Let Curiosity Be Your Guide London Panel discussion

Written by: Isobella Ash

Orvis UK’s mission has always been to guide its patrons to lead more fulfilling lives through a deep personal connection to the adventure and wonders of the natural world. This then led to the creation of the #5050onthewater campaign that exists to inspire and celebrate women in fly fishing. Recently we have been encouraging women to pursue their own adventures, to throw caution in the wind and to #LetCuriosityBeYourGuide.

This campaign began by women sending us pictures of their adventures in the great outdoors to be featured in our London, Harrogate and Stockbridge store windows, however then the idea of a panel discussion was then introduced. Who better to encourage women to pursue their next adventure than by women currently doing so? This is why we invited Mara Hafezi, Dannielle Norman, Betty Bohane and Katie Stewart to our London store to tell their stories to inspire more women to take the first step into beginning their own adventures.

Each of these women have been able to pursue their passions while simultaneously working and maintaining a social life. For example Mara works in corporate communications but recently ran the 340 miles from LA to Vegas with the Artemis’ Arrows for three days, day and night. She stated that she did this “to encourage women to step outside of their comfort zones and challenge the expectations of themselves.” Betty works for Orvis UK’s PR agency Zambuni. She has just come back from finishing her debut 100k run for England. She was the first English woman across the finish line, completing it in 8 hours 46 minutes .

We asked the 4 ladies to explore a few questions about why they enjoy doing what they do and how they went on to pursue it. One of the most important topics was discussed first, the “Why”.

Katie addressed this in such a positive way. She has just come back from literally cycling around the world for 9 months. She explained; “I think a big thing for me and my friends who do it as well is, it’s a way to define yourself outside of your work and maybe your home-life. So many of our lives are defined by our jobs or maybe your children or your family life, that having a sport or goal you can get better at is very satisfying.” Katie also made the excellent point about the way the world perceives women as she mentioned that she was commonly asked if she had found a boyfriend and found herself saying “No but I have cycled the world.”

Dannielle also explained why she felt this need for exploration and the connection with nature : “For me actually getting out to nature is a massive part of me and finding and connecting with that part of myself which is made up of the same stuff as the moon the stars the sky. We are so in touch with it. In a city environment its so easy to get detached from that.”

Another topic was discussed which was slightly controversial: the impact of mass media. Betty, who works in PR and has a lot of experience in this area explained that there is both positive and negative that comes out of it. She said: “I think women the ideal, especially runners, is that you’re some 7 seven stone little girl and you’re a really fast runner if you weigh bugger all. I think that’s really negative. Some people see running not as a sport or an activity to enjoy but just as a way to think oh I’ve just eaten two cookies so I’ll go for a run.”

Katie agree that sometimes mass media can be a problem and can demotivate women to give these things a try. She explained that “I also think there’s a fine line between sexualising women’s sport. A lot of those pictures online are of women looking good while they’re exercising. We all don’t look like that!”

However on the other side of the coin, Katie did see the benefits in social media: “I never had Instagram before my trip and then I used it when I was cycling and there were so many positive woman messaging me. I think media can be a really great way to connect you with women who you never would normally, maybe they live on the other side of the world who have the same goals and want the same things. That can be inspiring for women.”

Dannielle agreed stating that: “There is also this lovely shift that is happening because through Instagram especially, Facebook, Twitter we are seeing what women are doing and therefore we’re naturally as a society starting to change the trajectory and the representation of women as we are that media now. I focus on getting as many types of women doing as many types of thing just so people can see a photo of it and that can trigger something in them. ”

Another issue that women face when considering taking up sports or hobbies in the outdoors is the safety aspect. Increasingly women are solo traveling. Katie mentioned that “I was very used to getting; You’re going on your own? Why are you going on you’re own? Shouldn’t you take a man with you? It’s incredibly frustrating.” I think the safety barrier stops women going out alone which then limits the choice of doing what you want to do. I love doing things with other people and that’s always stopped me from going as far as I wanted. Maybe I want to go on a 50-mile bike ride but my friend wants to do just 5 or wants to go to the pub. I think that learning that you can do some sort of sport alone is life changing because there are no limits.

