International Women’s Day – celebrating women in our sport

International Women’s Day (8 March) is a global day celebrating the historical, cultural, and political achievements of women. It’s also a day in support of taking action against gender inequality around the world.  

There are so many inspirational women across our sport; from the incredible volunteers at the heart to elite athletes at the top. Women doing amazing things to support and showcase athletics at all levels. Here we share stories from two inspirational women to highlight different roles and ways you can get involved in our sport.   

Shani Palmer, an Olympian come Coach destined to be an athlete, Shani was influenced and inspired from a young age. Turning focus from her studies to sprinting she became an Olympian and now passes on her many years of knowledge and experience as England Athletics Event Group Lead for speed.       

Alison Jordan, a Level 4 Track and Photo Finish Official highly experienced having officiated for many years. Alison was inspired by her dad and has worked her way up through the grades, officiating internationally, including the Olympics   

Read Shani’s athlete come coaching story here… 

Images by Ernest Simons photography

Athletics has always been a major part of my life. My Dad was Head of Athletics for St. Vincent & The Grenadines and took a team of athletes to the 1978 Commonwealth Games. My Mum represented her school as a sprinter and every athletic competition was a priority on our television whenever it was aired. When I started secondary school, my PE teacher suggested that I join Bromley Ladies A.C. and from that point onwards, athletics became a major part of my life. 

I started off as a sprint hurdler, high jumper and long jumper. When I was 15, I stumbled into the triple jump and went on to be U20 England Champion 3 years in a row. I competed in my first GB Junior International when I was 17 and my athletics career started to take shape from there. I had always competed in the 100m and 200m alongside the triple jump, so when injury prevented me from continuing to jump, I switched my attention to sprinting. Up until this point, my main focus was on my education. Once I completed my degree, I was able to focus on sprinting full time. In 1999 I won my first Senior National title in the women’s 200m at the British Indoor Championships which opened the door to competing in individual events at Senior International Championships. My senior athletics career included competing in three World Champs, a European Championships and culminated in racing at the Sydney Olympics and winning a bronze in the 2002 Commonwealth Games for the 4x100m relay.  

Throughout my career, I was fortunate to have excellent coaches who were highly experienced and invested in my development as an athlete and as a person. The skills that I learned through thousands of hours of training have been invaluable, before and since my retirement from competition. Athletics has taught me vital lessons in perseverance, discipline, focus and a very real understanding that you can achieve anything with planning, hard work and a great support system.  

Now that I am working for England Athletics, I want to help develop a robust and skilled coaching community across the country. I want to encourage and facilitate our coaches to share their best practice so that we can develop successful athletes year after year. I plan to support both our coaches and athletes so that they maximise their potential from grassroots right through to elite performance. 

My advice for anyone considering getting into athletics… is to go along to your local club and try different events. It will benefit you in the long run not to specialise too early. Have fun and see where athletics takes you. This sport will enrich your life in so many ways. 

‘My advice for anyone wanting to get into coaching… is to get the appropriate coaching qualification, volunteer with your local club, network with other coaches to expand your knowledge and continue with your coach education regularly.’ 

Read Alison’s officiating story here… 

Many people get into officiating because their son/daughter is competing. For me it was the other way around; I started competing because my father was officiating! Dad heading off to a track somewhere at a weekend was just part of family life, so it was natural that my brother and I started going along too and joined the local athletics club. As a family, we also used to play spot dad on the TV, when he was away at a televised event. Now things have gone full circle and my own son (not to mention other relatives) try and spot me.  

As an athlete, I definitely wasn’t anything special but enjoyed being part of the team. I first qualified as a track official when I was a postgraduate student and out of action, injured. It kept me involved and gained a few points for the club as well! At that point I fully intended combining competing and officiating, but then serious illness forced my hand and I retired from competing. I still only thought I would officiate at club and county level, but I was welcomed into the fold, and supported by some very experienced officials, and worked my way up through the grades.  

I will admit I have been very luckyright time, right place, right experience – and some great opportunities have come my way: Olympic Games, World Championships, ParaPan American Games to name but three. I don’t think anyone who was lucky enough to be in the Olympic Stadium on Super Saturday will ever forget being there. One thing I will certainly remember is the noise. Up in photo finish, just below the stadium roof, we were quite protected from it. But as soon as anyone opened the door, it was deafening. I am also one of the lucky ones who has got to go abroad as an official but that does come at a price, and not just in the number of annual leave days I use for officiating. I keep promising my husband that I won’t be at a track on our wedding anniversary, but I do seem to keep failing. Thankfully he is very understanding and jokes that not only am I spending our anniversary with my second family rather than him, I seem to be going further away each time: Bedford, Birmingham, Berlin, Peru, and Japan (Tokyo 2020 coming up).  

Fellow officials really are my second family. We encourage and support each other, and always have a lot of fun too. I know there is always someone out there I can turn to for advice, a shoulder to cry on or just to let off steam – and it doesn’t have to be athletics related. We are also a resourceful bunch with a skill set a Blue Peter presenter would be proud of. You may see some family members more regularly than others, but we manage to have a laugh even on days when we are getting drenched, and I suppose its the camaraderienot to mention knowing I have a good set of waterproofs (including waterproof socks), that keeps me coming back for more. 

‘To anyone thinking about getting into officiating, my advice is don’t be intimidated – give it a go! Try the taster sessions to get hands-on experience at events alongside us. For me, I’m excited to see where officiating continues to take me and to help and encourage others however I can.’  

There are lots of inspiring stories from our RunTogether community too… follow the link here and have a read through.   

From the volunteers at the heart of our sport to the elite athletes leading in their respective fields, and all the inspirational women in-between; we support and salute you! 

To all men reading this… your time will come – International Men’s Day is on 19 November 2020. We encourage you to do what you can to support and encourage more women into our sport, at all levels. #EachforEqual 

An equal world is an enabled world.  

Useful links and further information  

Click here to be part of our athletics and running community – find clubs and groups near you 

Click here to find out more about getting involved with coaching  

Click here to find out more about getting involved with officiating 

Click here to find out more about RunTogether