As the summer Olympics kick off in Tokyo and the basketball, tennis, and football seasons come to a close, I revisited my Coffee Q&A with good friend Lucy Rickett back in April. We talked about her organisation Step Forward that aims to encourage women to engage in the wider ecosystem of sport, her turbulent pandemic year, her journey with anxiety and her awe-inspiring five and a half marathons in seven days!
Lucy is truly a remarkable woman, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy reading our chat.
Rebekah: Thanks so much for doing this! We’ve known each other for a long time now, but I do think that every time we catch up, there seems to be a new side hustle that you’re engaging with. But in 2020, it was a bit different. Could you tell me about Step Forward and explain what the organisation is all about?
Lucy: Yeah, like you were saying, it definitely all suddenly felt a bit different. For me, it was a time where I realised life had been going a million miles an hour for a few years, probably even longer. I remember saying to some friends, “I’m sorry, I used to be a hectic person to be around”.
When April  came and I was put on furlough it forced me to pause. I had a bit more free time on my hands and was working with loads of charities through the Furlonteer initiative and doing that reignited a flame to start this little project.
I love sports. It’s always been a massive passion, not just doing it myself, but I genuinely do believe that sport has a bigger power. Its power to unite those of different cultures and backgrounds and provide a sense of hope, even in the most troubling of times like now. When the pandemic hit, and people stopped going to gyms, playing sport after work or running at weekends – for lots of women and girls this then meant switching off from sport completely which got me thinking…
I’ve always wanted women and girls to get more involved in the wider world of women’s sport – reading about it, watching it, listening to podcasts – when the pandemic hit I thought it felt like the moment to start trying to get women and girls to do just this, and address the culture of what female involvement in sport means. I realised there wasn’t something that existed to bring articles, documentaries/ films and podcasts from across different sports together, to make women and girls aware they exist and inspire them. For example, I don’t read the Telegraph but they have an amazing women’s sport column available for free online. And there’s always really great documentaries on Red Bull TV, likewise Spotify has such a host of great podcasts run by female athletes, but there’s no place that existed where we could bring everything together. So I just felt this is the time to start to do it.
It takes time to change the culture of something, and yes women aren’t going to start chatting about ‘that woman that just broke a record swimming the channel’ when having brunch overnight, but even if I start with only 25 people on my newsletter list. That’s 25 new people that are watching and reading and potentially listening to something once a month. But yeah, that was sort of how it came about and why I wanted to do it.
When I talk about the culture I really want to reach those women who; perhaps do sport casually, those women who have young girls, the amateur or perhaps those that hated sport at school and ruled it out for life. I think sport has got such a power to make a positive impact on people’s lives, and inspiring the younger generations that it can still play a part in your life even if you don’t do it at the elite level is super important in starting to change the culture.
R: As someone who has always been fairly active but having an adolescent eating disorder when I was teenager put me off engaging with sports at all, it wasn’t until university when I joined the women’s basketball team that I completely fell in love with sports. And, quite ashamedly, I didn’t really watch women’s basketball before joining a women’s basketball team. I watched loads of men’s basketball.
However, in 2019/20 there was a bit more of a momentum behind women’s sports on our screens, the WNBA being one of them, and we’ve seen the rise of presenters like Alex Scott and others who are presenting across both women and men’s sports. But, on your site, you mentioned that in 2020 it “stepped back”. How do you think we can build that momentum back in 2021?
L: I agree, like you said, there were so many things that were just beginning to change, and women’s sport has seen a great few years of growth and funding. One of the last things I worked on before leaving my former company was helping London Pulse Superleague Netball Team become the ‘home of women’s netball in London’, they’re the first women’s sports franchise to have their home as the Copper Box in London. It is the most amazing place and we were trying to develop that culture of women and girls going to watch a game after work, or dads taking their girls at the weekend like they would their son to Sunday football. And to your point about watching the men’s game over the women’s we need broadcasters to play their part here, in putting it on our screens to make it accessible, I know it comes down to commercial fundamentals but at the end of the day, ‘if you don’t see it, you won’t start inspiring people to get behind it or do it’.
