OUSC Girls Can!

In Sports Teams by Juliet Flamank0 Comments

To celebrate This Girl Can week, OUSC’s women have reminisced on what made them get involved in sport, and why they still actively participate today. In doing so, they have suggested a piece of advice they would give to their 12-year-old selves in hope to inspire more women-identifying people to get involved in sport!

JULIET FLAMANK

My name is Juliet and I am 3rd year PPEist at Balliol. My dad is the reason why I swim, he was incredibly sporty when younger (England U18s football team!) and when he ended up with four daughters he had to adapt his dreams of having a son to play football with and instead encouraged me to try sports with him. I ended up doing loads of sports before I found swimming, but swimming has been my only sport since I was 11 and therefore it is so much a part of me I can’t imagine a time in my life

when I won’t enjoy swimming. I did actually stop competing during A Levels as I wanted to focus on academia and I had a particularly bad injury which wasn’t going away. When coming to Oxford I took my 1st year to makecollege friends and try other sports such as college rowing, as I felt that I wouldn’t be able to get back into the sport after taking some time off. However I ended up being dragged into a swimming gala during hillary and after meeting the team and getting a feel for the water again, I was so  pleased to find that most people on the team had taken a break from swimming before uni and there were others with more permanent injuries too and therefore I decided to swim properly for my last two years – and haven’t looked back!! My injury means I will never be as fast, or be able to train as hard as I did when I was younger, but when I was younger I was able to compete at nationals four times and therefore have loved just swimming for fitness and social. Swimming at varsity last year and winning was such an adrenaline rush and I can’t wait till Varsity this year!

What is the hardest part of swimming both at Oxford and as a girl?

The hardest part of swimming at Oxford is definitely trying to balance a workload, training and socialising. In regards to being a girl in sport, I’ve found dealing with body image issues is the hardest part; swimmers tend to end up with broad shoulders and more muscular frames which doesn’t fit within a stereotypical perception of an ‘attractive’ woman’s body. This can be especially the case for young girls, who are going through puberty and confronting body image issues for the first time. However, this has definitely got better with age!

Also, sport in general, and in particular university environments, typically creates very masculine environments. This can be quite intimidating, both to join initially and then while settling in. Every swim team I have ever been on has been mixed, and although it’s undoubtedly very fun, there are definitely instances where it can feel intimidating for women on a mixed team. For instance, push up exercises often lead to the guys loudly cheering and chanting, focusing on how many they’re able to do. Whenyoucontrast this with the girls on the team, who usually do far less, and  ‘girl push ups’ on their knees, it’s clear why it can be harder for women in mixed sports. But it is getting better and people are adapting. My dad for example, after not having a son learnt that playing sport with his daughter was just as fun and therefore people’s perceptions are changing.

Any advice/something you wish you could say to 12 year old you?

That your body is fab and it really doesn’t matter that other girls are skinnier that you or their shoulders look better in halter necks than yours!

LAUREN BURTON

I’m Lauren, a second year geographer at St Anne’s. I have always been in the water – from my parents first throwing me in when I was months old, to training this morning! Swimming, and sport in general, gives me head space which is vital to complement my studies, so triallingfor the Blues squad was a no brainer during Freshers week! I have made so many new friends through sport and gained so much confidence knowing that I am excelling at something I love. Even if you are not a confident swimmer, have insecurities about the way you look in a swimming costume or don’t want to be seen as the only one who does sport in your group, my advice would be to at least TRY a sport that you’re vaguely interested in or excited by – it could be the start of something magical!

What is the hardest part of swimming both at Oxford and as a girl?

Swimming is often perceived as a fairly male-dominated sport – initial thoughts may be of the V-shaped backs and washboard abs you would see in the Olympics, but in reality swimming is an incredibly accessible sport for everyone. When I find it hard trying to fit in and conform to stereotypes, I take a step back and remind myself that I swim because I love it and, appearances aside, that is enough for me.

Any advice/something you wish you could say to 12 year old you?

As a teenage girl you will experience a lot of external pressure that will attempt to shape you into someone you are not.Do not bow to these pressures, stay true to who you are and you will reap much success and happiness!

