I first met Katie when I discovered Cumbrian Girls Can. I live right on the Lancashire-Cumbria border and have spent many happy working days in Cumbria, I was also aware of the high numbers of inactive women in the county, so I was keen to find out more about the partnership that Katie had started. I loved her enthusiasm and attitude and asked her to take part in this interview series so I could find out more about her journey and love of rugby.

Tell us a bit about yourself Katie

I’m a mid-forties, full time working, mum of twins. I started the Cumbrian Girls Can partnership because I feel so much benefit from being active myself but I know how hard it can be. I wanted to be part of a supportive and inspiring local community that helps others to try an activity for the first time, to keep going or achieve a goal and be more active

When did you decide to start exercising regularly and why was that?

I was really lucky to have a childhood where I was exposed to lots of different activities. My mum was a keen gardener, and used to get me and my brother on her bike so we could exercise the dog! I was encouraged to play outside and I enjoyed swimming lessons too. I recall having the definitions of extinction and distinction explained to me after I told everyone I had got an extinction for my first ballet exam (I think for smiling and effort as it certainly wasn’t for coordination or grace). We would watch my dad play cricket for hours, in the summer. In the winter on a Saturday afternoon he watched the rugby, so we did too. Often live. I was also brought up to believe girls and boys were equal, and I was supported to do the things I wanted to.

What activities have you tried and what’s your favourite?

I’ve played rugby for over twenty years. It is a fantastic sport; the positions on the field are so varied. Whether you are nippy, fast, powerful, whatever your size or height. Whether you have good spatial awareness, good communication or leadership skills. Whether you can think on your feet, or are prepared to consistently dig in and work hard. The team needs you! It’s fun off the pitch too. The teams I have played in have been stacked with characters, and it’s great to be a part of. Life’s a bit different now though, so although I do still like to play, it is finding rare chances to play that don’t require the same level of commitment I have been able to give in the past that is my current challenge.
Despite having a ‘sitting down job’ I do try to be active. I feel so much better when I am. I do a bit of running, often with my dog. My partner and I get a quick run together while the boys are at Beavers at the moment, and I do enjoy the occasional Park Run. I have done a couple of half marathons over the last few years, but I’m really focusing on just being consistently active at present.
I enjoy cycling as well, I like mountain biking as a family; it’s great to be outside having an adventure that requires us all to work hard physically. I can see I will need to keep up my fitness work to keep up with the boys as they grow over the next few years!  I also enjoy gardening. I am always surprised how shifting soil around works my shoulders, core and quads and the satisfaction of eating salad, peas or potatoes from your own endeavours and the generosity of the weather is a good feeling!

What has been the biggest barrier you’ve had to overcome in your fitness journey?

I moved area and school at 11, my junior school had given me a great intro to being active, but the activity we did was varied and different. The rest of the young people I joined at secondary school had a good base of netball and hockey, I didn’t know the rules and I don’t think the teacher worked that out. I felt out of place, lacked confidence and spent all of my secondary schooling, being picked last and trying to hide on the court. The fear of judgement is still in the back of my mind when I try something new, but there are so many different ways to be active, and my experience of the adult world of activity has been completely different.
When I went to Uni, despite having had a pretty unpleasant experience at school, I was keen to try rugby. It was perhaps the sales pitch at the Fresher’s Fair, or the fact I felt confident I knew enough about the game after continuing to be a supporter through my teens. Or the appeal of the outdoors, mud and social – I’m not sure. But I started in the game then. My activity levels faltered again a couple of months later, after a bad fall in a tackle broke my collar bone quite badly. A few months on – I was slowly regaining confidence, and by my third year – loving every minute.

Have you had any negative comments and how have you dealt with them?

Some people openly share their view that rugby is too dangerous for girls. I believe everyone needs to find their ‘thing’ whether it is dance, yoga, gardening, running, horse riding, jumping or a team sport. I know my own life has been enriched by the game. I have made friends, experienced fantastic coaching, developed skills and a positive mindset, felt the adrenaline rush, had the satisfaction of achievement through hardwork and team work, faced challenge, and dealt with disappointment. And alongside the bruises, developed muscle, and fitness and a healthy perspective on life. So for me, the benefits far out way the risks of the game, and doing nothing comes with a much bigger downside.

What goals have you set and have you reached any of them yet?

Having a goal really helps me! A friend who lives in Liverpool asked me to do a challenge with her for a big birthday a few years ago. She wanted to motivate some of her friends to be more active, and to have a great time! We did the Coniston Challenge for Guide dogs, it involved kayaking, mountain biking and a quick up and down of the Old Man of Coniston in a day. We had a fab time! It was great to spend time together, to laugh and take the memories away to keep. Since then I was lucky to be accompanied by some friends on an 84-mile adventure along Hadrian’s Wall in three days, and to return the favour by completing the women’s 100 mile Flippin Eck Sportive in Yorkshire this summer for one of my friends.  All three of these events have taken me well outside my comfort zone, but they have helped me to work up a progressive plan in preparation, and I have enjoyed the mental challenge during the event of pushing my body to achieve. And I have really loved the adventure, the sharing of moments, views, pain, ambition and satisfaction. I think it helps to have either a well set up event or great support – and we have had that for these three!

What benefits has being active brought you?

Confidence, perspective, satisfaction, adventure, fun, and a feeling of empowerment. It makes me feel like I can stand up tall and be who I am.
It gets me outside too, I enjoy feeling the weather, seeing the landscape change with the season and watching the odd wren, or dipper go about its business. And I love sharing this with the boys and my partner, and friends when we get out together.
I know that (especially with the broken clavicle) my posture is better when I exercise, and I have a feel good feeling. I know I have a family history of diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, arthritis and fingers crossed being active will ward off any of these that are likely to come my way. But I think I am active because of my upbringing and the impact is has on the way I feel, some of which is undoubtedly related to body confidence.

What advice would you give to other women who want to start exercising?

Find what you enjoy, and think about what it gives you. It doesn’t need to be one thing though. A cocktail of different activities means if one becomes less feasible or attractive you can lean a bit more on the others, rather than have to seek a new thing.  I find challenging myself, whether it is to do Red January (which doesn’t have to be running by the way, and for me it was just 10-15 minutes – for a much more positive month!) or to be working towards a big achievement or adventure it helps me to prioritise activity into my daily or weekly plan.

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