I think what you were saying is really interesting. In your teenage years you didn’t get involved in sport. And, even though your reasons may be different, I think often it’s because it comes back to this cultural element, we aren’t taught as girls about the community sport brings, and also we don’t learn that sport isn’t just playing ‘netball, hockey and rounders…’. We’re not taught that “OK you might not be the best person at running the 1500m on sports day, but you can still go with your friends and watch a game of netball, football, basketball or whatever it is, support a team and it’ll be just as fun.” Or that ok you might not be the best athlete, but you could go onto be a referee, or even work in sport in some form.
R: My dad’s a huge basketball fan so we used to watch and play a lot together, and I remember being told explicitly by teachers at school “Oh, no, you can’t play basketball, girls is all about netball” and that’s all I was allowed to do. And, no disservice at all, but at that age I didn’t want to play it. I wanted to play basketball. And I was pushed away from it. And even when I joined the team, I had preconceptions of what the women might be like from what I had heard about women athletes and it wasn’t true at all. Some people in the team were more feminine than others, our gender and presentation didn’t matter.
We often get told that if you want to be a sporty woman, you have to lose that femininity. And I think that’s what I find really interesting is that even within women’s sports, it’s still perceived to be a “masculine” place, in a similar way that for men, to be sporty, you “must be this type of man”, you can’t be a feminine man and do sport. What do you think about that?
L: It’s so true and one aspect I really feel doesn’t move with the times. As teenagers there’s also a culture that you do sport because it makes you look good, not how it makes you feel which is what it should be about no matter your background, gender or culture. Sport actually has such a potential to help young people feel confident in who they are but often it does quite the opposite. My best friend plays women’s rugby for Scotland, there has been some great advances in women’s rugby about changing perceptions and when I’ve been to watch her games the girls are literally not conforming to any stereotype, they are being just who they want to be, and we need to bring that through from a younger age across all sports.
R: Something I’ve noticed in this discussion, and in our own lives, is that it seems women often get discouraged from engaging with sports full stop, because we put sport in this “masculine” box regardless. I’m sure men who don’t fit that kind of stereotypical mould also might be put off sport for the same reason. And it’s interesting having these discussions, because I think that it has come so far, but it also hasn’t in our day-to-day life.
That’s why I love what your organisation is doing, but for many in schools, and afterwards, it still feels different.
L: Yeah, absolutely and what you’re saying basically sums up why I started Step Forward.
There is definitely a box in which we put different sports and the people who play them, or girls who are ‘sporty’ like you say for boys who don’t conform to the stereotype. whereas sport doing it, watching it and supporting it should actually be the one thing that helps break boundaries and is something super accessible, and thus should be able to continue to play a part in our everyday lives. And until we get those numbers of women engaged in the culture, making it accessible and representative for the everyday girl, it’s not going to change.
R: There’s a question around allyship in sport. Men’s clubs and teams promoting and supporting their women counterparts. I see it done a lot more frequently with the NBA players and WNBA, and more recently with some Premier League football teams like Arsenal and Chelsea, for example. We’re seeing it in other major men’s sports like tennis – with Andy Murray vocalising and correcting journalists as a prime example. And I wondered if you had an opinion on that kind of allyship. We both know men’s sports are very popular and have a lot more money. So if you believe money is the issue to getting popularity, or vice versa, then do you think that clubs need to utilise their men’s teams more to promote their women’s teams and women’s sport in general?
L: Yes, definitely and it’s a big conversation. Part of me thinks that it’s a shame we still have to do that in the 21st Century to almost “hang on” to what the men are doing, but ultimately, if we’re going to convert more men to watch women’s sport and strive to get more women spectators then allyship is crucial. My 93 year old grandad has started watching women’s football and has been amazed at how different and skilful it is and even said he sort of prefers it!
Netball is a great example, as a predominantly only female sport with huge participation figures they have wanted to push the allyship to get a gender balanced spectatorship, and they have started partnering with men’s rugby teams that have the funding e.g. Wasps Netball partnered with Wasps Rugby. Cross pollination in sport is really powerful but we also need to see it at the grassroots level, local clubs coming together to push girls and boys in the same way. So yeh, I think it’s a good thing if it helps raise the status of the women’s game. And then at the end of the day, people like my grandad can start deciding for themselves, to watch both the men’s and women’s versions of the same sport.
