So #ThisGirlCan run and swim (now) and her kids can swim, run and play football. But no thanks to lacrosse at school.

Sport England’s #ThisGirlCan campaign has been everywhere over the last week or so. It’s polarised opinion; some feel it’s sexist, the women in the clips look too fit with too much cleavage on show, whilst others think it’s great – and I’m firmly in that camp. It’s got us talking about exercise and that’s a good thing, surely. I’ll write another time what the twins think of #ThisGirlCan film…

We are a sporty household, home to:

Me: swimmer, recently-returned-to-running runner

Supportive Husband: speedy cycler-to-work, kick around in the park footballer

11 year old daughter aka Speedy Swimmer: swimmer, footballer, sometime cross country runner, recently discovered handballer

1 1 year old son aka the Footballer: football, enthusiastic runner, cricketer

This means the house is full of kit and trainers and on a bad day the hall is a jumble of football boots, trainers, pool buoys, swimming bags, bikes and balls.

In between work, school, homework and sporting commitments there’s not much (woops, any?) time for culture and music. Some families juggle it all and do lots of trips to places but we don’t.

The #ThisGirlCan campaign got me thinking about what sport has meant to me in my life. I went to a girls’ boarding school where lacrosse dominated, the games mistress used to say we should be ‘masters of one sport’ rather than trying out lots. This didn’t work for me, or anyone who wasn’t in the school team. Weekends were spent sitting on wet grassy slopes, enrobed in enormous school cloaks, ‘watching’ the teams play whilst smuggling sweets into my mouth. Not great. My sister told me the only way to survive GSCE and A Level exam season was to make use of the offer of daily swimming, so every day during those summer terms I swam up and down the school pool. I tried running in the 6th form. This entailed going out on my own in the dark stumbling around the school grounds. Not great.

Exercise means a lot to me now. This diagram pretty much sums it up to me:

exercise chart best

I asked the children what it means to them and why they like it. Here’s what one said:

11 year old Speedy Swimmer

(swim trains 4x week + galas)

I’m good at it

I can talk with my friends (this is the post pool time when a parent chauffeur is waiting outside wondering where on earth she is)

I sleeper better afterwards

It makes me feel good

It’s nice away from school stuff

I like winning (when I said it wasn’t all about winning she said no, but that’s the best bit)

What she didn’t say was how her confidence has grown as her swimming has improved, hurray.

Next time it’ll be the turn of the Footballer.

When I was 40 a very good author friend introduced me to Couch to 5k. This running programme does exactly as it says, it gets you off the couch and able to run 5k. It’s a 9 week programme and it’s brilliant. So in 2013 (6 months after she told me about it) I downloaded the podcasts – not the NHS one she recommended but for some reason an American one starring a 40 year old runner called Robert Ullrey. It really does work. You simply do exactly as the voice on the podcast tells you to, 3 times a week. So thank you Robert for getting me running. I even earned a hand drawn ‘Well Done Mummy’ picture from the Speedy Swimmer, featuring a rather large and lumpen figure slumped on a couch, with an arrow to an unrealistically thin stick figure running off in the distance. I had to stop last spring when I had a stint off games, but I’ve started again and am managing to look after my back better this time round. If only such a running programme had been on offer at school!

At university I took to the water and took up rowing. This was good fun, and being a member of the college rowing club led me to hang out with other sporty people – mainly hockey players – on my course. But I couldn’t run, I was hopeless at land based training. Oh the memory of a ‘compulsory run’ for the college club, to which only 2 girls turned up. The other girl sped off with the boys and I was left stopping and starting miles behind, mortified. I could handle the ergo though, and loved pulling high scores for 2k pieces. By my third year I had somehow taught myself to run / pound the pavement for an hour.

And now of course my favourite sport is swimming. It’s brought me and the Speedy Swimmer closer together as she shares her swimming tips and every now and then gives me some coaching in the pool.

I have been helped and supported by so many people on my sporting journey to fitness and back to fitness. I have three cheerleaders at home, and was lucky to have many lovely friends and colleagues like Lauren (marathon runner) and Georgia (swimmer) making all the  right noises as I regaled them of my attempts to run and swim. Thanks guys!

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