Monday, September 28, 2015

Before the game All Ireland ladies football

The sound of singing drifting down the lanes around Croke Park was the first sign something different was happening yesterday. The pubs were quiet but the scarves-and-headbands men were doing well.

If you’re thinking that sounds loud, that’s because it was loud with 31,083 bums on seats for three GAA ladies football matches; the highest attendance for any women’s sporting event in Europe this year.  But it was Before the Game which interested me. It was still to play for, and anyone can dream of lifting that cup.

Lines of young girls chattering and singing streamed out of endless buses. The atmosphere was more like a giant school-tour than a serious tournament until I understood how far people had come for their teams.

One Tyrone club come every year, regardless of who is playing, their coach said. He jokingly referred to himself as a feminist but who needs a label when you’re driving the future of women’s sport around?

Waterford fans came racing in to catch their team, not the main event according to the programme but try telling them that.

Club after club arrived from Cork with red and white flags flying and the woolly headbands being twisted around their heads. Fuelled by sugar and excitement, the singing was just beginning.

Dubs came with their families and in teams- one club starting a sing-song outside the Cusack stadium. A tiny Cork boy strolling past produced an almighty roar of Up the Rebels only to be drowned out by a sea of blue shouting back. All in good fun of course ...

I came too late to meet any Scots. Yes, Scots – a team from Scotland took to the field to play against Co Louth in the Junior All-Ireland final. 

And now typing this up not too far from Croke Park, I can hear lines of girls still singing as they make their way home. The matches are over, but their memories are just beginning.

For full results and write-ups see

Friday, September 25, 2015

Can MuayThai change girls' lives?

Mod, trainer at Elite Boxing, Thailand kicks pads - inspiring
You know how so many boxing films are set around the mean streets of some nasty city and our hero gets saved by the ring? Well, this week's video is a real-life version of that with a Thai twist.

Plus heroines of course ...

Elite Boxing Gym in Bangkok is joining with  local charity SATI to teach self-defence to teens living out on the streets or almost on the streets. Thailand has a lovely paradise-feel to it if you’re a wealthy tourist but for these women life revolves around staying safe.

The EFN Champions League event tomorrow sees the launch of a ‘Muay Ying’ campaign, meaning Girl Boxing or Female Boxing. The fightcard also includes four women so the separate empowerment campaign isn't just lip-service.  These fights are promoted by Ms Pariyakorn Ratanasuban ( Khun Oh) who was the first female promoter in Thailand on a grand scale, and a great driver of change in women's boxing.

It’s sounds quite idealistic but after watching the video, which blogger Melissa Ray from MuayThai on the Brain tweeted, I’m a convert.

We see two teens talking about quitting drugs, wanting to live clean. They’re from a small town miles away from Bangkok, probably can’t go home for shame/ loss of face reasons but seem to be finding a new family. I know, I know corny but those movies always have a kernel of truth to them.

Mod, a female trainer from Elite Boxing, is taking the classes. And looking at the girls’ faces as they see how strong she is kicking the pads, tells me this could really work. Elite Boxing are funding the work through SATI which makes it more sustainable than a one-off donation too. Let's see if this pans out.

Have a look, and tell us what you think?


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Monday, September 21, 2015

Aoife Murphy, MMA and making weight

Michigan USA - Aoife (rear, right) training with Invicta fighters at Scorpiion Fighting System Team SFS

When male fighters grow up big and tall, promoters rub their hands with glee. But for Aoife Murphy standing at 1.83m or bang on six foot is simply a problem. 

The small number of women doing MMA globally can be seen in the constant calls for top fighters to drop weight or eat a lot to meet Ronda Rousey. In Ireland where athletic women are pushed towards teamsports – Murphy used to play GAA football, the problem is acute. 

So she fights across amateur boxing, kickboxing and now MMA at C-Mac MMA to keep her hand in. 

Chatting on the phone the other day, the Dubliner said: ‘I started in Kickboxing but I wanted to do it all. I wanted to have a go at MMA, I was game to try something else. They’re just different   - MMA you can slow the pace with grappling, kickboxing you have to step in. 

‘I love the striking and the grappling- I’ll go in the cage, in the ring, on the mats. I hate being inactive.’

Her fight record of two wins, one loss in MMA; four wins, one loss in Kickboxing and two wins, one loss in amateur boxing is across 70 to 78kgs. I winced at the thought of cutting and dicing your body like that. 

“Friends look at my lunch-box and they’re like: ‘are you feeding a rabbit?’ I prepare it all on my day off, do the groceries and cook. The fridge is full of Tupperware, you have to be a well-oiled machine. 

“I walk around at 80kgs, so it’s a big cut for me. I wouldn’t eat badly but I am inclined to put on weight.”

