The month of March is a special one as not only do we take time to celebrate Mother’s Day here in the UK, but worldwide we all take a moment to celebrate International Women’s Day. And as luck would have it today is that day.
With a world facing some unprecedented times, here at U Perform we’re determined to share good news and with International Women’s day, what more fitting topic than celebrating women's achievements.
We are going to be taking you through the history books old and new to share with you OUR inspirational sports women. Those who have inspired us, inspired change and demonstrated the true values of equality and sportsmanship on and off the court.
First to enter the U Perform Hall of Fame is perhaps a name you might not be familiar with…
Katherine Switzer is most famous for in 1967, being the very first registered female competitor in the Boston Marathon. 1967? Really? Yes, really. Up until a few years later in the early 70s, women were discouraged and barred from competing in the most famous marathon event outside of the Olympic Games – the Boston Marathon.
The main battle Katherine faced was comments like “women aren’t strong enough” “you’ll never make it to the finish”. Medical professionals were adamant that long distance running of any distance, not least the marathon was too damaging to women’s health. Switzer’s battle from then on was simply to prove to people that women are just as suited, or even more suitable, for marathoning as men.
Images of 20 year old Katherine in 1967 being grappled and pushed off the course made headlines the following day and since then have become part of her legacy. Plain and simple, they showed the blatant inequality in athletics at the time. Not only was Katherine capable of running the distance, she did so in 4hrs 20mins despite the setbacks and resistance she faced from as early as mile 2.
At this time, and even in the Olympic Games, the longest competitive running even women had… was 200 metres! It wasn’t until 1979 that the very first recognised and sanctioned women’s marathon competition was held all the way in Tokyo, Japan.
For almost 20 years Katherine Switzer worked with some of the leading voices in the sporting world until finally, in 1984, at the Los Angeles Summer Olympic Games, the very first women’s marathon competition was held. 50 competitors from 28 countries took to the start line with American Joan Benoit storming to the win in a staggering time of 2hrs 24mins 52secs – only 2 minutes behind her own world record.
Although Katherine Switzer had long retired from running competition by this point, her legacy was present at every metre and every mile of this momentous marathon and long may it continue.
Looking back through the history books, we just couldn't pass over the monumental impact that Billie Jean King had not only on the sporting world but also on society as a whole.
Billie Jean is perhaps one of the most complete all-court tennis players in the history of the game and surely one of the greatest female tennis players of all time. She was known for her unmatched court speed and was fiercely competitive.
As a champion for gender equality both in and out of sport, Billie Jean King is perhaps one of the most influential women of the last century and her continuing legacy is a testament to her courage and fighting spirit.
In 1973, Bobby Riggs a top tennis player from the 1920s and 1930s made the claim that the women's game was so inferior to the men's that even he at 55 could beat even the best players in women's tennis.
Billie Jean King, who had previously rejected earlier challenges by Riggs, finally took up his challenge after realising that she just had to play the match to prove that he was wrong.
On September 20 1973, King versus Riggs was played at the Houston Astrodome and they made history.
Promoters dubbed this match 'The Battle of the Sexes' and almost 100 million people worldwide tuned in to watch the primetime broadcast. It instantly became the most watched television sporting broadcast of its time and no tennis match before or since has been seen by so many.
To King, winning this tennis match was about more than kudos, prize money or simply just beating Riggs. King felt an incredible pressure to win and did so. She played to win, because if she didn't, she was confident that it would set women's sport back 50 years.
It goes without saying that no other sporting event has played a more significant role in developing greater respect and recognition for women's sport than the famous Battle of the Sexes, King vs. Riggs.
Billie Jean’s success in the sport, her famous victory over Riggs and together with the passage of the ground-breaking Title IX, Billie Jean's career journey is often credited as the spark that ignited a unprecedented surge in women’s sports participation, and for empowering women in all walks of life to advocate for equal pay across the workforce and society as whole.
In her 19 year competition career, Billie Jean won 39 Grand Slam titles, was the first president of the Women's Tennis Association and was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 1987. Yet it is her influential position within the wider conversation surrounding gender equality that she prizes above all.
To continue to celebrate International Women’s Day and the achievements of women all over the world and in all walks of life, we couldn’t miss a couple of incredible ladies who lie a little closer to home for us. With that in mind, we have two very special team members we’re going to focus on today:
Vanessa Ruck aka TheGirlOnABike and Amy Williams MBE OLY
As Ambassadors AND members of our U Perform Expert Team, we have had the genuine pleasure of working with both Vanessa and Amy on a variety of projects and they continue to inspire us day in day out. So let’s find out a little bit more about them shall we…
Vanessa Ruck aka @thegirlonabike
After being hit by a car while cycling in 2014, Vanessa’s world was turned upside down. Enduring an ongoing rollercoaster of recovery, with 7 surgeries including a reconstructed hip and shoulder, life as she knew it changed.
However, while some might have given up on a life of extreme sport, Vanessa discovered a new love for motorcycles. Having tackled the fear of the road, she's an off road enduro, adventure and Harley rider, and is determined to make the most of every day. She’s out there in the mud getting sweaty doing off-road riding on a mission to prove that anyone, even slightly reconstructed people AND females, can do it too.
With a body that will never quite be the same again Vanessa uses Active Collagen in her daily routine, “the difference for my aches and pains has been really noticeable, as well as the improvement in my athletic recovery post riding.”
Vanessa is a huge social media force within the adventure motorcycling world, sharing her life changing story from accident to hard enduro motorcycles. We would highly recommend following her on social media and YouTube to find out more about her story and see what she gets up to!
Amy Williams MBE OLY
Known for her gold-medal-winning skeleton race at the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010 Amy stepped into the public view overnight. An Olympic Gold win took an incredible amount of discipline, determination and focus, but with Amy’s drive for a challenge she had it nailed.
As a student in Bath, and a track athlete in the local club, Amy took a rare opportunity in the summer of 2002 to try-out the newly-installed bobsleigh and skeleton push-start training facility at Bath University. Wanting a chance to represent her country in an Olympic sport, Amy readily accepted the invitation to join the British Skeleton development programme and began to learn the art of sliding.
This became the beginning of a triumphant career in professional sport, culminating in her historic Olympic triumph. Little did she realise it at the time, but this was actually not only the only medal for Great Britain in the Vancouver Games, but also Great Britain’s first Gold Medal in an individual event for 30 years, and the first by a woman for 58 years. AMAZING AMY indeed!
Following the Games, Amy was awarded her MBE in the 2010 Queen’s Birthday Honours and was further honoured to become the first-ever female Freeman of the City of Bath, Somerset; her home-town and where she trained in preparation for her Olympic triumph I was short-listed for the 2010 BBC Sports Personality of the Year, and I received the Daily Mail’s Ian Wooldridge Award.
Moving on Amy has established herself as familiar face on national television presenting for the likes of the BBC on BBC Sport’s Ski Sunday and she also delivers incredible fitness support to the world through her personal social channels as personal trainer and fitness instructor.
As a mother of two Amy is proving that a healthy lifestyle, successful career and peak fitness is all possible with the right determination.
Amy is often seen training hard or with her adorable kids making yummy but healthy active whey and collagen pancakes and sharing the enjoyment with her fans. She’s a successful personal trainer and utilises U-Perform in her daily nutrition programme.
We are truly inspired by all the women out there challenging themselves and the world, including Katherine, Billie Jean, Vanessa and Amy, and would love to hear what females give you inspiration to challenge yourself to achieve your goals and to support others in doing the same?
Let us know in the comments below!