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Taking on the Leeds Virtual Challenge with Leeds Girls Can


The women of Leeds Girls Can took to Roundhay Park to complete the AJ Bell World Triathlon Leeds Virtual Challenge together.

After signing up to her first ever triathlon last year, taking part in the GO TRI event at the AJ Bell World Triathlon Leeds 2019, Hannah Harvey signed up for the sprint distance race at this year’s event before Covid-19 interrupted her plans.

Harvey said: “The GO GIRLS sessions were brilliant last year, I learnt how to ride a bike properly and some bike maintenance, which were two of the biggest things I took from the sessions.

“I'd signed up for the sprint triathlon before Covid-19, but as soon as the virtual event was announced, I knew I wanted to complete it so that I kept up my training during lockdown.”

The AJ Bell World Triathlon Leeds Virtual Challenge was created in the wake of the postponement of this year’s event. The challenge allowed participants to take on their choice of three duathlon distances, racing at their own pace over the course of the week between 20 and 26 July.

Sue Warwick also took part in the Virtual Challenge with Leeds Girls Can. She opted for the GO TRI distance and despite initially setting out to spread out the challenge over two days, when she set off, she completed the whole challenge in one attempt.

“It was brilliant. When I finished, I wanted to do it all over again,” Warwick said. “My time doesn’t matter to me at all. Though in the end I did ok and I was pleased with my position, finishing 115th out of 266.”

Liz Stephenson-Payne on the other hand, separated the race into segments after an accident left her with injuries which can still cause pain when she’s active.

“I did 5k followed by a few more kilometres at Roundhay Park on Wednesday with Fiona Hoare our trainer, Louise Walker and Emma Young, Leeds Girls Can Ambassadors,” she said.

Leeds Girls Can is part of the national ‘This Girl Can’ campaign that is funded by the National Lottery and has been developed by Sport England since its launch in 2015. The initiative has worked to encourage nearly three million women to take part in sport.

Katy Ralphy also participated in the challenge, benefitting from the unwavering support of the women. Ralphy is currently going through breast cancer treatment after having surgery in January and she began exercising again in March.

“Lockdown hit and I had to shield myself as I was still in active treatment,” said Ralphy. “I saw this virtual challenge as something I could do by myself due to shielding but also feel a part of something with other people.”

She continued: “I'd already been home pretty much most of the time since September, so the timing of this challenge was ideal as it was a perfect distraction from lockdown life.”

The support from Leeds Girls Can was a large driver in the experience for many of the women taking part.

Warwick commented: “Knowing there were other women in Leeds going through the same as me and posting how they were doing on the Facebook group was fantastic.

“Some people shared their stories of why they were doing it and that was so good to read. To realise we are all trying to do something for our own reasons and the support from that was so good.”

Having likeminded women come together and support each other, particularly after a difficult period where the pandemic left many of them isolated, allowed the women to feel the social benefits of the sport that lockdown has taken away.

Stephensen-Payne said: “It was wonderful to work with my Leeds Girls Can friends again. We haven’t been able to meet up, so it was lovely. We swapped ideas and supported each other through a Facebook group with Fiona giving us tips.”

Many of the women are now looking to future multisport events, Warwick said: “I would love to get involved in something like this again. Perhaps increasing the distance. I have thought about GO TRI for so long now, but the swimming part really worries me. The duathlon was great for me.”

Leeds Girls Can works to encourage participation in sport and break down barriers for women by creating a supportive community. This paired with the AJ Bell World Triathlon Leeds Virtual Challenge’s focus on participant accessibility allowed the women to feel comfortable in taking on the challenge on their terms.

“I think women feel that they can’t participate in sport or can’t be active for a number of reasons,” said Stephensen-Payne. “The thing that I liked about the Virtual Challenge was that you could do it at your own pace, either a complete session, or in segments. This is why I signed up.”

She continued: “I would love to do more GO TRI’s when they start again. I was hoping to do a couple before lockdown. Next year I plan on upping my game and going for a sprint at next year’s AJ Bell World Triathlon Leeds.”


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