Butterfly Progress

I’ve been trying to get a butterfly lesson every  6 weeks or so, in addition to Friday night stroke development classes. I’d like them more often, but the coaches aren’t always available in the evenings so it has to be when I can get a day off. I’ve been making steady (but slow) progress.

I booked an hour lesson today. We did lots of drills – lengths of just kick on my front, on my back, kick with single arm, kick with alternating arms followed by both arms, kicking underwater and coming up and doing a big pull as I reach the surface, sculling with a pull… And then we finished off with 15 metres of no fins no paddles, managed to keep the timing ok, managed to breathe, kept in rhythm, full-stroke butterfly! Twice.

 

#thisgirlcan – despite the kyriarchy

This week, Sport England have launched a new campaign, called This Girl Can. The main thrust so far has been a tv ad.

Discussion about the ad has started. I haven’t seen much of it, but what I have seen has been about whether the ad is patronising. I’m so disappointed.

I really like the ad. It shows women of different ages, different sizes and shapes, abilities and disabilities,  different colours doing different types of sport and exercise from solo running to group fitness classes to individual swimmers competing against others to team sports. Some of the woman have athletic bodies, some of them do not. All of the women look like they’re working hard, all of the women look committed to what they’re doing, and all of them look like they’re enjoying it. This, to me, is an ad that says whatever your age, size, level of fitness or personal preference, there is a form of exercise for you.

Yes, it could show an even wider variety of activities. No, I didn’t notice anyone with a visible physical disability. Yes, the use of “girl” instead of “woman” irritates me. But in such an inclusive, varied, positive ad, those are minor quibbles.

Regardless of our weight or size, exercise is good for us, and any exercise is better than none. But while young girls are often as active as young boys, physical activity tails right off amongst teenage girls, and inactive teenagers are often inactive adults, and women generally do less sport and exercise than men.

Instead of bickering about whether or not this ad is patronising or tokenistic or objectifying or othering, let’s use this campaign as a way of opening up the discussion about why women and girls are less likely to exercise. For example, some studies have shown that teenage girls say they don’t want to exercise because they don’t want to mess up their hair or makeup, get sweaty or look “unfeminine” with visible muscles. Women earn less and have more responsibility for care of dependents and household tasks, therefore have less time and less money for exercise. Women are socialised into putting other people before themselves and often feel guilty about or unable to make time to do something for themselves. Some women live in cultures where sports clothing is not acceptable and going out is not frowned upon. Many women, including one I was talking to today, are anxious about exercising in public because of the risk of assault or street harassment.

You can make all the fantastic feelgood positive adverts you like, but until the societal and cultural barriers are kicked down, very little is going to change.So, we need more done to convince girls that their appearance isn’t the most important thing about them, and at the same time, more emphasis on exercise rather than diet as a way to control weight (I’m looking at you, women’s magazines, with your pages of juice cleanses and nothing about lifting weights). We need to see the media promoting a much more diverse range of bodies as attractive and healthy. We need safer public spaces. We need better employment opportunities and better pay for women. We need men to step up and do an equal share of the housework and care for dependents. We probably need more women-only facilities offering a wider variety of sports. We need fitness centres/gyms/pools/clubs/groups to do everything they can to attract and encourage a more diverse spread of women and girls.

If we want women to play, we have to level the playing field.

Butterfly

At my stroke development class, we do butterfly maybe once or twice a term, and only for a small part of the lesson. Most of us, me included, have never learned it, and all of us struggle with it. I’m confident with my front crawl now, although there is still lots of room for improvement, and we’ve started doing a bit more back stroke at class and I feel like that’s starting to improve. I’m the only one at class who really likes back crawl; I love how long and stretched out I feel when I’m doing it. But, my butterfly remains nothing like a butterfly and more like a human-sized caterpillar thrashing itself into a watery grave.

I want to be able to swim a reasonable butterfly. Not for any lofty athletic achievement kind of reasons, but because it’s difficult and when it’s done well it impresses people, and I want to be one of those people showing off doing butterfly. I realised pretty quickly that the time we spend doing butterfly in class isn’t enough for me to learn it, so I asked about booking some one-to-one lessons with the Edinburgh Leisure swimming coaches. They don’t have much availability just now, but we managed to get an hour lesson today.

I was expecting it to be tough but I wasn’t expecting to have to sit on a cubicle bench for ten minutes afterwards before I could find the energy to get dried and dressed!

