The empowering female sport stars from Berkshire
PUBLISHED: 12:14 11 November 2019 | UPDATED: 12:14 11 November 2019
These female stars are empowering girls to embark on a challenge and get involved in sport
Racing driver, motoring journalist, TV presenter, businesswoman and a mum to twins
Rebecca lives in Reading with her seven-month-old twins and two cats. "I moved to the area in 2009," she says. "We are well-served in Berkshire as we have everything on our doorstep, but we're also close to London. The villages are really pretty and there's a great sense of community. And the drivers are courteous, which is a matter that is close to my heart.
"I live here with my babies, a boy and a girl, who are my world - they're incredible. They're fairly easy and they have their own little personalites already."
Rebecca grew up around cars, and she set up a used car sales business in 2007, enabling her to embark on a racing career. "I went out and bought a Porsche and started club circuit racing, achieving five podiums including a win in my second season of competing in the Porsche 924 Championship," she says. "The dream was to race at Le Mans one day, the most prestigious endurance race in the world.
"I love the wheel-to-wheel battles of racing. That's what it's all about," she says.
Rebecca spent the next two years racing, and then pitched for sponsorship. "I got to Le Mans, which was everything I hoped it would be and more, and came 19th overall," she says. "It catapulted me into internaional racing. I went on to race all over the world in the likes of the European GT Seriesand the Dubai 24 Hour. It opened doors for me that I hadn't been aware of."
Rebecca was asked to appear on Fifth Gear, Dave's Modern Wheels or Classic Steals, presented ITV4's I Want That Car, hosted Goodwood, as well as co-starredin CBBC's Ali A's Superchargers. "I also still had my car business, which I ran for 11 years," she says.
Rebecca also holds a Guinness World Record for the most number of countries visited on one tank of fuel. "We drove for 28 hours almost non-stop through as many countries as possible," she says. "Motoring correspondent Andrew Frankel and I drove four hours each and then rotated. We stopped every four hours for 25 minutes at each time, as a warm car is an efficient car. We travelled a total of 1,159 miles at an average speed of 49 mph. It wasn't about the speed though, it was about keeping the revs low. The hardest part was maintaining momentum - and the four-hour drive back to Croatia after it was all over, with Andrew and the RAC girl asleep in the back!" she laughs. "We felt amazing at the end. We made it through 13 countries and finished in Hungary."
When I ask Rebecca who inspires her, she says: "My mum, as she is the least judgemental person I know. Also John Surtees for winning the World Championship on four and two wheels, and children for being able to celebrate every success, big or small."
So what's next for the racing star? "I want to enjoy being a mummy but also continue doing work I enjoy. Everything in life has to be in balance. Earning money to give my children a good future is as important as giving them my time," she says. "I am currently the brand ambassador for local Reading company MotorEasy, and Morris Lubricants, and I'm hoping to launch a children's clothing brand, and also write some children's books. I'd also like to do some more TV work."
Rebecca has previously been voted as a Michelin Inspirational Woman. She says: "I'd love to continue to inspire others to fulfil their dreams."
Sports presenter, reporter and event host
Anna Whiteley grew up in Crowthorne where her family have called home for over 80 years. "Berkshire is the perfect balance of countryside living but well connected to London. It comes alive during the summer with carnivals, fetes, Ascot races, it has great golf courses, a lot of nature and wildlife, good shopping and bars; it's got it all!" says Anna. "Some of my fondest childhood memories are of days spent at The Look Out Discovery Centre and Coral Reef."
Anna also has fond memories of starting school at Holme Grange in Wokingham. "It gave me so many early sporting opportunities and as I always had good natural hand-eye coordination (and was very tall), I often played with the boys in badminton, tennis and school cricket," she says.
She then moved on to St George's, Ascot, where she captained the netball team and played for Windsor & Maidenhead, and loved rounders, tennis and lacrosse. "To this day, my closest friends are those I grew up with in the school sports teams," she says.
At 15, Anna trained at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida for the summer. "Sport was a big part of my life," she says.
