Lina Nielsen

5 things world-class female athletes want you to know about the reality of competing

In partnership with Puma

Posted by for Strength

Here’s what it’s really like being in the fitness industry according to professional athletes…

For most people keeping fit is an opportunity to run off a stressful day, track your progress by lifting something heavy, look after your health or all of the above.

So how about if it’s your career?

We spoke to three professional athletes and picked their brains about what the reality of fitness is when you’re at the top of your game.

Here’s what they said…

1. Your looks can still determine your success

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“Image is everything and can hugely hamper a female athlete’s ability to gain sponsorship deals, especially within sports that are already not mainstream,” says sprinter Jodie Williams.

“On a more positive note, from my personal experience, having been someone who suffered with a lot of body image issues and a general lack of self-confidence growing up – which contrary to popular belief is very common amongst both professional male and female athletes – sport has given me a lot of tools to combat these things. 

“Although being a female athlete can certainly deepen these issues, especially with the rise of social media, I have learnt to love my body for the incredible things it can achieve! 

“My muscular shape used to be a source of embarrassment for me but I’ve come to realise that it is something to be proud of.

“I have travelled to places I would never have dreamed of seeing, met some incredible humans and found the confidence to speak up for other women and girls who have not been afforded the same opportunities as me.”

2. Periods can mean winning or losing a championship

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“Periods – and birth control – play a huge role in performance, but it’s a subject that is not talked about enough,” explains Jodie.

“I have personally been in situations, and I know many others who have too, where my period has coincided with a major championship and it has caused me to hugely underperform, throwing away months and months of hard work.”

“Your performance is, a lot of the time, judged by how your body looks: ‘She’s slower this year because her bum is smaller’ is something I once was told and it’s stuck with me ever since.”

“We’re still women,” adds sprinter Lina Nielsen.

“There are days where our hormones take over and our workouts dip dramatically. Even on race days.

“I get so many young female athletes messaging me on social media with questions about sport and even general life. 

“I think we hold a beautiful responsibility to be role models for the next generation of young female athletes.”

3. There’s still a long way to go for women

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“We need more opportunities for young girls in school,” says Lina. 

“We have so many female role models in sport and I bet a lot of girls in schools look up to them but they don’t always have access to sporting opportunities.”

“I think visibility is a huge issue within women’s sport, both in terms of TV time and how women’s sport is marketed on a whole,” adds Jodie.  

“If people can’t see us performing, they can’t buy into our stories or follow our journeys. In terms of marketing I think there is a huge disconnect between the ‘fitness’ world and women’s sport. 

“I believe that sportswomen can be a huge inspiration to young girls and women globally right now, but to many it seems unattainable because they don’t see themselves in the women being marketed. 

“I’d love to see a more varied group of women being showcased by brands and by that I mean not just your stereotypical tall, lean-looking woman. We need professional sports women in all different shapes, sizes, skin tones, ethnicities and cultural backgrounds being showcased because that is the reality of women’s sport. It’s not one-size-fits-all.

“Puma’s She Moves Us campaign aligns perfectly with everything I believe in when it comes to showcasing women. 

“I love that it brings together the world of fashion, entertainment and sport, and centres women’s voices and their experiences. 

“I also think the partnership with Women Win, a global women’s fund dedicated to advancing girls’ and women’s rights through sports, is hugely important. 

“This organisation is doing incredible things, especially when it comes to empowering young girls through sport and realising the greater impact sport can have on a young girl’s life. This is something I am personally very passionate about.”

4. The pandemic has been a hurdle

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“Preparing for sporting events has been a lot,” says track and field athlete Hannah Williams.

“It’s been very challenging, especially during the pandemic. Training by myself a lot means it has been hard to find motivation at points. 

“Training for the 400 metres is gruelling and always mentally and physically draining, especially so this year. I’m happy that all the hard work is starting to pay off and it is the most amazing feeling.

“We’ve had to be very adaptable and just get sessions done, regardless of whether we have access to facilities or not, there was a lot of running in parks!” adds Jodie.

5. Training isn’t everything

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“Contrary to popular opinion, athletics is not the only part of my life,” says Hannah.

“I also do a lot of modelling and enjoy keeping up with the fashion industry. 

“I love to get dressed up and go out, not every day is crop-top and leggings! Getting fitted out on a regular basis is a big part of keeping things fun.”

Puma is celebrating women who move together to achieve and connect through sport, culture and values. Their dedicated platform She Moves Us has been built to inspire other women around the world to tell their story, while their ambassadors Jodie Williams, Hannah Williams and Lina Nielsen are all pushing for a better tomorrow when it comes to women in sport.

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