#Sistersport: ‘You can achieve anything you want’ - women’s conference spreads inspirational message

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Women and girls gathered at a conference today to hear from inspirational figures in the sporting world.

The second Women in Sport North conference, founded by Calderdale and Wakefield business expert and Women in Sport ambassador Kate Hardcastle, welcomed females of all ages and backgrounds through its doors.

Speakers included BBC Breakfast presenters Sally Nugent and Kat Downes, Look North’s Tanya Arnold, Paralympian Claire Cashmore MBE, martial arts world champion Harleen and Kaur and more.

The event, held at the Alhambra Theatre in Bradford, championed female participation in sport at every level - from the playing field to the boardroom.

Kate said: “We need to make sure that sport is accessible and we need to make sure that even if you are not ‘elite’ in sport, you can engage with it.

“We’ve heard today that it brings confidence, it brings passion, it introduces you to people, helps you make friends and all of those are big life skills we all need to learn.

“So for everyone, sport has to be accessible, here in the north, and something that we can make easy for people to engage with. That’s what the conference is all about and has already achieved that, so I’m delighted.”

Paralympian Claire Cashmore MBE shared her story with the audience. Rio 2016 was Claire’s fourth Paralympics and her most successful.

She entered the world stage when she was just 16. She qualified for Athens and brought home two bronze medals, a bronze at the games in Beijing in 2007 and a further two silvers and a bronze in London 2012.

And in Rio, she scooped a silver medal in the 100m breastroke and her first gold in 100m medley relay.

Speaking to the audience, she said: “With a little bit of hard work and determination you can achieve anything you want.

“The next time you say ‘I can’t do it’, add ‘yet’ to it.”

She added: “Sport changed my life. It made me into the confident individual I am today and whether it’s going to your local swimming gala or your local running match or whatever it might be - get involved.

“It’s such a good thing to be a part of and you will absolutely love it. You will meet loads of people, you’ll make loads of friends and all those endorphins will be released. It’s great.

“As women, we are all conscious of our bodies, but we are all individual and we are all perfect in our own way.

“Accept your difference - I have one arm so I have been very self-conscious throughout my life - but I’ve become so comfortable in my body through sport and actually accepting that if people don’t like me for me who I am or what I look like, then they are not worth knowing.

“Just go out there, love your body and be comfortable in your own skin.”

BBC Look North and Super League Show presenter Tanya Arnold also spoke at the conference.

Sending a message to readers she said: “I think there is a sport for everybody. You might not want to be part of a team, you might want to be an individual, but what I would say is I played sport as a kid, I loved sport and I sort of stepped away from it.

“I now go to the gym, but I hated gyms, I was bizarrely self-conscious about gyms, but I don’t half feel better after going, or going for a run, for doing exercise at home.

“I just, both mentally and physically, feel better for it. So it’s not necessarily about going and winning things, it’s not necessarily about being first, it genuinely is just about making yourself feel better.

“And yes, it will hurt at the time, but at the other side of it, you will feel a lot better. If you can play a team sport, you will make some great friends, you’ll go on a journey together. You won’t necessarily win things, you might win things, but I would just say get out there for your own sake. It’s not about anybody else, but it will make you feel better.”

And speaking about the challenges she has faced as a woman in her own career, she said: “It is changing a lot, I’ve been doing it for more years than I care to remember.

“When I first did it, I felt like the only woman out there the whole time. You have to believe a lot in yourself and that’s quite hard.

“You still get abuse, you still get judged by what you look like, or in my case, what I sound like, because I’ve got a deep voice.

“You get used to it over the years, it doesn’t make it right, but it is changing huge amounts.

“There are a lot more people out there for a start, so it’s not lonely anymore. I think ultimately, you learn about yourself in how you deal with it.

“There are now a lot of us out there to whom you can turn to and ask for help. There was an element of turning around and saying ‘it’s absolutely irrelevant that I’m a woman’. I hope that’s what we are now getting to - that you don’t look and go ‘it’s a woman talking about football’ - it’s somebody doing their job and I hope that is where we are now moving to.”

The free event was founded in response to the lack of conferences and networking opportunities for those involved in sport outside of London.

The youngest person to attend was seven-year-old Nya Ella, who wrote a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May calling for more time to spent on physical education in primary schools.