“When you start out, think, ‘What do I really want? Where do I really want to go?’ That is what will shape your future. I think back to something that my first coach said to me when I was 11 years old: ‘aim for the moon, because even if you miss, you will land among the stars’. That for me was a licence to dream.”
Those were just some of the words marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe shared with 500 girls, aged 13-18, from 35 countries who took part in the inaugural She Runs – Active Girls’ Lead event held last week in Paris.
The event, held from 12-15 March and organised by the International School Sport Federation (ISF) and supported by the European Commission’s Erasmus+ Sport programme, was dedicated to the promotion of girls’ empowerment through sport.
Radcliffe had joined the event as an ambassador on behalf of the IAAF and was one of several international athletes and global leaders who spoke of the power sport can play in creating and promoting leadership skills among girls.
Sharing his support for the event, IAAF President Sebastian Coe said, “Gender equality is one of the guiding principles of the IAAF and as such we support any initiatives that help women and girls to overcome the historical barriers to their full participation in sport.”
“My own experience as an athlete and then a sports leader tells me that sport, and athletics in particular, develops many of the skills that a leader requires, including confidence, capability, integrity and work ethic.”
The talk segment, during which Radcliffe provided insights into how sport had shaped not only her life as an athlete, but her various other roles as well - from mother to broadcaster - was one of several activities the girls participated in over the course of the week.
On Tuesday, they explored Paris on a cultural scavenger hunt, learning about places where women played key historical roles, both in and out of sport. On Wednesday, all 500 international participants were joined by 1500 French students for a non-competitive 3 kilometre race along the banks of the Seine River in the centre of Paris.
During Thursday’s series of inspirational talks, the participants also heard from Olympic figure skater Valentina Marchei, world karate champion Laurence Fischer and Brigitta Kervinen, 2017 winner of the IOC women and sport world trophy.
“One of the biggest messages I got from Paula’s talk was that you should always have achievable goals that you work for in the short term and your ‘dream goals’ that you can reach for in the long term,” said one of the participants from Australia.
“I learnt that sport shapes a lot of who you are as a person, in terms of resilience and in terms of determination. You can translate that determination from sport into your school work,” added one of the English team’s representatives.
The week concluded with a workshop during which representatives of the 35 participating nations worked on creating their own sport projects addressing physical inactivity in their local communities. With the support of mentors, 40 girls delved into the challenges they will face implementing their projects and will now return home with a better idea of how to turn their visions into reality.
Michelle Sammet for the IAAF