2nd November 2016

Pirouettes, paddles and poles! My Women’s Sports Week 2016

Women's Sports Week 2016

Women’s Sports Week 2016 – Pirouettes, paddles and poles!

This is the first of  3 posts about this year’s Women’s Sports Week 2016. I’m keeping them short and sweet as I know you are all so busy and only have a few minutes …

In this post I will give you the background to WSW. I will also tell you about what I tried – ballet, SUP and Nordic Walking.

In the second I will tell you the lessons I learned which I hope you will find useful if you are contemplating something new or starting to exercise again, especially for those of us in our 50s.

In the third post I will talk about the Women In Sports North Conference, organised by Kate Hardcastle, that I was fortunate enough to attend in Leeds.

Women in Sport WSW16

Women in Sport WSW16

So what is WSW and when is it held?

WSW is an opportunity for everyone involved in playing, delivering, leading or working in sport to celebrate, raise awareness and increase the profile of women’s sport across the UK. It is an initiative by the Department of  Culture, Media and Sport and backed by National Governing Bodies, Sport England, Women in Sport, Women’s Sports Trust and big broadcasters such as BBC and Sky.

The second Women’s Sports Week was held this year from 3rd – 9th October.

What is the purpose of the week? Is it just about elite sportswomen?

No, the objective across the week is to showcase and celebrate sport at every level from grassroots to the elite, and highlight the incredible contribution women make to sport.

Why do we need a week dedicated to women and sport?

1.6 million fewer women play sport and are active each year than men. WSW is a really positive way to join together to support and open up opportunities for women and girls to get involved.

Women’s Sports Week: Pirouettes, paddles and poles!

After reading that my friend, Freya Rodger was inspired to try 41 Olympic sports after WSW in 2015, I decided to use the week as a personal springboard too. I injured my knee in February and had reluctantly been out of action for several months, except for gentle walking and swimming using just my arms.

Thankfully in early September the consultant said I could start building my fitness back up.

Hoorah, I was eager to get going properly again!

I wasn’t quite up to Freya’s Olympic sized challenge and decided upon ‘just’ 3 sports:


Stand Up Paddleboarding &

Nordic Walking

a) Ballet

imageIt has been over 40 years since my last class, so going to ballet again very much felt like something new. I love dancing at home or adding a little swing to my steps on my daily walks. I have published two wonderful stories about ballet on my website. The first was Heather Pektov who began dancing again at 65 with Ballet4Life based in London and the second, Donna Hargreaves, who appeared in Channel 4’s Big Ballet. Her love of ballet, tap and the benefits of dance is infectious.

Donna invited me to join her at one of Shona Boocock Academy’s adult ballet class, so I popped on the train and made my way to Wakefield to meet in person. I was nervous and excited in equal measure. After mentioning it on Instagram, I was really encouraged to find that quite a few people had started adult ballet classes and were loving them!

There were 6 of us in the class, including one chap. Another lady explained it was her first class with Shona too. Everyone was very welcoming.

We began with a warm up and then barre work. As we worked our way through first, second, demi plie and plie, memories from school flooded back. I couldn’t help but smile. Stretching at the barre was fabulous, I could feel my legs really benefiting immediately.

We then moved onto some dance routines accompanied by the music. Some of the class were practising for the IDTA Adult Ballet grades. They also had a Christmas show with the young ballet dancers in Shona’s school to prepare for. I tried hard to keep up with the routine, but was often a few steps behind everyone else. But nobody minded.

Trying to bend deeply into the plie was also impossible with my knee and I skipped that bit. Again nobody batted an eyelid. They were all too focussed on enjoying their special hour at ballet and making me feel welcome in class. As the Lion King ‘Can you feel the love tonight?’ began and we followed a slightly longer routine, I found myself quite swept up in the music. I might not have looked like Darcey Bussell, but in my head I was her!

The time zipped by and we were soon on our way back to the station. On the way Donna explained that the IDTA (International Dance Teachers’ Association) has specific adult grades and exams that you can work for and is keen to encourage more adults to ballet. I felt wonderful and hugely grateful to Donna for inviting me. I had had a super workout, loved meeting new people and felt very welcome.

To find out more about Donna, follow her on Twitter @BigBalletDonna and Ballet4Life @ballet4lifeuk



b) Stand Up Paddleboarding in the Lake District


SUP is the fastest growing watersport worldwide. Surfing (but not SUP) will be included in Tokyo Olympics 2020, so I am sure interest will grow hugely over the next few years. Whilst surfing can take years to master, SUP is relatively simple to learn and is much more accessible for all ages. I have read many articles extolling its benefits for both a full body workout and for building core strength, something I now realise is extremely important to ageing healthily.