ZARA RYAN

My name’s Zara and I study Law and French Law at Mansfield College. My mum claims my love for being in the water stems from when I was a baby: apparently I wouldn’t stop crying until she put me in the bath! However, I then went through a phase of being scared of going in the pool and later failing some of my Frosties swimming badges a couple of times (tragic). I was always super hyperactive as a child and probably needed sport to tire me out a bit. As I approached 7 years old I was (for some reason) given the choice between doing swimming personal survival training or joining the local club, and thankfully I chose the latter! 12 years on I’ve earned myself loads of swimming medals, competed at nationals and British Championships, and the sport has even taken me abroad.

I joined OUSC a bit worn out from years of racing with the intention to swim more casually just to keep mentally and physically healthy and focus more on my studies, but the team was so welcoming and motivated that I’ve done so much more. Now I am Women’s Captain of the squad and I couldn’t be enjoying swimming any more; we have great coaches, fab socials and a lovely team of students who are so supportive of one another, plus training is the perfect study break.

What is the hardest part of swimming both at Oxford and as a girl?

At Oxford the hardest thing for me is probably balancing swimming with the big work load. As a girl, I’ve always struggled a bit with body image from swimming, both becausethe ‘swimmer shoulders’ or ‘triangular’ body shape is not conventionally attractive for girls (unlike boys) and also because you see everyone in their swimming costumes all the time and I always end up finding myself negatively comparing my figure to every girl I ever see at the pool, regardless of whether I am faster, fitter or smarter than them.

Also there is a common misconception inswimming that girls mature significantly earlier than boys and will not speed up much beyond puberty. Consequently, if they are not number one in the country by the time they are 16, coachestend to give up onthem, despite their (often huge) potential. From what I have seen, this lack of external faith demotivates teenage girls and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as they lose incentive to train or try hard and consequently get unfit and slow down. Meanwhile, boys are generally expected to keep improving right into their twenties, and seem less likely to drop out or stop trying, and therefore do succeed later on. To me, it feels so important that male and female swimmers be treated equally, and that faith and motivation is instilled in them throughout their career.

Any advice/something you wish you could say to 12 year old you?

Enjoy being good at every stroke and distancebecause once you hit puberty you’re going to be doing 200m butterfly for the rest of your life!!!

COURTNEY SAUNDERS

I first started swimming lessons when I was younger purely so that I was confident and safe in the water. When I was 9, I was invited to trial with the competitive squad at my local swimming club. I remember swimming at my first club championships aged 9 and crying the entire time because I felt so nervous and had no confidence in my ability. But from then on I was determined to improve and get faster and developed a love for swimming as I moved up the lanes in the club as I progressed. One of the achievements I am most proud of is achieving 8 National qualifying times, competing in the National Age Group Swimming Championships and making finals when I was 10 years old. I attended the National Championships 6 years in a row when competing as an age group swimmer. I am very grateful for having had the opportunity to swim, as it taught me from a young age how to work efficiently and be organised, having to balance swimming and schoolwork. Swimming also helped greatly with increasing my self-confidence and the drive and determination I learnt from competing is something I have taken with me outside sport.

I started to swim with the OUSC seconds team in Hilary term of my first year at Oxford, having had some time out of the sport. The experience of getting back in the water and training reminded me of my love for swimming and the happiness that it brings me. I successfully tried out for the Blues team at the start of this academic year and have been thoroughly enjoying getting back into training. I have since competed in a friendly swimming gala and BUCS. I am extremely glad I made the decision to start swimming again because it helps me to keep fit and provides relief from the stress ofacademic work. Swimming has had such a positive impact on my life and being part of such a great team has made this term at Oxford so enjoyable.

What is the hardest part of swimming both at Oxford and asa girl?

The hardest part of swimming at Oxford for me has been learning to manage the academic workload and making the swimming sessions. Swimming has, however, now helped me to work more efficiently and to organise my time better.

Any advice/something you wish you could say to 12 year old you?

Keep going! The hard work and perseverance is definitely worth it. I would also tell myself not to be so hard on myself when I am not happy with how a swim or competition went.

CHARLOTTE NEWMAN

Like most competitive swimmers, I’ve been doing the sport for as long as I can remember, and like a lot of female athletes I struggled with the post-puberty plato in performance. But I’ve always liked training and enjoy keeping fit so decided to trial for the uni team. It was the one of the best decisions I’ve made since coming to Oxford! It’s helped me look beyond my own performance (which still hasn’t really improved since I was 15!) and focus a lot more on winning as a team…which is considerably more enjoyable!