After a front crawl warm-up, I started by practising the dolphin kick, which I find quite difficult because I’m not very wiggly. After lots of kick, I added in arms, one at a time – one way with one arm, back with the other arm. I got a lot further even with just one arm than with just the kick – but butterfly kick is more about stabilisation than propulsion. Then we tried some catch-up arms with kick. Catch-up is a drill we do when we’re practising front crawl – you do one arm, leave it in front of you, then do the other arm, leave it there, do the first arm, and repeat, so that you’re always bringing your arms together in front. Couldn’t do it with butterfly arms at all; I just kept rolling onto my side and couldn’t keep myself stable at all.

So then we tried one arm at all, but trying to keep to the right rhythm. Kick the arm in, kick the arm out, kick the arm in, kick the arm out.That was much easier for me than catch-up so then we moved onto full stroke. Ahahahahaha.

It’s safe to say I won’t be butterflying to Olympics glory any time soon. But, coach did point out that I was too deep under the water and that was making it harder to get my arms out. Being a bit more level in the water made it easier. Once I was getting the hang of that a bit more, we did some work on how to move my arms under the water rather than just flailing them around, and then tried to add in breathing. I haven’t yet got to the point where I can breathe and keep going without losing the rhythm/my stroke/my last tiny grasp of what was going on, so I was going as far as I could without a breath, which obviously made me tire much more quickly.

Coach said I’d improved in the session, but I’m not too impressed by that. When you can’t do something at all, it’s really easy to improve in your first session. The difficult bit is going to be consolidating what we did today, and then improving on that. I think one-to-one coaching time will be in short supply over the next few months but if they can make time available, I’d love to do more. (Coach says she’ll work a bit more butterfly into class but the rest of the class will kill me if she does!)  But, I did come out of the session feeling like butterfly isn’t completely impossible for me to learn. It will be difficult, and it will take a long time, and I will probably suffer in pain and hurt my shoulders and maybe my back, but I think it is something I can learn to do. And I want to.

Commonwealth Games Glasgow 2014

I enjoyed the London 2012 Olympics so much, and I don’t think a month has gone by since then that I haven’t thought “I miss the Olympics.” So when the tickets for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games went on sale, I was keen to see as much as I could get tickets for (within what I could afford, which wasn’t as much as I would have liked).

The Big G

Sadly for me, I couldn’t get tickets for the diving, which is a) my favourite and b) being held less than a ten-minute walk away from where I live. We couldn’t get track cycling either, but we did get one session of badminton, one session of athletics and one session of netball. Then one of my cousins who lives a couple of hundred miles away let me know they had decided not to attend, and she sent me all her tickets to dispose of. I used one set of athletics tickets, sold another set (and gave the money to my cousin) and I still have a pair of badminton tickets for Friday, if anyone wants them.

On Saturday we went to the badminton at the Emirates Arena. Before it started we amused ourselves by trying to name the countries represented by all the flags around the venue; we did better once we realised they were in alphabetical order.

Badminton Commonwealth Nations Flags

I’ve never played or watched badminton, and know next to nothing about it, but I enjoyed every minute of it. There were four courts active during the session, and it’s pretty difficult to concentrate on four matches at once. We were a bit too far away to comfortably watch the Scotland games, so I concentrated on watching the country of my birth.

Badminton, 26/07/14

Badminton, 26/07/14

We were watching a mixed team session. Each country had to win the best of five games, made up of a mixed doubles game, a solo men’s game, a solo women’s game, a men’s doubles game and a women’s doubles games. As soon as a team has won three of the five games, their session is over, so if a country won its first three games, it wouldn’t have to play the other two, or it might go to four or the full five games. Singapore got through, and although Scotland put up a very strong fight, they weren’t good enough to beat eventual champions Malaysia.

Malaysia v Scotland

Badminton played at this level is incredibly fast, and the players are astonishingly agile and athletic. It was a great evening.

Monday was a long day. We had our own athletics tickets for the morning session, and my cousin’s tickets for the evening session. We spent the time in between eating a somewhat pathetic picnic scraped together from what was left in the big ASDA at Hampden, and sunbathing. (Dear ASDA, if you are the only supermarket near to a venue which is hosting major sporting events all day, please order a lot more sandwiches than you usually do, and keep restocking them through the day. Kthnxbye).

Our seats for both sessions were more or less behind the hammer-throwing cage so we had an excellent view of the hammer and discus events. I must admit, if I was watching athletics on the telly and hammer throwing came on, I’d probably stop paying attention, but watching it live was compelling. One of the nicest things about the Commonwealth Games is that the para sport is on at the same time as the mainstream sport. I know people think that it would be too difficult to do for the Olympics because it would just be too big, but for the Commonwealth Games, it works really well.