Betty agreed stating: “I’ve had the best races when I’m by myself. I chatted to so many more people because people don’t talk to you when you bring a boyfriend they just think you’re having couple time. I would rather go by myself as I have so many more stories now.”

Obviously everyone should remain safe and vigilant when exercising alone at night but as Mara pointed out: “At first it is scary but afterward you get used to it and this is actually not so bad and once you have a taste of that you think okay I’ll do it again and again.”

It was interesting to see who each panelist began. Betty looked back and said “I think Members of my family have always run a bit but I think I took it a bit further than they did. I can’t really remember why I started running. I think I just thought I wonder if I can run for 10 minutes and that’s just how it started.”

Mara thought she began partly because of her younger bother: “He started applying for American universities and to get in you have to a do a lot of stuff. And I realised whilst he was doing rowing, basketball, and running, I didn’t really have anything that exciting to talk about. So I thought right I will go on the treadmill start at 10 minutes and build up from there.”

However Mara also had another motivation: “Another reason why I decided to do what I do is because I notice how white-centric it can be and so I wanted to encourage women of colour as well to get out there and know that they themselves can conquer their own challenges and climb their own mountains.

Dannielle began due to a previosu relationship: “He who seemed to have the most incredible social networks, he would play cricket, football and he’d hang out with his Uni friends, all of these people and I just didn’t really have anything so I started rowing. All of a sudden I had these very annoying, very strong sisters that I had to spend all of this time with from and all of a sudden we had this community and it wasn’t that we all really got on or that we all really liked each other but we were all just there doing exercise. It wasn’t that we were bonding over makeup, it wasn’t that we were bonding over boys, both totally legit, but it was that we suddenly had nature and were gross and stinking and tired and that brings out something in you it shapes your character in a way that nothing outside of sports and adventure can do.”

This led onto the idea that women could be missing out. Dannielle mentioned that: “Men have an emotional outlet that isn’t directly emotionally discussing how they feel, through sports. I think women can often miss out on this because when they get together to watch a football game men have this teamsmanship.”

Then Katie pointed out that she had found that women were much more likely to hear the negatives. ” So many people said; Why are you doing that? You wont make it. And I think women more than men listen to the naysayers a lot more. But people are only saying that because they can’t envision doing it. Something really positive that came out of that was that friends have said ‘Oh I might go and ride my bike.’ or ‘I might go on a run today.’ Which I think is amazing for any of us to do something small so we can inspire someone else to do the same thing.”

On top of negative comments there is also the ‘Where do I start?’ barrier. Mara mentioned that she found it difficult to find a cycling club: “Often I found that they’d say they were beginner friendly but have to do a lap in certain amount of time. But I found a cycling club with a no drop policy which makes cycling so much more accessible. I think the no drop policy makes sure that everyone is able to ride at a pace they are comfortable and no one gets left behind.” A “No Drop Policy is where the slowest person is always kept within the group they will always drop back. “

Katie mentioned her difficulty when buying a bike in a store. She mentioned that “It’s mainly men who work there and it can be really intimidating. I didn’t know lot about bikes and so I wanted to ask lots of questions. I wanted to get the right bike and the right kit. I sometimes felt like they were thinking: ‘Who’s the slightly dim blonde girl asking me about a bike?’ This is why it’s great to see so much on Instagram and Facebook of girls out there doing it. something as small as another girl on a bike is enough to get the next girl cycling.”

Finding time and bad days is also a struggle but Mara and Betty have the solutions! Mara said: “There will be lows and of course there will be highs. I have a to do list, there’s nothing better than being able to cross it off. Waking up early is also important as it’s hard at first. It probably took me a couple of months before I got used to it and making sure your friends understand what your doing and how you’re doing it. Having a support network of friends and family really helps as well. “

Betty admitted that: There are definitely times when I don’t want to do it but I think it’s the feeling at the end knowing that I have done it and I have tries. I’m a Strava geek if I don’t get my miles done on Strava I’m not happy. A lot of my friends run so when training for the 100k they would check up on me asking; how many more miles have you got to do this week?”

Katie summed it up perfectly stating: “I think if you have something you are really passionate about you can find time to do it. Build the training into your work life so you’re not spending your whole life training because you have still got to have a social life.”

So there you have it, the advice from the experts. They have overcome every barrier thrown at them. Will you give it a go?

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