Some people simply hop on a board and go from there. However, I think a safety briefing with any new water sport is important. Also good technique learned at the outset will make the whole experience so much more fun.

I booked a class with Lake District Paddleboarding £45 for 2 hours, which the company generously upgraded to a safari, when they needed to change the location. Again I was really excited and really nervous.

On the way to Ullswater, I was running through all the reasons why I would be really ‘rubbish’ before I had even started! I love being in and around the water – I spent a summer kayaking in Alaska in the 1980s, I’ve canoed on rivers, I used to be a pretty good sub aqua diver at university. And yet, I was still worried about how I good I would be and if I would make a fool of myself.


I was really delighted to find that my SUP companion for the afternoon was Julie, also in her 50s. The safari was a birthday surprise from her husband. Once we were in our wetsuits (I had brought my own), our instructor, Bo, went through some simple but useful safety techniques. He talked about how to hold the paddle correctly, the importance of wearing the leash on the lake (but not the river), how to set off and how, in the wind, our bodies acted like a sail!

Despite my nerves, shortly after we left the shore I loved it! There was an incredible feeling of confidence looking out across the water. I felt both hugely exhilarated and very calm at the same time. We practised there for about 30 minutes and then set off down the river.

For the next couple of hours we were on safari, learning about the river, the Lake District and different wildlife we saw along the way. Bo showed us how to turn, stop, navigate shallow and more rapid water. Julie and I chatted along the river, encouraging each other, laughing and checking we were ok if one of us occasionally fell in. Bo was really knowledgeable about the area and SUP and we both agreed it had been a fabulous way to spend the afternoon.

There were a couple of things I couldn’t do because of my knee. However, I could feel that paddling would be great for my core and would build up my leg strength, thereby lessening the pressure on my knee joint. Being outside in the fresh air and on the water was an absolute joy. My brain, which always has way too many tabs open usually!, felt really calm and rested after.

For more information on SUP in the Lakes, go to Lake District Paddleboarding. Also, the British Stand Up Paddleboarding Association is a good point to find out more.

Lake District Paddleboarding

3) Nordic Walking

imageAgain it was one of the stories I shared on my website that sparked my interest in Nordic Walking. Janine Lewis, an ultra distance runner, has recently set up her own Nordic Walking business in Berkshire. Her enthusiasm and passion for its benefits shines through.

Given that walking is something I already enjoy, I wanted to find out more about why adding the poles was such a good idea. The distance between us meant that a lesson with Janine was not practical.

So I booked with Sabine at Nordic Walking Yorkshire based in Ilkley and after a couple of brief telephone conversations, we met one sunny afternoon after work. Sabine has been teaching Nordic Walking for over 12 years. Her professionalism and knowledge was abundant as we introduced ourselves and talked about my goals for the lesson. Sabine showed me how to hold the poles, what they added to a walk and fitted them to my height.

We set off along the river at quite a pace but without carrying the poles, simply marching along, swinging our arms to establish the rhythm NW is based upon. We then added the poles and I was Nordic Walking. Sabine was very encouraging, giving tips on the technique and subtly correcting me as needed.

Nordic Walking uses 90% of your muscles and if losing weight is your goal, burns up to 46% more calories than normal walking. As Sabine explained, your body is working much harder and yet, and I agreed with her, it feels easier. My shoulders felt stretched (in a good way!) and my breathing much more open. I also found we walked much quicker because of the rhythmic feel of swinging my arms and it was almost meditative. I definitely felt we were in the flow! That night, I slept so soundly, in the same way I do after a yoga class.

Along with the physical benefits of walking and being in the fresh air, I could see how wonderfully sociable NW is. Sabine seemed to know so many people as we walked along! She holds group classes during the week and at weekends, which I hope to join for more technique practise before buying my own poles.

For more information, find Janine on Twitter @3JFitness and Sabine @ilkleyfitness

I hope you have found these short snippets of my adventures helpful if you have been thinking of starting ballet, SUP or Nordic Walking. Please do feel free to contact me via Twitter or Instagram @healthyhappy50 if you have any questions. I am very happy to answer any questions!

In the next post, I will share the 7 Lessons I learned from WSW. See you then!

Have a great week!

Jo 🙂





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