Zwift Community

National Girls and Women in Sport Day

by Zwift
on February 02, 2022

Since 1987, the first week of February has seen the National Day of Women and Girls in Sport - a chance to celebrate the accomplishments of women in sport, to honor the struggle for equality for female athletes and to recognize their influence. 

Michelle Crick is a community leader in women's cycling, both in Zwift and IRL. An exemplary ride leader and guide to new riders over the years, she has also been instrumental in growing the Aussie Hump Day Ride Ladies. As such an advocate for cycling, we caught up with her to find out what inspires her to ride.

Who or what inspired you to make sports a key focus of your life?

I would say my Dad was the catalyst to the person I am today. When I emigrated to Australia from the UK he was terminally ill with cancer and I didn't go to the funeral back in the UK. A friend mentioned a cycling challenge and I thought why not, I'll give it a go and raise money for the Cancer Council and it became a way of me saying goodbye to my Dad. I crossed the line after 100km in tears, wishing he was still here.  Doing this literally changed my life at the age of  31 and I've never looked back!

I started to wonder what else I could do on a bike so I went to a ladies only track session at the velodrome,  I joined their club, got a road bike and started racing and met some wonderful women who got me really started on my cycling journey. I did some courses and started teaching recreational level cyclists and children how to learn to ride independently without those training wheels! I kinda got the bug and thought I'm really good at this. I developed my skills further working with the local sporting institute and learning from some of the best elite level coaches in the state and was running the state level Talent Identification program for a couple of years, helping new kids with big engines the skills to eventually be able to compete at the Olympics. Along the way I set up my own coaching business and now coach around 30 athletes from all over Australia from juniors to masters athletes reach their physical potential on the bike.

Who were your role models when you were young and why? Who do you see inspiring kids today?

My first love was Christopher Reeve as Superman so I guess I always had big ambitions to help people in some way! In the sporting world I was always the cheerleader and did everything and anything, but was never really any good. I used to love watching ice skating and loved Jane Torvill. I remember watching her and her partner win Gold in the 1984 Winter Olympics. As I grew older I started to run a bit and found Paula Radcliffe, the British runner, so inspiring. Her autobiography is a great book! She is a fantastic role model for females in sport working to promote knowledge of how the female cycle affects women and can empower us rather than become the hindrance it's been seen as for a long time!

Today I look at Serena Williams, Lizzie Deignan and Ash Barty as strong role models for the younger generation. They're making being a sports person cool! They're showing girls you can be the person you want to be.

I love a quote from Anne Meares, greatest female Australian cyclist "If you can't see it, you can't be it!

What piece of advice do you have for women who are trying to get into sport or who look to you as a role model?

Whatever sport you choose, do it because you love it! Not just because of what you think the sport will do for you.

If girls are looking to get into cycling they need a supportive environment and luckily in Australia there are a number of clubs all run by people who love the sport. If it doesn't fit for you then try a different club or a different type of cycling, one of the best pieces of advice I was given when I started cycling was to try everything - mountain biking, track cycling, even unicycling! Try it all!  

There are so many options and sports, try them all and find the one that clicks for you.

What change would you most like to see happen with sports in the next 5 years?

Participation! Women need to have a go and be willing to try but we also need the opportunity to do so. We're so lucky, in the western world, to have access to many sports and facilities - but in many countries it's just not possible. Sport generally costs and is a barrier that hopefully we can break down and give as many people as possible the chance! 

I'd like to see women's sport be more mainstream. There have been great strides with TV coverage, but more can be done that will help girls see those who inspire them win big in their chosen sport! One of the most recent pushes is losing the 'women's' and just calling it Soccer, Hockey, Tennis or Cycling. It doesn't say 'mens' before their sport, so why should it say women's?

At a community level women and girls should stand up and shout more about what they're doing and not stay in the shadows! Allow your successes to be known, keep turning up even if you're the only female in your grade, and support those looking to join you. Push for more coverage, equal prize money, equal opportunities to race and compete, and better facilities if your sport doesn't have that! Don't settle and make do, you deserve it as much as, if not more than, the guys!

Shoutout time! Who is doing amazing work to support girl's & women's sport & deserves a little more recognition?

The great AusCycling staff member Donna Rae Szalinski is working hard within the organisation to improve and help those in decision-making give women the chance and recognition needed. She's helped shape a progression for talented young elite athletes and she's campaigned for an U23 separate women's championships, and it's happening! 

The Cyclist Alliance are doing huge things across the whole of elite women's cycling and are working so hard to bring equality in just one sport. There are probably many other sports that lack that parity!

As a keen Zwifter I can't not mention Kate Veronneau who I had the pleasure of meeting in 2018 when she came to Australia with Leah Thorvilson, the first Zwift academy winner. The work she has started on Zwift, building the women's community, shaping it and giving us opportunities, is amazing!

