamal lost out. Their names are not written in the annals of the sporting greats, but the cheaters are.

It’s a wakeup call for women’s sport. We are not as pure as the driven snow – women want to win in just as many devious and nasty ways as men. We can point the finger at the athlethics body for not acting on these tests but we also need to start asking ourselves – how badly do we want to win?

(*that’s women’s soccer for some of you!)