Leg 2, Day 45 – Role Models

Laura Penhaul By

Day 45: Role Models

Since a child, my role models have evolved over the years but they have certainly been influential in my decision making and opportunities that I’ve ceased. At the ripe age of 3 (that’s as far back as I can remember!) my mum was without a doubt my idol. I wanted to become a nurse just like my mum as she was (and still is) the best nurse, so kind, caring and would go that extra mile for any patient to ensure they got the best care. So with my plastic medical kit and little nurses hat, I was set! Granted the nursing ambition morphed to being a Physio but mum has certainly taught me plenty of skills that help me today. I never knew or appreciated what it meant to be a working mum or the influence that would have on me, but seeing my mum raise us kids, keep a household, work full time plus study when we started school so she achieved her diploma in nursing and continue to never stop learning or developing, my mum without a doubt is my best role model. But yet how is it that in 2015 we’re still fighting for the recognition of females in sport, in business, in media, in life, to show children of today and generations to come, the widespread female role models that they can endeavour to become. Don’t get me wrong, there is certainly a vast improvement over the last decade, but it is far from where it could be. Also I don’t want to detract from the fact that there are many men that are huge role models and have certainly been inspirational to me in my life. I guess I’ve always been one to say ‘if they can do it then so can I’ and it never crossed my mind whether they were male or female. This also however, makes it exciting to be part of the era that is working to improve female awareness and hopefully with this row, as the first ever team to row the Pacific, we can make some small contribution towards it. ‘Inch by inch, play by play…. Life is a game of inches…. We fight for that inch’ (Any Given Sunday quote).


A perfect example to show that female equality is still far from where it can be, is the fight that Chrissie Wellington (4 times world IronWoman Champion) and fellow female professional cyclists had when campaigning for there to be a female Tour De France. Only last year in 2014 did the organisers finally allow a 1 day female race after many refusals and campaigning to get it launched. It seems archaic that in this day there would be resistance to it, but hopefully in years to come these ideas will be greeted with open arms. The likes of Television presenter Clare Balding is certainly making waves to break this cycle and her support within the media is commendable. In the last few years Sky have devoted a channel to women sport, BBC Five Live have ‘women’s hour’ and there are increasing award ceremonies for women in sport, all helping to provide exposure of some amazing female role models in sport.

‘Strong is beautiful’ is a coined phrase from the WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) which is helping to break the stereotype of young girls seeing size 6 models and wishing to be them. Instead, thankfully with the help of London 2012 and the huge success of females winning Gold for GB, young females are getting exposure to the great role models such as Jessica Ennis-Hill. Not only does Jessica highlight how you can be a girl who trains in the gym and does weights, but she’s a perfect example of how competing in sport doesn’t mean losing your femininity. She shows you how you CAN have everything. There’s so many misconceptions that if you’re a girl that’s ambitious, interested in sport or adventure then you’re more likely to be a ‘Tom boy’ and not into fashion or beauty, nor into relationships or desires for having a family as of course you’re too independent and focussed to think of anything else. I think I can speak on behalf of the majority, that this is very far from the truth. Jessica as well as Jo Pavey at British Athletics or more recently Anna Watkins at GB Rowing are great models to show that you can have a family and come back to compete successfully. Jessica Ennis-Hill has just returned from having a child last year and won Gold in Heptathlon at the Athletics World Championships this month, Jo Pavey last year at Europeans won her first gold in middle distance running and she too has children and Anna Watkins has just announced she’s returning to compete for a place in a boat for Rio next year. Helena Morrissey again breaks the stereotype in business, that having children stops you achieving. Helena has 8 children with her husband and has gone on to be the CEO of Newton Investment Group and runs the 30%club in the UK for driving 30%of women to be on the FTSE 100. These are just a few examples of many women out there who are great role models to show that you can have a family and be successful or ambitious.

We are very fortunate to be working with Sarah Moshman, who is one of the few female film Directors out there, which Nat will be enlightening you soon about in a following blog. Sarah heard of our story via womanthology, an online website bringing female achievements to the global net. Sarah made a film called the ‘Empowerment Project’ (www.empowermentproject.com) an amazing documentary touring the U.S. to interview key inspirational women. All of the women were amazing, but 3 that stood out to me were:

Admiral Michelle J. Howard; the first four star female admiral in the US military. Like many of the women that we talk about with Walking With The Wounded, I have upmost respect for those women that have fought in a mans world to achieve equality.

Dr. Sandy Magnus; One of 57 women to become an astronaut and go into space. To work for NASA on this level you have to have an outstanding education in science and engineering, alongside the physical requirements needed in preparation for 6 months in space.

Mina Bissell; A Distinguished Scientist and Cancer Biologist having been involved in some breakthrough Cancer research. A name that you would never have heard of and without doubt there are many more that have also made commendable contributions, that would provide amazing role models in science.