After taking her A Levels, Anna graduated from Oxford Brookes in Media and Drama and pursued a career in sports broadcasting - specifically golf and tennis. Fast-forward to 2019, and she's now been an Orlando, Florida, resident for three months, hosting NBC Golf Channel's live breakfast show, Morning Drive, every day.
"I was always passionate about music, drama and sport. Performing was something I loved but I never really knew how I could turn it into a career. It wasn't until I got to Oxford Brookes University, where they had a brilliant University TV department, that I fell in love with presenting and TV production, and that was it - I knew sports broadcasting was the direction I wanted to go in!" she says.
"It's been quite a journey. I am lucky to have a very sporty family. My mum was a cross country runner, my dad was a PE teacher and my brother, Tom, played county cricket and trained as a golf pro, and golf was the main sport we all loved to play together as a family."
Bearwood Lakes in Wokingham was the golf club Anna grew up at. "It's where I had my first (and last!) lesson as a seven-year-old playing for pro shop chocolate bars. I went up there with my mum a lot as my dad often lived up there as Club Captain at that time. It was the perfect place to get used to the golf club environment as it can often be an intimidating place for women who pick up the game later in life," she says. "It's a private club but very welcoming to guests and family members, it is extremely well-kept and has gorgeous views over the lakes and wildlife. I could never get bored of it!"
Having worked in sport for five years now, Anna has learnt that preparation is everything. "Having the confidence that you know your stuff allows you to relax and your personality to shine without fretting about the facts and background of what you're talking about," she says. "But I've also learnt never to strive for perfection; it's live TV, things happen, just as they do in life."
After graduating, Anna says she took every opportunity in TV that came her way, from property TV to red-carpet interviews to corporate videos. "Sport was a difficult world to get into and I was lucky to find an opportunity with the Ladies European Tour interviewing their golf players, which then opened the door to my first real break in sport - hosting Sky Sports' weekly golf show, Golfing World," she says. "It was a complete whirlwind suddenly travelling the world for 25 weeks of the year on the PGA Tour, European Tour and LPGA, interviewing the top players in the world, filming golf travel guides and tour tips - an absolute dream job for someone who has always loved golf!
"I always felt so lucky to have a golden ticket to discover places I never imagined visiting - places like China, Kuala Lumpur, the Middle East, remote areas of America, and then closer to home such as Spain, Switzerland and Scotland. That's one of the best things about golf, it takes you to all corners of the world. Don't get me wrong, most of the time was spent bouncing from airports to hotels to golf courses without much time to explore, but it broadened my perspective on life.
"Building relationships with the players and their teams, gaining a rich insight into the world of professional golf, ultimately led me to joining the NBC family at Golf Channel this year."
Anna has moved out to Orlando, and life now involves 3.30am alarms five days a week, and chatting all things golf every morning, 7-9am. And every day is different. "Reacting to live sport as it unfolds is exciting," she says.
"Working in TV has opened my eyes to the definition of hard work! The production teams work endless hours and often through the night to put our shows together, and they're always so positive and energised, even at 4am, as people in TV love what they do. There's a sense of achievement walking out of the studio every day."
Joining the Morning Drive team has been a huge achievement for Anna and she's still soaking it all in. "I think people can often spend too much time looking forward to the next goal without appreciating where they are and what they've achieved up to this point," she says. "Having said that, I loved reporting for Amazon Prime's coverage of the US Open tennis and Fever-Tree Championships last year, and hope I can continue to forge a long and healthy multi-sport broadcasting career."
So who does Anna take inspiration from? "Strong women who have the self-confidence to say what they believe, express what they want to achieve in life and make it happen," she says. "Over the last few years, it feels like there's been a shift in women's perspectives, becoming a lot more supportive of each other. Women who can be successful in their own right, but also champion and encourage others is a quality I will always strive for." Perfectly put.
And any last thoughts? She says: "Go big or go home! You get one life, just go for it."
Girls who dare
The women rowing 2,400 miles across the Pacific next year
Jess Shuman, Anna Campbell and Kat Butler are three women on a mission. In June 2020, they will depart from California to row, unaided, to Hawaii - a total of 2,400 miles - as part of the Great Pacific Race.