If you could snap your fingers and have any job or be the top athlete for any sport [that you're not currently in] what would it be?

I'd love to coach a women's professional team nationally, or internationally. To travel and help them would be amazing, or perhaps work with disadvantaged groups and coach them and give them the same opportunities. 

If I couldn't do that then I'd work at Zwift! Creating female events and nurturing the fabulous female community we have!

What's the one sport you never want to try?

Surfing! I'm not much of a water person, and being dunked, cold and covered in sand doesn’t appeal.

Actually I'll never say never! I've come to realise that you have to grab opportunities that appear to you. Life is for living and experiencing as many things as you can.

Karla Williams is a Zwift community leader. She is also one of the founders of Aeonian Race Team and several popular women's only stage races on Zwift, such as the Tour de Boudicca and the Warrior Games. We asked her to share her inspiration and her hopes for the future of women in Cycling.

Who or what inspired you to make sports a key focus of your life?  

One morning around 7 or 8 years ago, we went to watch the Women’s Tour and we saw Breeze rides being advertised. Breeze rides are women’s only intro rides for anyone wanting to start cycling. I decided to give them a try and I learned so much from them. From that point, I got really hooked on it and after a while I decided to join the local Cycling club. I discovered Zwift six years ago, and this allowed me to keep my training during the winter months. It keeps me motivated and I have not looked back ever since! Cycling is a big part of my life, giving me peace, freedom, and strength physically and mentally. 

Who were your role models when you were young and why? Who do you see inspiring kids today? 

I grew up in Peru in the time when the country was fighting Terrorism. My dad was a Colonel of the  Peruvian army, and spent a lot of time away from home as a result. My grandad was the paternal figure we grew up with. My  granddad  taught me that with determination, hard work and love you can achieve anything. When there are stumbles in life, you MUST pick yourself up and continue moving forward towards your goal. I have kept his views and applied them in my own life.

Nowadays, we have seen fabulous new talents inspiring kids  like Beth Shriever, the BMX Gold Olympic Medalist, whose story is of pure determination and hard work. Lizzie Deignan, winning the first ever Paris-Roubaix Femmes, and inspiring new generations of women. Dame Sarah Storey, the Team GB Paralympian, is so inspiring and supporting female cyclists through Skoda Academy to develop their skills with her mentorship. There are many more amazing women inspiring and promoting a positive environment for a start in sport. 

Not least, I believe kids get inspired by the influence of a positive parental involvement from an early age.

What piece of advice do you have for women who are trying to get into sport or who look to you as a role model? 

Believe in yourself and work hard, everything is achievable if you go for it.  Be sure to surround yourself with  like-minded people that will lift you, help you, encourage you, and support you every step of the way. 

What change would you most like to see happen with sports in the next 5 years?    

Equal opportunities for training and developing amateur female athletes. Also more public awareness of female athletes and mental health in the industry. I’d like to also see the promotion of female sports in general increase, as well as equal events and compensation for those events. 

Shoutout time! Who is doing amazing work to support girl's & women's sport & deserves a little more recognition? 

A shoutout should be done to all the female commentators out there, doing a fabulous job! 

Orla Chennaoui, Laura Winter, Jose Been and Hannah walker.

If you could snap your fingers and have any job or be the top athlete for any sport [that you're not currently in] what would it be? 

In my 6 years journey into the Zwift world, I discovered my passion for women’s e-racing. The answer to this question is simple. I would love to work for Zwift, to keep providing and motivating, with high end/ fun races for all the women’s Zwift community as it is something I feel very driven to do!

What's the one sport you never want to try?

Pole Vaulting - So exciting to watch and cheer, but I am scared of heights!

Georgia Simmerling is a Canadian road and track cyclist, who recently retired after competing for  UCI Women's Team Twenty24. She also previously competed in alpine skiing and skicross, and is the first Canadian to compete in three different sports in three different Olympic Games. She is now the CEO and sports agent for AG Sports Inc.

Who or what inspired you to make sports a key focus of your life? 

I come from an athletic family and was introduced to sports as a young kid, so it was a pretty easy decision! My three older brothers and my dad are all really athletic. We loved to ski as a family, so sports have always been a part of my life. And trust me, I’m beyond thankful for that. I have learnt over the years, even as an adult, the skills I acquired as an athlete, now transitioning out of elite sports, have set me up and will continue to help me reach success in this next chapter of my life.

Who were your role models when you were young and why? Who do you see inspiring kids today?

 I was lucky enough as a young girl to have female role models. I know not a lot of women my age could say that looking back on their development as athletes. I looked up to older female athletes on the Canadian Alpine National Ski Team. Ski racing was my first sport as a youngster and I wanted to represent Canada and go to the Olympics. My dream grew from seeing those women in real life though. When you see it, you believe it. I think more than ever, there are more female role models for kids today, with more exposure for women's sports. There is still a long way to go before we stop having the equality conversation, and I’m trying hard to be a change maker in that conversation, but things are definitely shifting in the right direction I think.

