Run Like A Girl
By Danielle Brown MBE
When I grow up I want to be a…
I had a very long list of hopes and aspirations for my future, but never in a million years did I think I’d have a career in sport.
In all fairness, I wasn’t very good at it.
I loved fell running (hill running) and, having a super competitive streak, I used to like racing. The only problem was that my two younger sisters used to beat me. I tried kayaking for a short while, and at the end of my level 2 course I was given a special certificate to say I’d achieved more swimming than canoeing. As for golf…? The amount of time I spent digging my way out of bunkers I might as well have invested in a bucket and spade.
When I look back and think about five-year-old me, with the path ahead wide open to possibility and potential, the fact that I wasn’t good at sport didn’t once factor into my thinking. I loved the challenge of trying something new and I threw myself into every new activity without a fear of failure. My less than stellar track record wasn’t the reason I limited myself - it just never crossed my mind that sport could amount to anything more than a hobby.
It wasn’t what people did. They got proper jobs and did sport around the edges for fun. But to make a living from it…? Not a chance.
Why did I think this?
Other than a handful of tennis players and perhaps the odd skier, I cannot remember seeing any other female athletes on TV. I didn’t read about them in books, and I didn’t hear about them in the playground. There were no visible coaches, referees, or support staff either. The few women I came across were the exceptions to the rule and, as a result, they weren’t remotely relatable.
My journey into elite sport happened by accident. At eleven-years-old my feet started to hurt. It wasn’t a big deal to start with, but the pain got worse and worse. Soon I was struggling to walk and I couldn’t take part in all the sports I loved. Five years later I was diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), a neurological condition that causes chronic pain in both my feet. It was an incredibly tough time, but instead of focusing on what I couldn’t do, I looked at what I could and began to look around for a sport that didn’t involve lots of running around or walking.
On my fifteenth birthday I started archery with my Dad, and it was no different to any other sport I’d tried. I was terrible! I couldn’t hit the target to save my life, never mind the middle of it, but I wasn’t there to shatter world records. I was there to have some fun. Yet, my club coaches saw something in me and they were full of encouragement.
“You have potential,” they told me.
As I searched for my arrows with help from the club’s trusty metal detector, I’m not entirely sure what they saw, but they believed in my abilities, and I went along with it. I wanted to be that person they saw so I worked hard, pouring my energy and enthusiasm into it. Every personal best reaffirmed this – I had potential and one day I was going to reach it.
Three years later I jumped onto the international scene, shooting straight in as World Number One. I held onto this position for the rest of my career, taking the gold medal in Beijing 2008 and retaining my title on home soil in London 2012. As well as five World Championship titles, I became the first disabled athlete to represent England in an able-bodied discipline at the Commonwealth Games, and won a gold medal with my team.
When I look back I realize that the lack of role models impacted how I saw ‘future me’, but when somebody stepped in and changed the narrative, it changed my future.
This is a common theme for both girls and boys, and stereotypes affect how they see themselves and their roles within society. Opportunities are lost, passions are denied and potential unfilled because of the belief that ‘it’s not for someone like me.’
In sport, we are seeing growth in the right direction (even if it is a lot slower than we sometimes might like) and I wrote Run Like A Girl because I wanted to showcase the pinnacle of human performance and the height of human adaptability. There are so many fierce competitors, comeback queens, trailblazers, thrill seekers, change makers and barrier breakers who deserve to have their story told.
And the girls and boys out there who deserve to read about them.
If I see it I can be it.
Representation matters. We need a space where we can see women succeeding, thriving, failing, bouncing back, and testing the limits of human endurance to change perceptions and rewrite harmful narratives. To play sport like a girl is something that we should – and can – be very proud of.
RUN LIKE A GIRL
All over the world, female athletes are breaking barriers, pushing limits and achieving amazing things, but where did their journeys begin? And what challenges did they have to overcome to get where they are today?
Run Like a Girl is a collection of fascinating biographical stories told of 50 highly successful sportswomen, from boxing superstar Nicola Adams to record-breaking yachtswoman Ellen MacArthur and fearless mountain biker Rachel Atherton. As well as giving an insight into their influences, motivations and achievements, each story reminds us that failing can teach us just as much as winning; success isn't limited to the sports field; and 'running like a girl' can lead you all the way to the top.
Four-time Olympian Katie Uhlaender on savoring the joys of competing, conquering pressure, staying focused, and more
Football coach Rob Mendez on teaching young athletes the all-important values of working hard, being resilient and chasing dreams
In recognition of Children’s Cardiomyopathy Awareness Month, check out Part Two of our conversation with Lisa Yue, Board President of the Children’s Cardiomyopathy Foundation