Aoife’s boyfriend Paul O’ Brien fights too, so at least there’s no-one scoffing chocolate cake around her. And working as a hairdresser gives her chance to share her knowledge. 

She said: “It opens their eyes to what you don’t see about MMA; the fitness, the health. It’s great.” 

And maybe being walking so tall in the MMA would is on the way to being more accepted. The last Invicta fightcard earlier this month - included their first 70kg event. Rachel Wiley and Felicia Spencer clocked in at 155lbs or just over 70kgs, so we could yet see Aoife's name on that card. 

Aoife (in pink) with the growing number of women training at C-Mac MMA in Dublin.
 More to come from this interview!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Ask an expert: eating for sport

Fruit stall in Phnom Penh, Cambodia - it just looks so good for you!

Nutrition and diet are tricky topics for women interested in sport. What should we eat? How much of it should we eat? If my friend is eating that, should I be doing the same? On and on and on, it's a total minefield.

But without the right fuel training can be a disaster. There are so many long-term effects too, strange things happening inside us we don't even spot at the moment we do the damage.

I stopped eating meat when I was 17, a typical teenage rebellion really along with a whole list of other "----isms". This became a problem when I got into professional-level MuayThai and realised I just wasn't eating right. My trainers' advice was to eat meat and stop being an idiot - thanks for that guys.

Instead I became a research queen and figured out how to keep kicking and hold onto most of my ethics. I eat fish, a lot of fish actually but still no meat. And no judgements for women who choose other paths - just stay healthy! Meat didn't work for me but it does for millions of people.

I've launched a new page for this site - eating for sport. You can find the link at the top of your screen. Instead of my advice which is really only relevant to myself, I've posted links to fact-sheets from two of my go-to websites.

One is the Australian Institute of Sport. Australia is simply the most sports-mad country I can think of and there is a lot of competition for that title. Their national teams are so well-looked after, it would make you green. That advice is worth gold, really.

The other is the Irish Nutrition and Dietetics Institute.  Dietitians are the people trained to look at diets in a real micro-fashion and will help you find the best balance for you. In Ireland they're the only ones recognised by the State health system so I'll take that.

If you have sports nutrition queries, leave a comment here or on Facebook or Twitter and I will ask an expert for you! 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Wonder Women

(almost) Wordless Wednesday:

So you know this blog had a bit of a makeover? When I was checking the stats, I realised how many of you download photos from here - so these are the most popular pics all in one post.
Wonder Woman cartoon

MuayThai Valentina Shevchenko KO

Womens surfing Easkey Britton Ireland Irish

Melissa Ray MuayThai Eminent Air Thai boxing Bangkok

MuayThai Angels women Thai  Boxing Bangkok

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

Monday, September 14, 2015

Doing adventure races for the craic

Caitriona (centre) celebrates with fellow Killarney Adventure race finishers Edele and Chris 
Corkwoman Caitriona O' Malley is one of the new breed of adventure racers. Female, avoiding head-to-toe lyrca and fancy gadgets, she simply loves the buzz from competing. 

Adventures races usually include running (preferably up a mountain or at least a bog), biking (again with the hills) and kayaking (lakes, rivers or even the sea). They’re not for the faint-hearted but having done the road-race thing and international hikes for charities, Caitriona was ready for more adrenaline. 

We talked yesterday while striding along in a stiff breeze by Cork Harbour. 

She said: ‘I did a few half-marathons and by the last two I was sick of the training, I felt it was a big commitment and I got bored really. I felt I wasn’t training enough and feeling guilty from that and lots of negative thinking. 

‘When I did my first adventure race last year, I didn’t even own a bike. I borrowed my brother’s bike and hadn’t been in a kayak for about 10 years. I did it with two friends, it was brilliant, just such good craic*!

‘The variety physically, you’re chopping and changing so it felt you never get too tired.’

Married with two children and a full-time job Caitriona’s training fits in around all of that. 

She said: ‘I try to do two circuit sessions in a week at 06.30am, then a run and the bike different days. That would be anything from 5km to 10km, it depends on what else in going on!’ 

Bike bought now, she includes cycles to work on sunny days - not too many of them this summer. 

On yer bike for the Killarney Adenture race ... 
Her next race is the 2015 Killarney Adventure Race on October 3rd , doing the 27km Sport distance. This includes an 8km forest run (and steps known as Cardiac Steps!), 1.5km kayak and 11km on the bike. 

She said: ‘I’m not going for World Records. I’m fit enough to enjoy it and finish it, and that’s my aim. It’s just so satisfying to do something that isn’t about my family or work, and it’s reinforcing to feel fit and be strong. 