What piece of advice do you have for women who are trying to get into sport or who look to you as a role model? 

Get involved! Make it happen! I’m not one for sitting back and assuming or expecting things will come my way. Ever. You must put your dreams and goals into action. Reach out to people in your community. Now, more than ever, access to things and people and organization is available for us online, so go out there and get what you want.

What change would you most like to see happen with sports in the next 5 years? Oh wow. How long do we have? 

I would like to see more businesses, corporations and sponsors step up and support the women’s game. It’s happening, but slowly… People WANT to watch women’s sports, but if they can’t find it, they can't watch it. So sponsorship funding needs to rise to expose more women's sports to the world. 

Shoutout time! Who is doing amazing work to support girl's & women's sport & deserves a little more recognition? 

I looked up to the Founder of Fast And Female, and now we’re close friends. Chandra Crawford is a retired Canadian Olympic medalist and started FAF years before the equality conversation truly was in the forefront of today’s media. She’s grown the non profit exponentially and continues to inspire young girls to stay in sport. Massive shout out to Chandra Crawford and Fast And Female.

 If you could snap your fingers and have any job or be the top athlete for any sport [that you're not currently in] what would it be? 

Naomi Osaka maybe. I’m a huge tennis fan. And through the lens of her documentary on Netflix and her social platforms, she seems like a very polarizing athlete. She’s in the spotlight and yet it doesn’t appear to come naturally to her to WANT to be in the spotlight. That would be challenging, and really interesting to experience I think… 

What's the one sport you never want to try?

Synchronized swimming maybe??? I’m lead and would just probably drown.

Elle Linton is a fitness pro and sports blogger at keepitsimpelle.com. She is also a Liv Cycling ambassador and a member and advocate of the Women of Colour Cycling Collective. 

Who or what inspired you to make sports a key focus of your life?

I'm not sure it was any one particular person that inspired me to make sports a key focus of my life. I just followed what I enjoyed doing and learning about in school, so I ended up doing a Sports & Exercise Science Degree. I think I really found a love for movement, sport and exercise after University though, when I discovered there were so many other ways to move and so many other sports I didn't get to experience during my years in education. 

My Mum isn't the 'sporty type' but she always told me my Dad was so I think that gave me a little confidence to believe there might be some sporting prowess in my genes! Then throughout life, I've taken opportunities from friends to try what they were involved in. That's how I found what I enjoyed and loved. 

Who were your role models when you were young and why? Who do you see inspiring kids today?

When I was younger, I definitely looked up to professional athletes a lot. They were who I had access to via the media, and whose journeys I got to follow. I think nowadays, there's not just the media telling stories, so athletes without major profiles and audiences can also be role models. The most recent Olympics seemed to do a lot for the profile of sport, especially the likes of more niche sports like BMX. Those young athletes showed the true power of sport! 

What piece of advice do you have for women who are trying to get into sport or who look to you as a role model?

I'd tell them to take inspiration from as many sources as possible, but in the end, it's their own journey and it won't look the same as anyone else's. The journey into sport, no matter how serious you plan on taking it, nor the destination you're aiming for, should be fun too.  And don't stop until you find your tribe... there's so much out there, in the form of communities, clubs or even information, the right people and sports are waiting for you! 

What change would you most like to see happen with sports in the next 5 years?

I'd love for the change that has begun, to continue. I think a lot of sports have begun to acknowledge the lack of diversity - be this race, gender, age, disability / ability, body shape etc - so it's time to take proactive steps to create the change. Representation in imagery is a massive space for improvement especially with some of the bigger sporting brands. 

I'd also love to see brands supporting grassroots sport too - being involved in sport should be encouraged from a young age and it doesn't always have to just be about making it to a podium. There is so much to learn and so many more benefits, from the competitive side of sport, than just winning or making it “to the top".

Shoutout time! Who is doing amazing work to support girl's & women's sport & deserves a little more recognition?

In cycling, I have to shout out the Women of Colour Cycling Collective. 

There's also Her Spirit who work to get more women into the sports of running, cycling, swimming and triathlon. 

Last but not least, Beyond CC which is a new inclusive community and coaching programme created by myself and fellow WOC cycling coach, Alison Wood, to help women and marginalised genders learn & train together. 

If you could snap your fingers and have any job or be the top athlete for any sport [that you're not currently in] what would it be? 

Hmmm, this might be my most random choice, but I think I'd choose to be a top athlete in F1 Racing!! Does that count?! I'd love to hang out with Lewis Hamilton. 

What's the one sport you never want to try?

I don't think there is any sport that I would never try to be honest! I like to be open minded and I know I can't not like something if I have never tried it. I certainly might be very apprehensive about certain sports especially if they are scary!! 

Ruhksar Habibzai is an Afghan cyclist who was one of the many women forced to leave their country as part of the mass evacuation of vulnerable citizens who faced targeted gender violence by the Taliban. She is now living in the United States as a refugee and riding for Virginia’s Blue Ridge Twenty24 Pro Cycling team. 

Who or what inspired you to make sports a key focus of your life? 

My inspiration is an Afghan woman named Khatool Mohammadzai. When I heard that she had become the first Afghan-female paratrooper, it opened a window for me and my self-confidence. Her fearless personality inspired many women (including me) in Afghanistan and around the world to pursue their dreams. Hearing about Lady Khatool helped me dream of doing something great myself. She inspired me to take a risk, never be afraid, and become a voice for Afghan women. I chose sports, in particular cycling, because as a child when I tried it for the first time, I felt like I was flying and as if I had wings. It felt like pure freedom and happiness. It’s not easy to cycle in Afghanistan, sports are very much a taboo, especially for women, but my teammates and I are aiming to break the barriers for other girls to also join the team.

What piece of advice do you have for women who are trying to get into sport or who look to you as a role model?

My message to the women of the world is to never give up. Always try. If you fail, you will become stronger. No one succeeds easily but after trying and trying, you will get there. I believe that the word success would lose its value if the word failure did not exist. My advice to those who take me as their role model would be to not be afraid to fail. Failing also tests your commitment to your dream. It can snatch away your dreams if you are not prepared to fail, and try again to do better the next time. Failure adds up to experience that you can use to come back even stronger than before.

What change would you most like to see?

I would like to see the rights that myself and many other Afghan women have fought for, continue to come to fruition. Giving little girls the chance to do any sports, jobs or whatever their dreams may be, without any harassment or difficulty, would be the best thing to see in the world. 

Shoutout time! Who is doing amazing work to support girl's & women's sport & deserves a little more recognition?

I want to recognize my team owner, Nicola, who works with our all girls team. She is doing amazing work to support our gender, which is not easy work, but she is doing amazingly and is an inspiration to us all! 

If you could snap your fingers and have any job or be the top athlete for any sport [that you're not currently in] what would it be? 

If I close my eyes, I see myself as a world-class cycling champion and maybe a successful Dentist! But if I could snap my fingers and be the top athlete of another sport (other than cycling), I would choose basketball. I played basketball at school with my classmates before becoming a full-time cyclist and I used to enjoy it a lot. It is a game of extreme focus and requires physical and mental agility.

I also would love to earn an Olympic medal in Paris or Los Angeles and be a contributing sports person in the world.

What's the one sport you never want to try?

I would happily try any sport, as exercising and sport are my favourite things. I don’t think there would be any sport I would give up trying.

Corrine Walder is an experienced documentary filmmaker and photographer who specializes in telling human interest stories in sport. 

Who or what inspired you to make sports a key focus of your life and career?

In my final year at Uni we had to make a short film which would be relatable for that time (2008). The Olympics and Paralympics were months away so I decided to contact some Paralympians and see if there were any stories worth following. I met a young athlete who lost his legs as a kid playing on the train tracks. I followed his journey for a few months towards the Beijing Paralympics. I remember seeing how sport changed his life and I fell in love with capturing people's stories, trying to uncover their drive and determination. It's pretty emotional watching someone crossing that finish line whether they are winning or losing, you feel like you're on the journey with them.

Who were your role models when you were young and why? Choose whichever answer you think works

My Dad - hardworking, honest, would secretly have a tear in his eye when watching the Olympics. 

Serena Williams - the power! 

Dame Kelly Holmes - growing up watching athletes of the late 90's early 00's. Pre social media - they were just superstars.

Louis Theroux - I loved the way he got to know people and the insight into cultures I never knew about i.e. "The most hated family in America" 

Annie Leibovitz - telling a story without words.

What piece of advice do you have for women who are trying to work in sports? 

Write down goals of where you want to be, what you enjoy doing, what your passion is. Intern in a few different sports to see what interests you. And have inner confidence and ambition.

What change would you most like to see happen with sports in the next 5 years?

Getting to know or showcase athletes in sports that aren't as well known, the personality brings the audience.

Do you have any documentary/film recommendations?

Diego Maradona, Notorious, Senna, The Last Dance, All or Nothing, Last Chance U, Cheer, Zion, The Playbook, Free Solo. Hearing people's lives and their stories on Desert Island Discs.

If you could snap your fingers and have any job or be the top athlete for any sport [that you're not currently in] what would it be? What's the one sport you never want to try?

Ski jumping, imagine flying through the air like that. Just brilliant.

 

 

 

Zwift How-To: Maximize Your Climbing 8 months ago