Embracing the active spirit of This Girl Can, Jen Offord does – loads of different sports. It wasn’t always this way though…
Illustration by Louise Boulter
The dawn of 2015, a new year, a new start; many of us will vow to finally get physical as we eye discarded Chocolate Orange wrappers with regret. But let’s face it, no one’s really done very much to sell sport to us over the years and, frankly, we’ve got better things to do with our time than face the embarrassment of the sweaty crack mark imprinted on the rowing machine under our (ghastly pink) leggings, right? Wrong.
The year is 1995 and I am shivering on a sodden all-weather pitch, staring glumly at my chubby 12-year-old thighs. I long for the warmth of my carpet coat, cruelly locked away in the changing room, even though its garish pattern has earned me the attention of a rather unpleasant girl in year nine. The humiliation of my cycling shorts weighs heavily on my mind, though I’ve narrowly escaped the regulation uniform of industrial pants endured by previous big-school inductees. Scarlett O’Hara style, I internally vow never again to suffer this indignation; my thighs are now a sort of mottled puce from cold.
17 years later, I find myself in St James’s Park, watching grown Lycra-clad men pedal furiously, vowing to write a blog about trying loads of different sports, despite having no a) innate ability at or b) interest in sport. Probably the only exercise I’d had that week was brushing the pastried-remnants of a sausage roll off my lap, but I wanted to see what all the fuss was about and how the Olympics could inspire an old, fag-smoking, cider-guzzling generation, as well as all those young ribbon-twirling whippersnappers Seb Coe was on about. Unbelievably, I actually had a whale of a time and have since formed what appears to be a heartfelt and committed relationship with sport.
An alarming number of young girls drop out of sport at around the time I did, and no one ever tries to draw them back in. Society wants women to be thin, but we are told we can easily achieve this simply by eating six raisins a day. In the absence of positive representation of women’s sport or really any sport other than men’s Premier League football in “the media”, as I believe is the collective noun for “stuff on telly and that”, our associations with sport remain tied to that miserable hockey pitch. The problem here is that these associations are impacting on our health both mentally and physically. After all, we’re the ones with the baby-carrying junk that society is apparently so obsessed with. So for at least the foreseeable future, we’ll be the ones popping out sprogs and we need to be fit and well to do that.
What’s more, we don’t help ourselves. Apparently we don’t want to get sweaty because we’ll have to wash our hair (it is a ball-ache, to be fair), and we don’t want to be muscly, because it’s “unfeminine”. Balls to that: having muscles is almost my favourite thing about sport. Sure I’m never going to beat Arnold Schwarzenegger in an arm-wrestle, but I feel physically strong, which makes me feel empowered, and I have a cracking arse now. There. I said it.
Sport makes me feel mentally well, too, because endorphins are racing around my body and because I do these sports with other people in a sociable environment.
Making the transition to an active lifestyle is not an easy one. I’ll be honest with you, there is pain to begin with but it won’t hurt for long if you stick with it, and there are a billion different sports to try, one of which you will likely find less painful than others.
You will initially feel like a numpty, like everyone is watching and laughing. But they’re not, because they’re far more bothered about whether or not they look like a numpty, and in January there’ll be approximately 8000 per cent more people filling gyms and parks – and worrying if they look ridiculous.
I love looking ridiculous SO MUCH now, that I’m planning to cycle across America in a kind of spiritual journey of senselessly over-complicated female empowerment. But I ate too many Chocolate Oranges over Christmas, too. So over the next few months, I’ll be proving to you how looking ridiculous via the medium of multiple different sports is both fun and great for your arse. You’re welcome.
Jen is a writer from Essex, which isn’t relevant because she lives in London, but she likes people to know it. As well as daft challenges, she likes cats, cheese and Beyonce. @inspireajen