R: One thing that I’ve also noticed recently in football – I think Celtic was the first one in the UK quite a few years ago, and then Brighton and others followed have started offering free tampons in their stadiums and it seems like a small gesture, but actually, for me, as a woman going to these games, whether I use them whether or not it’s saying our stadium is a place for you to come and watch, whether you’re watching men or women (because often the women’s football is in a different place). So even if I’m going to watch men play, they’re welcoming me into the game. In my opinion, more of these seemingly small gestures will get women interested in sport in general, which then means that women’s sports overall gets a bit more popularity.
L: Definitely. And, obviously, we’re very lucky in the UK that women can even go and watch sport, and it goes back a bit to what we were saying about sport at school: we need to feel comfortable in the environment to keep women engaged throughout life. Also you talking about stadiums offering tampons makes me think of the The Rajasthan Royals cricket team in India being sponsored by a sanitary pad company which is just great!
R: The next question I wanted to ask, following on from what we’ve just said, is what advice would you give to women who maybe want to try exercise and sport but don’t have the confidence or community around them?
L: Think of something you’ve just really always wanted to do no matter how wild or simple, and search for it in your local area. People are always surprised by how much there is on offer, and how many communities exist in their local area that they didn’t know existed. E.g. hula hooping clubs, hiking, running your first 5km or cold water swimming on the coast. And remember all the other women there have each taken that first step: saying they’re going to try it, you might hate it or it might not be right but just TRY it. So, just think of something you’ve always wanted to do and go see how it makes you feel, and don’t think of it as a sport like you did in PE at school. There’s so many communities and groups out there, find one and just see how good it makes you feel.
R: I completely vibe with that. Try it and even if you hate it or you’re “not good” at it – it doesn’t matter. At university I tried out for basketball because I liked it. I’m not great at it, but I ended up making the team. Why? Not because I could shoot great baskets or anything – and even after a year of doing basketball training three to four times a week – I’m still not very good at it, but I can run fast and I’m enthusiastic. So I made the team and they became really good friends of mine and I fell in love with the sport even more. I love watching it, seeing the choreography of the players. You might train for a full year, all the time and still not be the best. But at least you had a really great time.
L: Absolutely! And that community and sense of just doing something for the first time is very fulfilling. Kind of helps you break out of the daily grind or that ‘box’ that we can get stuck into. During lockdown in Cornwall, I kept watching the BlueTits cold water swimming group run into the sea, and just thinking what heroes, you might not think of it as your classic sport but gets the heart going, and they have a lot of fun at the same time.
R: It is quite a funny thing. And, you might surprise yourself. Like when I started Personal Training, I thought I couldn’t do press ups at all and now I love them. I genuinely love them.
L: I know that there’s also people that hated sports school and now are really into things like CrossFit and absolutely insane at it. And, that’s it! We’re just not brought up to realise there’s a world of fitness and sports out there that we can try.
R: So, as I’ve known you for a little while – I know you quite like a fitness challenge. But in 2020, you did a bit of an insane one, where you ran five and a half marathons over seven days. So first of all, I have to ask why? And then what your main takeaway was from doing the challenge?
L: I read a book a couple years ago called The Salt Path, which is a really great book about a couple that live in Wales and through kind of no fault of their own, have to leave their house and lose everything. They become homeless in their 40s and decide to just head out and walk the Southwest Coast path. Me and my eldest brother had both read it and without knowing it, both really wanted to do it.
As was the strange turn of events of 2020, we found ourselves at home again [in Cornwall] and I then found myself made redundant. It was a moment of feeling like something was so out of my control. And I thought, right, I need to kind of make the best out of this situation. And so we said let’s just let’s just do it.
I originally thought I was going to walk it and take a good few weeks but then I think growing up maybe with two brothers, you get pushed to do things that you didn’t think you wanted to, or knew you could even do. So we ended up running / scrambling. I trained a little bit, but probably not enough, but we set one week as our goal and off we went.
