STRONGER THROUGH GENERATIONS - A Q&A for Musto on Mothers Day
This Mother’s Day, Musto are focussing on women who inspire. Who nurture an environment for change; and who act as role models for upcoming athletes. Because empowerment is hard-won, support is built and strength is generational. From the mothers who create our future idols to the women who encourage them to be the best versions of themselves, Musto wants to showcase their stories in thanks.
1. YOU’RE A HUGE SUPPORTER OF FEMALE SAILORS, IS THERE ANYONE WHO BROKE DOWN THESE BARRIERS FOR YOU OR WITH YOU WHEN YOU WERE TRAINING?
I was lucky to be ‘spotted’ by Cathy Foster and sail with her for my first Olympic campaign. She had undoubtedly pushed the boundaries when she qualified for the 1984 Games, helming the 470 as the only female in an open fleet. Her stories and approach are an inspiration as are her skills as a coach. After we missed qualifying for the 2004 Olympics I became a training partner for Shirley Robertson’s team, and subsequently sailed with Shirley. Seeing how professional she was in her approach to campaigning and training had a massive in-pact on me. It wasn’t that she was female, just how she conducted the whole campaign, it was more professional than any of the other Olympic sailors, male or female, it set the bar for me.
2. WHAT FEMALE ROLE MODELS HAD THE MOST IMPACT ON YOU, GROWING UP?
My first memory of seeing a fierce woman was probably Madonna. I remember my next-door neighbour and I blaring her music out on our cassette player and writing her name everywhere, we thought she was awesome! But in terms of real impact, Probably the girls I rowed with at Cambridge University. They showed me how strong you could be as a women, both physically and mentally, and perhaps even more importantly how strong we could be if we pushed each other. My bow partner in the Boat race against Oxford was a Canadian girl called Karen. She was older, not particularly big and diabetic, none of which helps you to be a good rower. But she had an incredibly disciplined approach to training. She had to fight twice as hard as everyone else for her place in the boat, but you’d never have known it and she still found time to help me. I was a young, disorganised novice. She would call me at 5AM every morning to check I was up and on-time for the bus to training, because she didn’t want to see me throw the opportunity away. I knew she believed in me, that was incredibly powerful, and the moment we crossed the finish line together as the winners of the boat race in 2001 was the moment I knew I had to go to the Olympics!
3. MOTHERHOOD CAN MAKE YOU APPRECIATE THE VASTNESS OF THE TASK. IS THERE A PIECE OF ADVICE THAT YOUR MOTHER GAVE YOU THAT’S ALWAYS STUCK WITH YOU?
My mum has undoubtedly lead by example. She is the kindest person I know and yet one of the strongest. She’s shown massive resilience through some incredibly tough times and is always soft and approachable. I find when I’m really focused and pushing to achieve something it’s easy to become hardened and essentially quite selfish. At those times, I try to stop and take a look at myself and think how would my mum approach this. She taught me to be powerful whilst selfless and forgiving. I know if I can have even half of her capacity to do this, I can be a good mum and fundamentally a good human!
4. AND WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUR CHILD?
Don’t wait for recognition and success, if it’s what you want to do and it feels right, just go for it. It’ll be a battle if you’re trying to do something hard, and the reward probably won’t come quickly or look like it does on the X Factor. But the journey will be worth it whether you get there or not, so just press on.
5. HOW IMPORTANT ARE YOUR FAMILY IN SHAPING WHO YOU ARE TODAY?
My family and friends remain very important to who I am. The friends I made whilst growing up and sailing at Parkstone Yacht Club in Poole since 7 years old are still my closest and dearest friends. They’ve been incredible supporters, have followed me through the highs and lows of all my campaigns (and quite literally around the world). Fundamentally they are always there welcoming me back, even when I’ve been away for months and missed countless weddings, birthdays, and special events in their lives. I feel very fortunate to be part of such an incredible community and really hope my daughter gets to experience this too.
6. YOU’VE SAID IN THE PAST, “WE [THE FEMALE CREW MEMBERS] SAIL WITH AND AGAINST THE GUYS. THIS IS THE NEW NORMAL NOW.” HOW FAR IS THIS AN ATTITUDE SHARED BY THE REST OF THE SAILING WORLD?
I’d like to think that statement rings true across all disciplines, but whilst I think there have been some big steps forward in the youth and Olympic classes, when you look at professional sailing it’d be hard to argue that it’s as open to women. Organisations like the Ocean Race and the World Match Race Tour have been great at being proactive in encouraging more female participation, but there is still a lot of work to do to make it ‘normal’. Just look at any Maxi Worlds, the TP52 circuit, the AC etc.
7. IN THE MOST RECENT EDITION OF THE VOLVO OCEAN RACE (2017-2018), YOU BROKE A BONE IN YOUR BACK AND TWO IN YOUR FOOT THAT LEFT YOU IMMOBILISED AND BELOW DECK FOR FIVE DAYS. HOW DID YOU MANAGE TO STAY DETERMINED?
It was tough being on-board like that, partly because it wasn’t that comfortable, but mainly because it was so hard to see my teammates working in those conditions and not to be able to help them. In a blog, I wrote at the time I said “The feeling of guilt is immense as I watch everyone around me working, the bags under their eyes getting bigger as we gybe more and sleep less along the ice gates.” I was desperate to get back on deck to do my job. It meant on my watch they were only 3 on deck, which means no rest as you need a driver, trimmer and grinder at all times. I did go back into my watch before the end of the leg, which of course now knowing I’d broken bones, perhaps wasn’t the smartest! But the human body is quite amazing, it definitely has a natural propensity for survival!
8. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO ANY YOUNG GIRL LOOKING TO GET INTO THE SPORT?
Sail everything and with as many different people as you can, be as strong and fit as you can, be open-minded. But actually, when I really reflect on my career, the most important thing has been to respect your competitors, to build friendships with teammates and competitors. It’s fundamentally the other girls that I’ve raced with and against that have had the biggest impact on my career. At the time they may seem like your rival, especially when you’re trialing for only one of the few places that are available for girls on a lot of teams. But in the end these girls will be your support network, your mates and your way to the next campaign. So, take them with you.
9. WHAT CHALLENGE IS NEXT AND WHAT DO YOU SEE YOURSELF TAKING PART IN IN THE FUTURE?
Firstly I need to learn how to be a mum, and the new juggle of family and work! I am definitely missing being on the water, so right now it’s about some gym time so I can get back to racing. I’m also very passionate about using our sport as a vehicle for social change. We’ve had some exciting new developments in The Magenta Project in the past few months, so I’m excited to see what we can do going forward to help create opportunities for girls in sailing. I’m also loving working with the 1851 Trust as one of their ambassadors. The future … well the pipe dream has always been the America’s cup. I love match-racing, and I love big teams. I thought there wouldn’t be any women in the Cup for quite a while, but I’m hoping I’m about to be proved wrong!
Original interview at: