Fifty aspiring female slalom paddlers took to the water at Lee Valley White Water Centre this weekend for the national Slalom Inspires event.
The event was created by 2017 World C1 team gold medallist Eilidh Gibson to address the gender imbalance of slalom in the UK while also inspiring those already in the sport to nurture their talents and fall in love with the sport.
Having had her Tokyo Olympic dreams shattered by a career threatening shoulder injury, 24-year-old Eilidh channelled her passion for the sport into Slalom Inspires which, in the past 12 months, has seen more than 200 girls from across the country take part in her events.
Speaking on the event, Eilidh said: “Slalom Inspires comes from my love of the sport and how much the sport has changed my life and the opportunities it has given me which I wouldn’t have had beforehand.
I see nationwide how many girls drop out of sport, especially in their teenage years and how we have a one third female to two-third male split in our sport of Canoe Slalom and that makes me really sad. I want to do something positive about it and for more girls to experience the amazing sport we have.– Eilidh Gibson
“For me it’s all about the love for canoeing and if the girls want to be Olympic athletes then great and we’ll support them. But if they just want to do it for the love of canoeing then great we’ll support them to do exactly that too, to stay in the sport and have fun.
"This weekend we’ve done a hot dogs session where the girls are absolutely beaming and having fun on the water. We’ve done tubing, canyoning, white water rafting as well as all the canoeing sessions which really are just about having fun.”
Having sold out her inaugural event last year which saw 60 paddlers attend a packed weekend in Lee Valley, this year Eilidh has run three regional events in England, Wales and Scotland, culminating with a flagship national event on 9 & 10 November at Lee Valley.
Having been so impressed with the project's principles and Eilidh's personal passion for the project, Dame Katherine Grainger attended the event in Lee Valley this year.
Dame Katherine, Chair of UK Sport and Great Britain’s one of the most successful female Olympians, said: “I was blown away by Eilidh’s drive and excitement to get people involved and it is really very impressive.
"She asked if I would come along and be part of it and talk about my experience of the 20 years that I’ve been in the British rowing team and the brilliant things I’ve got to compete in and the challenges that I’ve faced along the way.
What is particularly inspiring about the work that Eilidh has done here is that it is a brilliant and exciting concept to bring people together at this sort of event, and lots of people might have had the idea but then very few would put it into action and actually make it happen.– Dame Katherine Grainger
“To have done that, and not just have the vision and drive to think about it then follow it through, but to do it when facing a very serious injury, a time where as an athlete you’re challenged in every sense emotionally, mentally and physically, a lot of people would instead shut down and not wanted to do anything else but focus on their own recovery.
“For Eilidh to have all that going on and then to carry off the most incredible weekend where she is enabling so many people to have an amazing weekend themselves makes her so special in this world where we have incredible athletes in different sports, but she is quite unique in what she has done.”
In total this year over the three events regional events, Slalom Inspires have had 55 paddlers and 50 different volunteers. More than fifty girls and a whole army of volunteers attended this weekend’s national event at Lee Valley.
The events have included paddling components as well as a mix of team building activities such as tubing, scavenger hunts, inspiring workshops and keynote speakers, underpinned by a clear passion for the sport.
“I wanted to share that love with the girls and when you’re an athlete it is good to have something else rather than being defined by being an athlete,” added Eilidh. “To be able to share this with the girls and seeing their faces at these events when they’re really just loving it is so rewarding and has kept me going through some pretty hard times."
I’m really grateful for the volunteers and organisations such as Lee Valley White Water Centre, British Canoeing, Jaffa and PeakUK, who have supported the events. For me it reinforces how good people are and when good people support other good people, incredible things can happen and I am just so grateful that people come down and give up their free time.– Eilidh Gibson
“When I meet the girls and hear their stories, often from their parents and the struggles that they’re having behind the scenes, really touches me and when I see them achieving things on the water it is just incredible.”
For more information on the all the hard work Slalom Inspires does throughout the year, visit https://www.slalominspires.com/