OVER 170 teenage girls and 2012 Olympic gold medallist Rúta Meilutyté took part in a ground breaking ‘Inspiring Girls in Sport’ conference, organised by Swim Ireland, in Dublin on July 6 2017.
The event, which took place at the Sport Ireland National Indoor Arena in Abbotstown was funded through Sport Ireland’s ‘Women in Sport Programme’.
It was particularly unique because it directly engaged with young high performance athletes, aged between 12-18, from a broad range of sports including swimming, cycling, diving, modern pentathlon, martial arts, basketball and more and was designed to deal with issues that are unique to females in sport.
The teenagers got first-hand insight into the physical and mental demands of competing at the top level from 2012 Olympic swimming champion Meilutyté plus world-class Irish international athletes Fiona Coghlan (rugby), Kellie Harrington (boxing), Bethany Carson (swimming) Laura Wylie (triathlon), Claire Melia (basketball), Ruth Morris (rowing) and Jessie Barr (athletics).
The event’s over-riding message was the importance of being proud to have a strong athletic body, the need to ensure it is properly fuelled to meet the extra demands of training and the huge part played in sport by their minds.
The young delegates got unprecedented insight into the life of a young female Olympic champion from 20-year-old Lithuanian swimming superstar Meilutyté. The world record holder in 50m and 100m breaststroke was interviewed alongside Swim Ireland’s National Performance Director Jon Rudd.
Rudd coached her at the London Olympics when, as a 15-year-old, she caused a huge sensation by winning 100m Breaststroke Gold. Meilutyté related her journey from schoolgirl swimmer to topping the Olympic podium and how, as a teenager, she coped with sudden fame and subsequent injury.
She echoed the conference theme by telling the young athletes to “Accept and love yourself. Make your journey as athletes as joyful as possible by always living in the moment. Don’t stress about something that might happen in a month or a year’s time. Be yourself and love yourself.”
She warned them of the dangers of social media, describing it as “very distracting and dangerous. It puts huge pressure on young athletes by promoting a body image that is completely unrealistic and unattainable. Social media gives the wrong idea of what beauty is to a young woman. It measures them by how they look, not by who they are and what they achieve.”
Her former coach Rudd stressed the importance of a good coach/athlete relationship and good communication, he told delegates: “What you do as top female athletes is not what society regards as ‘normal’ but you are ‘not normal’ in a great way! The rewards for what you do are huge.”
The strong message from former Grand Slam winning rugby captain Fiona Coghlan was: “Find your passion and follow it. Those people who stand in front of a camera pouting all day won’t have a story to tell about their lives. You, as athletes, will.”
Boxer Kellie Harrington, a world silver medallist, said: “It’s not about how we look, it’s about how we perform” and told them “it’s OK not to be OK too and very important to talk about that.”
Renowned psychologist Niamh Fitzpatrick plus Kate Kirby (sports psychologist at Sport Ireland Institute) and Danielle Logue (nutritionist at Sport Ireland Institute) gave valuable advice on maximising their physical and mental wellbeing.
Olympic Council of Ireland President and Swim Ireland CEO Sarah Keane told the young athletes: “We only have one body and it has to last us a lifetime so it is vital that we know how to cherish it, look after it and be proud of it and what it can do for us.”
RTE’S Evanne Ni Chuilinn and Marie Crowe chaired the day-long conference which had the hashtag #WePlay. It culminated with all athletes getting an opportunity to try out a different sport and each received a t-shirt emblazoned with the event’s strong message: ‘Proud to be me’.