‘When I’m out there, there is just that buzz of being out in nature. It’s just amazing!’

(*craic for outside Ireland readers is a Gaelic word I find hard to translate; it covers fun, excitement, being with friends and laughter)  

Friday, September 11, 2015

Book review: Ronda Rousey fights on

When Patrick Swayze says in ‘Road House’ be nice until it’s time not to be nice he could be talking about Ronda Rousey. A pin-up who smiles sweetly until she takes another record-time win.  This week we heard Rousey’s signed on to play his character ‘Dom’ in a remake – not as stupid as it sounds at first. 

I bought her autobiography to read about the UFC but having some to the end now, after my earlier post on the opening chapters, I have to say the section just before MMA is the most interesting.

At a judo training camp in Spain, she sets out to smash her international opponents. She says: 

‘Most athletes in the training camps were trying to get through the day’s workouts. I was trying to leave an impression on every single person in my division.’ 

Sound familiar? She’s in a new sport today but that same psych-out and confidence-earned-through-disaster is what’s bringing MMA results. 

Honed too by an eating disorder. This is the silent sister to all combat sports – you obsess about everything going into your mouth, every gram of weight is a big deal. Do you drop down one division or go for two? How tall are you, where does your reach and your weight balance out? 

Male and female bodies deal with cutting weight differently for complex biological reasons  - if you’re feeling alone, trying reading this book and maybe give a few chapters to your coach. 

For me the main takeaway from this book is self-belief. One of her many little mantras is still running around in my head: 

‘Every armbar that I’ve done is entirely different to me. Just because it ends up looking the same doesn’t mean I got there the same way. There are over 100,000 ways to get the same result.’

You can read the my review of the opening chapters in Rousey' life in this blogpost.


Monday, September 7, 2015

How small teams get to big championships

Irish team at ICF Freestyle Worlds - pic via FACEBOOK
Freestyle kayakers from around the world were in Ottawa this week and last racing down some serious rapids. 

There were some great stories happening behind the scenes with a few of the smaller teams. I know most about the Irish team - they were out there competing with the big American and Canadian teams powered by cake-sales and pub-quizzes.  Yes, cakes. And it takes a lot of cakes to get from Ireland to Ottawa.

Ok, they obviously had funding through Canoeing Ireland as well but there is something special about a team which pulls together like this:

The Ugandan team had bigger problems than just a lack of funding. They were twice refused visas by the Canadian High Commission and only got the vital paperwork on August 21st - about a week  before the tournament started.

Team manager Sam Ward was quoted in Ottawa Citizen saying: 'They are ecstatic. Amina Tayona, the only female in the group, collapsed in tears when she heard the news that the visas had been granted. Then she went around hugging everyone. It was very emotional. They are very happy.'

Uganda's team for ICF freestyle kayaking World Championships pic VIA Ottawa Citizen
That wasn't all though. It took so long to get the visa organised that the price of the tickets had shoot through the roof.  The internet to the rescue with a heart-warming crowdfunding blitz that replaced the cost of the three visa applications and filled in the ticket-costs.

More details on the actual heats and races on the ICF 2015 World Freestyle Kayak website.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

STICKY POST: September Clean Up

It's funny how September is really the start of the year in the northern hemisphere. We started school on that date for so many years that new beginings seem more natural than any other time of year even January.

And so it's time for some changes around here. I've posted before about self-hosting and redecorating but it's really time now. This lovely blog is five years old this summer and needs a bit of an over-haul.


Friday, September 4, 2015

MMA in Malaysia: Ann "Athena" Osman goes pro

Ann Athena Osman MMA Malaysia women in sport
*photo credit to YK Tang Photog

Ann "Athena" Osman is the first professional female MMA fighter in Malaysia. 

I found two interesting documentaries about her this week. This first one is older, from last year before she turned professional. But I like the glimpse of that juggling-act between work and training. We see her on the laptop one minute, making calls and then the camera cuts to the gym where she's all business. 

This second documentay is from March of this year. You can really appreciate how slick her life is becoming but built on that solid bedrock of train, eat, repeat. 
As well as the expected training and fighting, she's also described as " a media darling" and "celebrity" without even winning a title yet. Sometimes being a woman in a man's world can be great for sponsorship. 

But she also takes flak from more conservative Malay social media users for not being "a good Muslim". Her fight clothing gets negative attention ocasionally but she seems to deal with it very well. 

The Al Jazeera journalist comes across as slightly in awe of "Athena" which is endearing although slightly annoying. She says at one point: "Ann yesterday was in heels and giggling, and today she's a killer". Indeed. 

I couldn't embed this one, but it's available on Al Jazeera video as Malaysia's Woman Warrior. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015