Lakshmi Puri, the UN Women Deputy Executive Director says “sport has huge potential to empower women and girls.” According to her, participation in sports has allowed women to amplify their voices and “tear down gender barriers and discrimination.” She also pointed out that “women in sport defy the misperception that they are weak or incapable.” In conjunction with the celebration of International Women’s Day, I interviewed UNMC’s finest water polo champion and swimming extraordinaire, Sarah-Ann Thorp, to put this statement to the test. Having been shortlisted for the 2017 SeaGames Squad for water polo, along sporting an impressive collection of 206 medals in both school and state wide events. (51 gold, 109 silver, 46 bronze) Sarah is to say the least, an accomplished athlete. However, the star swimmer does admit to having been shamed for her choice in sports and fit physique.
Water polo can be seen as a rather rough sport and people may perceive it as not being very womanly…I have wider shoulders than the typical girl because of swimming, it didn’t help that I was naturally tall as well…some guys gave me the nickname, ‘Sasquatch’.
Nonetheless, Sarah has never allowed these snide comments to deter her from pursuing her passion. The experienced swimmer instead, channelled this negative energy as fuel for her determination to improve.
Water polo is a sport I love and I wouldn’t give it up for anything… I’ve learnt to push myself to my limits by telling myself that I can accomplish anything if I just put my mind to it.
As a competitive top-notch water poloist, Sarah has had her fair share of co-ed games. When asked whether she felt intimidated training alongside boys, the swimmer grinned, recalling an experience with a friend, “I used to race with a close guy friend of mine in training-we’d both be trying to outdo each other..he didn’t always win!” On the contrary, the accomplished sportswoman admitted to actually prefer competing against members of the opposite gender. “I like training alongside boys. Although they undoubtedly have the upper-hand in terms of physical strength, I find that I push myself harder to keep up with them, and this benefits me when I compete against girls.”
Photo credits- Digital Arts Guild UNMC
In a world where sport is so heavily male-dominated, its pursuit may be seen as discouraging to women, as they have to work twice as hard to be acknowledged. However, Sarah advises her fellow women of sport to never give up. “Women have as much right to play sports as men do. There’s so much they can achieve, if they only try. I’m not saying that sports is easy, especially if you’re aiming to do it competitively. But it has its benefits. Through sports, I’ve learned to actively pursue my goals and strive in order to achieve whatever I want in life.” The distinguished state swimmer not only seeks to inspire women who are currently pursuing sport, but makes an appeal to all girls,
“For any girls who are interested in sports, I’d say do it. Prove that we can excel at it just as much, if not more than men.”
By Esther Liew