What is the hardest part of swimming both at Oxford and as a girl?

Constantly having wet hair is less than ideal, especially in winter! But seriously, unlikethe men, we do just have to accept the fact that unless you hit the gym, your body’s athleticism has reached its peak by the time you’re 17/18, and often much earlier. Once you’ve accepted that, you can then go on to set yourself targets that are more fulfilling than getting PBs every time yourace.

Any advice/something youwish you could say to 12 year old you?

If you love it, stick with it. If that love starts to fade, do try and keep it in your life in some way, as you never know when you might want to pickit up again. There’s so much more to swimming than the 5am starts and saying no to every social event in your life! Teaching, open water, water polo, recreational swimming- do something that means the smell of chlorine follows you to university because itreally is worth trying Uni sport.

LAURA FENWICK

I joined a swimming club when I was nine years old and quickly got swept up into the competitive swimming world. At fourteen I got into triathlon and by the time I came to Oxford, triathlon had been my main sport for a few years

and I was competing at national junior level. Over the last four years OUSC has given me the opportunity to keep my swimming training at the level I need for elite triathlon, and has also allowed me to keep in touch with my first sporting love of competitive swimming. Even though I have branched out to triathlon and a preference for longdistance, open water swimming in recent years, a small part of me is still a pool swimmer at heart and I will alwayssay that growing up as a competitive swimmer made me the person I am today, both in sport and life in general.

 

What is the hardest part of swimming both at Oxford and as a girl?

The hardest part of swimming at Oxford for me is finding the time to fit in the volume of training required to compete at the level I strive for. However, it is made so much easier by that fact that training is something I enjoy and my social life is within the sports clubs that I am part of.

Any advice/something you wish you couldsay to 12 year old you?

In ten years time it won’t matter whether you were 2 seconds under or 10 seconds over your personal best time in the county swimming gala, but it will matter that you continue to train hard, respect your coaches, look after your body and mind, show gratitude to your parents and supporters, and most importantly keep on swimming!

SOPHIA SALLER

I’m Sophia, 23 year old DPhil student and triathlete. I’m currently in my 7th year in Oxford and when I arrived I had only just started getting more serious in my triathlon training. The sports culture in Oxford and OUSC has always been amazingand has massively helped me to become a better person and athlete – everyone in the club is very welcoming, very encouraging and looks out for one another. The spirit is very much one of “we’re all in this together and let’s work together to make each other better” which is something you don’t actually often get in many squads. I’ve met many of my best friends here through sport and I’m super grateful for everything that Oxford Uni Sport and OUSC have given me so far.

What is the hardest part of swimming both at Oxford andas a girl?

We’re all here because of our academics in theend – and that’s what makes swimming harder. We can’t just give up everything to focus on training and recovery and don’t have the same amount of time to spend on training as fully professional athletes. But it makes us think more about our training and use the time that we have more efficiently. And the nice thing is that we’re all in the same boat together, so if someone is having a bad day, there

are plenty of other people in the squad helping us to get through it.

Any advice/something you wish you could say to 12 year old you?

Just keep doing what you love doing. And don’t let anyone ever tell you that you can’t do something… I was told that I can’t do triathlon at the same time as going to Oxford – an U23 World title and a first class masters later I think they were wrong 😉

TORI LACKEY

I am a Masters of Theology student atWycliffe Hall. I swam from the ages of 4 to 16, then took 7 years off. I recently picked it up again because I love the water, the team atmosphere, and the competitive environment. When I was 16 I wasn’t able to achieve a healthy life/swim balance, but now that I’ve re-entered the water on my own accord (instead of my parents’), I find that my academics and athletics complement each other verywell. Swimming clears my head while also giving me the space to think. I mean, what other sport gives you 2 hours a day with your head under water?!

What is the hardest part of swimming both at Oxford and as a girl?

The most difficult part of swimming at Oxford is making the conscious decision each day to brave the cold and make the long trek to Iffley Road. Once there, it is well worth it (minus the wet hair on the bike ride home).