All these women that I have mentioned in this blog, are just a small percentage of the empowering women that are out there but are un-sung heroes in my eyes. So if your little girl or boy asks about role models, then here’s just a few to start them off.

Update: Another day of battling the current and changeable squally winds that one minute try to drive us North and then West, so staying positive has been a challenge in itself. However, the mood yesterday was lifted by an exciting sat phone call with Sarah Moshman. Sarah had a surprise for us which will be announced to you all in the coming weeks, needless to say we were like excitable teenagers. Finally, in the vastness of the Pacific, the biggest Ocean in the world and us doing a ‘sport’ (if you can call it that?!) that at any one time there will be a maximum of 50 people in the world doing it, what are the chances that we come within 17 miles of a solo ocean rower. We couldn’t see him but Tony had alerted us to John Beeden’s position, I only wish we could stop by to share stories, maybe do a food swap and hitch a tow across the equator!



  1. Laura and the girls, I have been following your blog and read in admiration each day. This one I can particularly relate to. I had a Chat with some colleagues at BUCS this week and some colleagues who work with Deloitte who have done some work with you too. Such a small world. Sending you the best of luck, keep going strong and stay smiling. Can’t wait to watch the documentary xx

  2. Simon TY says:

    I am not sure whether you are too modest, too naive or too blind to see the irony in your blog. You write of role models, while failing to notice all that you are achieving. It is sad that you write in the context of women in sport, when you fail to notice that regardless of your age, yr gender or anything else you are providing inspiration, humiliation and lessons for all of us. Come on, you bloomin role models you, open yr eyes.

    Your guts, your resilience, your good humour, your intelligence, your insight, your sheer bloody mindedness are a constant daily humiliation to the rest of us. “Failed to move 15 miles” means rather different things to us. “Battling the current” speaks to all of us. Trying to stay positive with squally winds, intermittent broadband, crap stockmarkets, cold autumn mornings, walk the dog, shout at the children. Yes, we feel your pain. Except we do not at all. We cannot conceive what it has been like for you.

    So girls, you are the role models. Amazing, extraordinary

    Lots of love XX STY

  3. JG says:

    All women have to do is go for it. Public role models of both genders are few and far between and I’ll bet that the numbers are about level and probably even in favour of women. Definition of a role model: A person regarded by others, especially young people, as a good example to follow. The world is absolutely teeming with female role models. Start at the top – Queen Elizabeth ll, Duchess of Cambridge, Margaret Thatcher, Theresa May, Fiona Bruce, Mother Teresa – the list is vast and includes people like the Lollipop Lady with a lifetime of service. You dont have to be a celebrity to be a role model and, in fact, if you look at the celebrity tribe as a whole you will note that many of them are not role models in any sense. I think it demeans women to say the they want equality with men, they have it already – they are titans in their own right and the few who choose to get into a male intensive arena usually rise to the top of it very quickly. Things like unequal pay, pension age differences and so on, the last remains of the age of discrimination are being eradicated So, relax, by doing what you are in the way that you are, you are automatically role models for young and old alike. Enjoy and keep safe.

  4. ALC says:

    Hear! Hear! I agree whole heartedly with the above sentiments. YOU ARE ALL ROLE MODELS!!!!!
    Wishing you good currents, good winds and speed.
    Keep safe and love to all of you. Anne xx

  5. Babs says:

    Wow, what a compliment Laura, but I was never envisaging that we would produce such strong children, who we are so proud of. I can only reiterate the above comments that you are all showing the next generation what resilience and inspirational girls you all are. I still feel Doris should have have been called ‘ Tenacity’ as this sums up you all to a tee!
    Keep plugging away at the nmiles and hopefully soon your speed will increase, it is not for the want of trying. X

  6. What a wonderful tribute to your mum. I believe every word you say about her. She is very kind and caring and her patients are very lucky to have her as their nurse.
    I have to agree 100 percent with Simon. You do not notice at all what you are achieving. Take a selfie stick , take a photo of yourselves so you can see what you are up to.
    Your dad told me about the time when you went back to your old school to talk about your pacific rowing and as you drove past the school with Doris on the trailer all the children standing on the sides of the road and cheering you on , waving and screaming. I think you need to relive that moment in the theatre of the mind and you will realise how big it is and what you are achieving.
    You may never know it but a few of those children may have been inspired by that and may achieve themselves great things in life due to the role model that you have been for them.
    I have read Chrissie Wellington’s autobiography. She is an incredible woman and a true role model. Truth is , I think that if women would compete in the tour de france some like Chrissie may beat a lot of the men and that may be hard to swallow.
    Keep going girls. We admire you XXX

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