I hated PE when I was a young girl. My school had a skimpy sports kit – a T-shirt and a pair of short black pants. In the early 80s, there were no sports bras and I hated having my pubescent body on display.
The PE classes in my mixed sex school were also geared towards athletic kids who enjoyed team sports such as netball. Unless you were very coordinated (and I was not), you were dissuaded from participation.
I was even thrown out of one class because I refused to jump over a gym horse. I remember staring at it in a stupor thinking that it was insurmountable. I just couldn’t face the public humiliation of being the ‘fat’ girl who could not jump over the gym horse in front of my entire class. When I refused to have a go, my teacher had enough and asked me to leave.
As a result, I told myself that I simply wasn’t ‘sporty’ and concentrated my efforts on ‘academic’ subjects. By the time I reached my twenties, I avoided sport altogether. I am still terrified of cycling and hate any form of running (I could not run 5km without stopping). Like many women, I have tried many fad diets and have spent most of life working behind a desk.
It was not until my 30s (when I was on maternity leave after having my second child) that a girlfriend suggested that I join her on a mountain walk in France. I was reluctant to begin with, but I thought I should give it a go as I have always had an adventurous streak in me! Little did I know at the time that I would fall in love with climbing and it would become my life’s great passion.
The wonderful thing about the great outdoors is that all you need is your two legs and a determination to give it a go.
When I started out climbing, I was really unsure of my abilities. But I surprised myself by discovering that I was really good at it. Despite only being 5ft 5 and weighing just 110 pounds, I found I have a mental ability to stick to a task and just keep going. The best advice I was given was to focus on achieving small things and take one step at a time. Not to think about the end goal.
With some amazing encouragement and fantastic female role models, I gradually upped my goals and by the time I hit my 40s, I had set my heart on climbing Everest! I am now two thirds of the way through the Explorers’ Grand Slam and on course to become the fastest woman in the world to complete it within eight months. The challenge involves climbing the world’s highest peaks on each of the seven continents as well as trekking to the geographic North and South poles.
I would never have imagined this was possible and I’m now hoping that my record attempt will help to inspire girls in particular to get involved in hillwalking, mountaineering and climbing. You don’t need to be amazingly gifted to become really good at something, you just need to be passionate and put in the work.
I really want to encourage girls to get themselves out into the elements and have set up a charity Grit & Rock. Being outdoors teaches kids to take on responsibility, be creative and problem solve. It is great for building resilience and self-confidence.
So please, just give it a go. There are so many walking, climbing, hiking groups out there. Go for a walk, climb a hill and enjoy the feel of fresh air.