I don’t think that women are more emotional beings, but I do think we are better at being more holistic beings and therefore pay more attention to how we feel. When we compete, we are body, mind and heart – and not particularly in that order! So when I’m in practice or am getting ready for a race, I need to prepare each part of myself – body, mind and heart – to engage with the water in front of me. I find that it’s difficult to get most male coaches to understand this dynamic.

Any advice/something you wish you could say to 12 year old you?

You are brave and strong and loved – no matter your performance. (And in 12 years, you’ll end up at Oxford. So breathe a little.)

LUCY FARQUHAR

My mum always made me try loads of sports as a child, including ballroom dancing, tennis, cricket, football, netball and finally swimming and running. Eventually her making me go, turned into me wanting to go and I made some of my best friends doing the sports that I love. Even these days I’ve only managed to narrow these sports down to doing 3 sports that I love – swimming, cycling and running – all forming the wonderful sport thatis triathlon! Sport made me into the person I am today, before I started training I was incredibly shy and wary of starting anythingnew for fear of being lonely and failing. Once I had made that initial leap into my first running session or moving into a swimming squad I found out that not everyone does things perfectly and it’s good to make mistakes. You meet others who are also there to try hard and improve, but above all are understanding, kind-hearted and wonderful people.

Now I’m at Uni OUSC has been alifesaver for me, because there is no other place in Oxford where I could get the quality swimming training that I need to be successful in international elite triathlon. Everyone there has their own story and reason for swimming, but we all come together in our united desire to train as hard as possible and trash Cambridge every year. It’s an infectious atmosphere of determination. But we also have an absolute whale of a time and no swimming session is without it’s jokes (Jamie’s biceps). I call the swimming team my swimming family because that’s what they are to me!

What is the hardest part of swimming both at Oxford and as a girl?

Distance swimming is a very time intensive sport and you very much get out what you put in. So swimming 4k-5k sessions on a daily basis is very much the reality! So getting up early and forgetting deadline stress for 2 hours is not always the most convenient thing to do. Being a woman is something which has never felt like a hindrance to my training, maybe even a benefit because if there are no girls around, there’s always going to be faster guys to chase. For female swimmers the ‘big shoulders’ look is sometimes considered bad but it’s something I’m proud of (plus I would be annoyed to have trained so hard and not have anything to show for it!). Womenhave a lot to deal with mentally outside the swimming pool in general society, so it’s nice to come training to a placewhere women and men are equal and there are no prejudices. You only have to look at our team to see most of us are the complete opposite of the ‘traditional woman’.

Any advice/something you wish you could say to 12 year old you?

Put yourself out there as much as possible, don’t be afraid to try your hardest and fail. Push yourself, and keep trying and trying and trying and eventually you will get where you want to be.

SUZY NORMAN

I’m Suzy, I’m a law finalist at Jesus. My biggest swimming achievements are competing at the British National Championships in 2010 and 2011 in both the 100m and 200m backstroke. More recently, I am extremely proud of OUSC’s varsity win in 2017, during my year as President of the club. Swimming has always been an important part of my life and it truly has become part of my identity. I find that it’s a release from outside pressures and, as I have always had an extremely competitive instinct, swimming is a great thing for me to focus on. Most importantly, I have had some of my best university experiences with friends I have made through swimming and I feel extremely lucky to have been part of the club for over two years.

What is the hardest part of swimming both at Oxford and as a girl?

As you can imagine, the hardest part about swimming at Oxford is being able to balance your work and other activities, as the sport requires a huge time commitment. It can be really difficult to know what to prioritise and I have particularly struggled this term with it being my final year. I think the most important thing is to keep asking yourself if you’re enjoying what you’re doing and, if you’re not, then make a change. The team is really supportive and understand that, unlike age-group sport, at university you really are making the decisionon your own to train so it has to be more on your own terms. Swimming as a girl can be difficult because often we peak at an early age, around 14-15 years old, and experience a phenomenon called ‘burning out’, due to the way our bodies develop. Afterwards, for many girls it can be really difficult to reach  personal best times despite training at the same intensity, so it can sometimes be demoralising when you aren’t reaching the same times you used to be capable of, which is why it’s important to set fresh new targets.

Any advice/something you wish you could say to 12 year old you?

Focus on your own swimming and never compare your progress to others – everyone is different.

 

Leave a Comment