One of the things I most enjoyed on Monday was a men’s para discus final. I think it was T42-44 – it was for athletes with lower limb amputations. Most of the competitors wore prosthetic legs but Richard Okigbazi managed to balance on one leg and still get enough oomph to win bronze. I don’t want to sound like one of those “oh, the para athletes are so inspiring” wankers, but seeing someone manage to throw a discus on one leg was one of the most incredible sporting things I’ve ever seen.

Richard OkigbaziRichard Okigbazi throwing for bronzeOne of the nicest things was how generous and appreciative the crowd were. Obviously the UK nations got the most support, but the whole crowd were genuinely cheering for other nations too – not in that “we’re clapping politely because we have to” sort of way, but with genuine pleasure at seeing people do well. The decathlon was going on throughout the day, at the other end of the stadium from where we were, and the crowd was cheering for everyone who managed to get over the bar in the high jump. There was a real sense of joy and delight at seeing athletes doing well and achieving new – er, achievements. Biggest cheer of the day was for Scot Libby Clegg who got gold in women’s para 100m, but pretty much everything was greeted with huge applause, and standing ovations for every gold winner’s lap of honour, as well as for the silver/bronze medal winners who walked around the track, and, really, for any athlete who had completed their event and walked around the edge of the stadium. Lots of the athletes stopped to high-five kids and give autographs, and not just the winners, the losing competitors too. Monday was a very long day – we left the flat just before 8am and didn’t get back until just before 1am on Tuesday. Of course, that didn’t stop the cat waking us up and demanding food at 6am. Even though there was food in his bowl.

Yesterday we went to the SECC to watch the netball. I hated all sport at school but once I left school and started 6th form I played netball for a local league. We weren’t great but we enjoyed it. I was thinking about getting back into it until I knackered my hip – it’d be too high impact for me now. I’ve only ever played at a very basic level, and I was even struggling to remember all the rules. Watching it played at this level was an education in what sport can be like when people are really really good at it. We saw South Africa v Wales (Wales got gubbed)

South Africa v Walesand Malawi v Scotland (Scotland got gubbed).

Malawi v ScotlandI really enjoyed watching people play with competence and some idea what they were doing. I could see clearly how the Malawi (in particular) were able to anticipate, and position themselves so as to make space and create opportunities. Netball at this level is fast and skilful, and deserves more respect than it usually gets. The Malawi goal shooter, I think her name is Mwayi Kumwenda, was particularly good.

Unfortunately, that was the last of our Commonwealth Games trips. I feel quite sad we won’t be there to see any more, though to be honest I’m knackered and glad of a few lazy days before I go back to work next week.

From what I’ve seen, the Games are very well organised. They’ve clearly thought hard and put a lot of work into the public transport arrangements, and it worked very smoothly for the three venues we attended. Security checks were quick and thorough – airport-style screening machines, but the armed forces personnel doing the screening were much friendlier and pleasanter than any airport security staff I’ve ever dealt with. All of the volunteers we saw or spoke to were friendly, polite and eager to help, as were the train and station staff. My one gripe, and it’s a pretty big one, was the venue food. At the Emirates, I bought a cheese ploughman’s sandwich, nothing special, just a triangular packet of cheese sandwich with pickle and a bit of tomato, for £4, and a ham and cheese for £4.50, plus a bottle of water, a bottle of Irn Bru, two muffins and two caramel logs. Total? £19.40. That was the last vegetarian sandwich they had, so if we’d been any later, I’d have been going hungry. At Hampden, there was a choice of fried food, fried food, extortionately-priced anaemic falafel wraps, £1 pieces of fruit, £2 bars of chocolate, pies or fried food. We gave up at the SECC and took sandwiches. Scotland has a huge problem with dietary related ill-health, and lack of exercise ill-health. If they’re hoping that the legacy of the Games will be better health in Scotland they could at least have tried to set an example with cheaper, healthier food. The pricey, unhealthy food is the one thing I think they’ve really got wrong with this Games (well, that and the embarrassing opening ceremony). Even the lowest-achieving athlete here would baulk at a meal of potato wedges and a £2 giant Twix washed down with fizzy mango juice – why should spectators be fobbed off with that? They could have put a bit of thought into it and showcased cheap, tasty, healthy food from all the Commonwealth countries – it would have been much more inspirational than pies and burgers, even if they did have haggis in them.

On the whole though, we had an amazing 3 days at the Games. If I had more money I’d have loved to have gone to more sessions of any number of different sports. As it is, I’ll be spending the rest of the week glued to the telly to watch the diving! Well done Glasgow – and if any of the volunteers/transport staff/police etc see this post, thank you so much for the hard work you have put into the Games – we really do appreciate it.