“Be a champion and look good doing it” is a famous sports marketing line.
It’s from a different time, and hopefully one we never go back too.
This attitude has seeped into our idea of what female athletes should be, and it’s a reality society had chosen to ignore for a long time.
While public conversation has grown recently around healthy body image and the impact it’s having on young women, those forced conversations aren’t enough for Harriet Brown and Lizzie Welborn.
Former Nutri-Grain Ironwoman, World and Australian Champion Harriet Brown was seeing the impact of these attitudes every single day.
“Working as an exercise physiologist in clinic, I had young female athletes coming to see me, referred by doctors, having issues around losing menstrual cycles, stress fractures, losing weight and trying to have a healthy period, and when I went through university, we didn’t learn anything about female athletes specifically because there has been very little research done on women in sport.” she said.
And as an athlete, Harriet fell into a similar pattern to most.
“Even myself, I didn’t want to know if there was an optimal time of the month for performance (within her cycle) or if races were falling at what I initially perceived as the wrong time, but once I started learning and researching the topic of female health in athletes, I realised there are a lot of common issues that aren’t spoken about,” she said.
A candid conversation in the days leading up to the Molokai to Oahu paddleboard race with long-time rival, friend and fellow ironwoman champion Lizzie Welborn helped them both realise how important having these conversations can be.
Welborn has been a shining star of surf sports for close to a decade, since finishing runner up in the Australian Board Race Championship at just 16; but one of the sports golden girls was at an all-time low.
“I went through a really challenging period of body insecurity, thinking that I needed to be the shredded, most skinny version of myself to be a good athlete and love my body,” Welborn said.
And up to that point, like Harriet, avoiding the issue was the easiest way for the Newport phenom to cope with it.
“I tried for a long time to ignore the fact it was happening, I didn’t realise how consuming and hard that time was until I managed to come out the other side,” she said.
“The scary thing was that while I was struggling, I could not find any resources to help, and I felt very alone. I didn’t know how to talk about it.”
They felt compelled to start the conversation about the complex challenges others were facing as well and help young women to understand their bodies.
And Kamana Community was born.
“We chose the word Kamana because in Hawaiian it means “the power” and our program helps empower female athletes by having the hard conversations,” Welborn said.
With Brown’s clinical knowledge and Welborn’s drive to bring the program to life, the two embarked on delivering workshops to athletes, coaches and parents.
“We created 4 workshops that address the topics that are not spoken about enough, nutrition, body confidence, menstrual cycle health and performance mindset,” Brown said.
With the guidance of professionals in each field, they deliver these workshops nationally to schools and sports clubs and aren’t afraid to have the traditionally “awkward conversation” with those who need it most.
“The majority of coaching in Australia especially in elite sport are male….. when I started a lot of them would say, oh I will step out of the room for this, and I’d always say absolutely not, you’ll come into the room and you’ll learn about female physiology because it’s quite different,” said Brown.
Both women concede there is no single solution to the wide variety of issues that face female athletes especially in Surf Sports.
“One common issue in our sport is that females are not fuelling enough to meet the training requirements; this is due to either restrictive eating or not being aware of the enormous energy output of training three times a day,” Brown stated.
Welborn echoes Brown and believes the odds are stacked against girls involved in surf sports.
“Our sport is in the high-risk basket for many reasons, one being that we are a swimwear sport. Girls are racing in swimwear that can make them feel quite vulnerable,” she said.
“We want girls to feel empowered and confident to achieve their goals because despite the obstacles, sport is the best thing we’ve done, we’re so proud and grateful to be female athletes and we want as many other girls as possible to experience that as well”
Since beginning to deliver the clinics in February, the response has been overwhelming.
“It’s not all about giving advice, it’s about telling stories and making girls feel like they’re not alone in the struggle, we’re not fixing everything, we want girls to know that a lot of female athletes and women in general struggle with these things and they’re not alone. Whatever you’re struggling with, someone else is as well.”
Harriet and Lizzie will be delivering workshops at both the Alex Headland and Manly Shaw and Partners Summer of Surf rounds with the clinic info below.
Kamana Workshop 1 – Alexandra Headland
Topic: Body Confidence
Who for: Females from any sport age 12+
When: Alexandra Headland SLSC
Time: 9am – 10:30am
Cost: $60 or *$30 for those competing
Kamana Workshop 2 – Manly
Topic: Female Athlete Health & Understanding the Menstrual Cycle and Puberty
Who for: Females from any sport age 12+
Where: Manly Life Saving Club
When: Thursday 18th January
Time: 4:30pm – 6pm
Cost: $60 or *$30 for competitors
There is a 50% discount for those competing in the Summer of Surf thanks to Shaw and Partners.
For more information on the clinics go to kamanacommunity.com.