As a female reading this, you will probably agree that you were brought up thinking that you HAD to subscribe to a typical gender and personality stereotype. Many women, to this day, are fighting against the core of who they are because they are told they need to “tone it down” or “be less aggressive.” This mentality of expecting women to fit into a socially acceptable box is pervasive in women’s athletics. We are reluctant to even label women as athletes unless they appear lithe and lean.
Leah Gilbert, a plus size endurance athlete from Australia, has learned to embrace her body and her bold and fierce personality. Leah is on a mission to not only increase awareness about plus size endurance athletics but also encourage women of all ages to live/train freely and fearlessly.
In your Sportette article, you said that you put yourself out there as a Plus Size Endurance Athlete because there were no sporting role models you could relate to. What keeps you inspired to keep going?
I have always had a powerful personality and fierce intelligence but was always told how intimidating I was particularly to men when I embraced these aspects of myself. Big, strong, aggressive and sporty women were not something celebrated by my family or community, nor even the media when I was younger, so I guess I was always obliged to dilute myself somewhat. Had I have had someone to look at and say, "Wow she's big, strong, powerful, and she's going for it without caring about what people think of her." things may have been very different for me in my adolescent years.
The passion to provide diversity in role models for younger girls is what drove me to take the step to promote myself. I want to raise a generation of girls who harness their personal power and never feel obliged to water themselves down because some parts of society aren't ready for powerful, fearless females who aggressively pursue what they want or speak up for what they believe in.
I also don't want people believing they can't enjoy or pursue the sports and activities of their choice because they don't 'have the body type' for it. I feel this in particular for younger people who may be just starting to filter through the development ranks of sports. In this context I always have my ten or twelve year old self in the back of my mind, and to this day when things get tough I think of that younger version of me that may be out there not enjoying her sport fearlessly because she's worried about what she looks like doing it. That's what keeps me going.
What accomplishment are you most proud of (athletic or otherwise)?
I think I'm probably most proud of what I am teaching my daughter by simply doing what I am doing in my daily life by way of training consistently without fear of hard effort, and by nurturing myself and my body through good health. My proudest moments are when she comes and trains with me or wants to run or ride her bike with me. It's pretty cool when she sees a female runner or triathlete in a magazine or on the TV and says, ”That's mummy.”
What does a typical week in fitness look like for you?
At the moment I am in recovery/base fitness mode after having my son Ravi, so my main goals at the moment are adjusting to the fatigue of training loads and motherhood and developing fitness levels again. So currently my week looks like:
Monday, Friday - Rest
Tuesday: 5:30am run, afternoon swim 1.5-2km
Wednesday: strength morning, ride lunch time
Thursday: 5:30am run, core strength afternoon
Saturday: long run
Sunday: long ride
Whats your biggest challenge/goal right now?
The biggest goal I have right now is my training and ensuring I am doing it in a way that will see me back at peak form for my goal races at the end of the year. Whilst my Body Positive work is extremely important to me, there's a few roles that sit above that on my Leah Hierarchy and that's being a mum, a partner and an athlete.
You mentioned that Australia is lagging behind in supporting plus sized athletes. What are you doing to try to change that?
Australia is needing to do some serious body positive catch up, particularly in the fitness arena, but it will get there in time, with my message or someone else's. The best way I can contribute is by simply living my daily life as my authentic self, which is as an athlete who isn't scared of standing up and saying that it's time we called the war on each other's bodies off and just got on with the business of honouring ourselves.
What advice or words of encouragement do you have for other budding body positive athletes?
Society's perceptions, opinions, and expectations aren't actually tangible things - what IS real and tangible is your body and what it can achieve. Focus on that because the rest isn't real and is simply noise. Your athletic dream is only a good training plan away, so if there's something on your bucket list, then invest in your dreams and get a coach, or join a training squad.
Remember when you start your journey there will always be opinions, comments, whatever. But if your motivation is intrinsic enough then the only approval you will need is your own.
Finally, what is your superpower?
I have Super-Soul-vision! I see people for their souls and not shells they are housed in!
Leah is a Plus Size Endurance Athlete, a Specialist Fitness trainer, Founder of Body Positive Athletes, and a sponsored athlete with 2XU Australia Elite Sponsorship Program, Triathlete. Take our word for it and bookmark her blog. You can also follow her on Instagram @bodypositiveathletes.