Growing up on the coast I loved being outside and being by the sea – but for those of you that have suffered with anxiety and panic disorder know it affects you in all sorts of ways, for several years I became so scared of being in big open spaces, being on my own especially running on my own and at one point even getting out of breath. So, when we started I told myself I’m going to do this just to prove to myself that I can still do those things, I can still be me. And I can enjoy it.
So without being too deep I felt I learned so much about myself all over again. With sport you hit your lowest lows and highest highs. And, it sounds a bit cliche, but your mind and body really are a lot stronger than you think, thanks to my boyfriend’s patience and encouragement the week’s motto became: one foot in front or the other.
R: Well, I’m in awe of you. I think that it’s an amazing challenge and so nice hearing you talk about it in that way. When I run – and I’ve never run anything close to a marathon – you get those moments when you’re running and you think you can’t go on, but occasionally I say to myself out loud “You can do this!” and then suddenly, I can do it.
I’ve talked about it multiple times, how instrumental running was for me in my recovery with my mental health and I think it’s resilience. It hasn’t helped with everything – running isn’t therapy but running for me definitely is resilience, making me realise that I can push through stuff by just telling myself that I can.
L: Yeah, I completely get that.
R: OK, now I’m going to move onto quick fire questions. What is your favourite sport?
L: OK, well, this is tricky, because I absolutely love watching rugby and netball too: people don’t realise the level of skill behind it. But in terms of doing a sport it’s got to be cycling. For me, cycling is just freedom.
R: What items are in your wellbeing toolkit?
L: After a few years of CBT I’ve learnt the simple things are the most effective so:
- Writing a diary. I’ve written a diary every day since I was 12 and it helps me draw a line under any bad days, but also feel extra good about the good days.
- Get out into the fresh air. I feel like this year, it’s so easy to get up and sit at our desks and work and not take even 20 minutes to go and go get some fresh air but it changes how you feel so much. And,
- Cold water. It doesn’t have to be the sea or in a pool, even just your shower or splashing your face in the sink. It really grounds you. There is a magic power in cold water
R: Yeah, I think it’s the same for me – even if it’s just really cold water on your face. It makes me feel instantly better. But especially after a cry. If I put some cold water on my face or have a shower with a little bit of a cold blast. I feel like a new person afterwards.
What’s one piece of advice you’ve been given personally or professionally that you’d like to pass on to others?
L: So this is going to sound absolutely bonkers, but it’s from my mum “in the great sea of life, don’t let barnacles grow on your bottom” it basically means, keep moving. Try new things, keep looking forward. It’s how I’ve tried to live life and it just always puts a smile on my face.
R: That’s a good one! I’m gonna keep that in mind. What’s your happy place?
L: My happy place has got to be on my bike anywhere that you can see the coast. Especially Droskyn head in Perranporth where you can look down the 3km of beach, nothing makes me feel more calm.
R: If you could go back in time and tell yourself one statement a year ago. What would you say?
L: Stay in the present and just embrace the change. I always feel like I find myself thinking about the next step, everything seems so precious in your career when you’re young, you feel you need to be six months here and six months later there. And, actually, just stay in the present and enjoy where you are. Make the most of it. Whatever happens, just try to embrace it. I’ve always been an over-planner but the last year and a half has taught me that you can’t really plan everything and that some of the best things happen when you just embrace the present moment that you’re in.
R: That’s really nice. I like that one a lot. And, finally, what song or album would be the title track to the movie of your life?
L: The album is Ziggy Alberts’ Laps Around the Sun. I discovered him when I was at university before moving to London and he just became a bit of a soundtrack to a really weird time and quite a tough time. But, it was also an amazing time. I just feel like Ziggy Alberts has been there through it all so cheers Ziggy.
You can find out more about Step Forward on:
You can find Lucy on:
If you’d like to get involved with the Coffee Q&A series 📧 email@example.com
If you identify or are struggling with any of the topics discussed and feel you would like to talk to someone, please reach out to your GP, contact Mind, the Anxiety UK helpline or the BEAT helpline on 0808 801 0677. And if you ever feel like things are too much, please call Samaritans on 116 123 💚