The crew will live on the boat for the entire journey. Life will be lived in two-hour shifts; two-hours of rowing, two hours of sleeping, and repeat. For 50 days. There is a cabin (the size of a single bed) at each end of the boat for sleeping in, with rowing positions in the middle.
So how did they get to this point, where they're about to take part in the world's toughest endurance race? "I grew up in Windsor in a property that backs on to the Thames, so my parents made a real effort to make sure I could swim almost as soon as I could walk. I swam to a national level until I was 14," says Anna, a sales team manager. "After joining Highfield School, my PE teacher encouraged me to go to the rowing club in Maidenhead and I fell in love with rowing.
"Berkshire pretty much built me!" she adds. "I went to Windsor Swimming Club, Maidenhead Rowing Club, went to Highfield and then The Marist in Ascot. I love the greenery of Berkshire; the character of Windsor. I love its proximity to the Thames. I wouldn't have had the same opportunities without it!"
Jess, who grew up in London and works in asset management, admits she wasn't sporty growing up. "I swam and played a bit of netball, but I didn't love it," she says. "But when I was 20, I fell ill with a life-threatening flesh-eating disease. I was so lucky to walk away from it and, as part of my recovery, I embraced sport. I also realised that if I could survive this disease, I was capable of more than I imagined. Since then, I've raced at international regattas, rowed the Irish Sea, climbed a mountain in Nepal and completed an ultra-triathlon in Malawi."
Kat, a trauma and orthopaedic surgeon, who grew up on the outskirts of Oxford, has always been into sport. "My dad was a rugby player so I spent all my Saturdays whilst growing up at a rugby club," she says. "I was a keen swimmer when I was younger, training 12 times a week and competing nationally until suffering a shoulder injury aged 17. At university, I was involved in all sports; swimming, netball and I ran for the university. I only discovered rowing in 2012, after becoming a junior doctor and needing an 'out' from work! I've been hooked ever since!"
Jess and Anna met when they were part of the same team rowing across the Irish Sea in 2017, and Kat and Anna met through a friend at the boat club where Anna used to coach in London.
Anna says: "When I saw an advert on Instagram last year that said a crew were looking for a crew mate to row the Pacific, I replied to say I was interested; these opportunities don't come along often and it couldn't have come at a better time! I had been living in Mumbai for a year for work, and I had just returned home to a very different personal situation. I felt the need to do things outside of my comfort zone. I met the crew the next week, where I learned they were in need of another person as well, which is when I contacted Jess. I got an immediate 'Yes!'
"The idea of this challenge was one that I felt would test me on all fronts. I was excited to discover what I'd find out about myself."
Jess adds: "We all need to take advantage of any opportunities that come our way. I've come to realise that it never pays to put off what you want to do."
Kat says: "I decided last year that I'd do it, after replying to an ad on Facebook. I was excited for the challenge and to see what I am capable of. I underestimated how much time it would take - it is all-encompassing - but I am loving it! I have developed many new skills and my self-confidence has grown with it. I keep thinking: 'I can't be scared about that, what am I going to do on the Pacific?'"
The girls are now training hard. And it's paying off. They have been nominated for Most Inspiring Women by The Challenge Awards.
Anna says: "I'm excited at the prospect of what the award could do for our campaign and the benefit it could bring to our challenge and the charities we're fundraising for."
Jess says: "We're so immersed in the Pacific Row that I think we all forget just how epic it is! What I love is that we are just normal people. We aren't athletes; we all have full-time jobs. And yet we have set our sights on this goal and are making it happen! I want other people to think: 'If they can do that, what can I do?'"
"I am passionate about getting more girls into sport as it can be incredibly empowering and we'd love to continue to promote that."
- Honest Mum Vicki Psarias: TV appearances, down-time in Devon and first aid training - I'm writing this as my children, Oliver, nine, and Alexander, six, prepare to return to school after a long summer of fun. I'm not sure how we'll adjust to the early mornings, so if you see a dishevelled mum running around Windsor trying to make the school bell in time, it's probably me. You've been warned!