Women making history: interview with Kate Staples

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Throughout March, a significant month of celebrating women, PT Today kicked off a series of interviews with exceptional women in the fitness and wellness space. This time around, we had a chat with former British Pole-vault champion, Gladiator and fitness entrepreneur, Kate Staples and we talked through her life experiences, ambitions and everything in between…
PT:The fitness industry was traditionally recognised as a male-dominated industry. In your experience, is this the case?
KS: With my background in athletics, Gladiators and as a fitness professional there is no question that men have been hugely prominent, had plenty of profile attention and a strong voice, but I’ve never felt squeezed out and have actually been blessed to have had platforms like national primetime TV, newspapers and magazines. That profile has helped me get attention for other projects so I don’t feel like I have particularly missed out.

PT:What has the past year been like for you? 
KS: Very difficult indeed. We all had Covid in march last year and my youngest was very sick. It has been hard for everyone and tragic for many so I am not complaining, but everything I do in schools with our Athletics Academies, Inspirational Assemblies, Breakfast Clubs, Run, Jump & Throw Clubs, Speedy Runners and others – all shut down when schools did. My passion is the fitness of the younger generations and I established school clubs over 10 years ago with my friend Daley Thompson, the Olympic legend. Our clubs have rolled out in 100’s of schools and reached 1,000’s of children, but of course, nobody could have foreseen what was to come over the last year. we have done our best to provide some kind of help and support to schools remotely, but there’s no substitute for our brilliant coaches working with groups of children in a live in-person setting, and we are excited to get back to that as soon as we are allowed. And there are some exciting developments to come, not the least of which is a collaboration with England Athletics.

PT: Have you experienced gender inequality in your career and, if so, how did you manage this?

KS: As I was pioneering pole vaulting a new event for women, I did see a lot of resistance by many coaches and officials with gender inequality.  I actually was told by an official that the competition was full and I wasn’t allowed to enter, and when two boys no-showed, I told him it was great news I could now jump, he went on to say “Over my dead body will a girl ever pole vault in my lifetime”. Hard to believe today!

Apart from that rather startling experience, whether in international athletics or on Gladiators I think things were fairly even. There may have been times that the boys benefited but equally, there were occasions and situations where us girls were the beneficiaries of opportunities. In terms of the mainstream fitness industry, I did discover that many women were intimidated by gym environments and male instructors which is the reason I established Adventure Bootcamps for Women in the UK (its first license anywhere outside of the USA). The idea being to provide safe, fun, team-orientated training groups for women who could enjoy each other’s company and share the whole experience from the hard slog bits to the triumphs and the great results. And it worked, our boot camps for women exploded, so there was no question that there was a huge undercurrent of women who wanted to be active and get fitter but, for whatever reasons, didn’t like the general gym and leisure centre options that were available to them.

PT:What do you think needs to happen to achieve gender equality in the future?

KS:I think in the fitness world we are lucky because there is a genuinely equal place for males and females and where there are areas and situations that might benefit men, there are others to benefit us girls, so I think things balance out pretty well. What I do believe we must do is encourage young girls and show them that being active, sporty and fit is a great thing and not something to shy away from. The sport and physical activity attrition rate in teenage girls is still terrible. Figures show that by the time girls reach the 13-16 age band only 10% are reaching recommended activity rates.  44% of 13-15 years old girls are overweight and obese, compared to 36% of boys (both stats are actually alarming) and worryingly 62% of 14-year-old girls report having a low sense of wellbeing. Competitive sport is not for everyone but participation and physical activity is something more teenage girls must be encouraged to make part of their lives and who knows what the positive knock-on effect to our industry might bring over time?

PT:What does being a woman mean to you? 
That’s quite a tough question! I love being a strong, active woman who is also a mother, business owner and CEO of a thriving household!   What I stand for, I try to have a high moral code, to treat people with kindness and dignity and to be hardworking and the best version of myself.

PT: Why is it important for more women to enter your field?
Because it’s an ideal platform for women. It’s a place where we can make a huge difference to people. I believe we are naturally good at listening, being empathetic and patient, encouraging and instructing in a way that is genuinely engaging and motivating. Some people prefer a male trainer and that’s fine but there are a great many men and women who prefer a female trainer.  I have taught female-only boot camps for many years and love the atmosphere and camaraderie.
PT: As it is Women’s History Month this month, which female figures do you take inspiration from?
Women that have tried to make a difference -the first British female prime minister, Mother Theresa, Princess Diana who I had the fortune of meeting, Florence Nightingale, Michelle Obama, there are so many women that do incredible work that the list goes on.

PT: This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #ChooseToChallenge. How are you choosing to challenge gender inequality?
We just have to keep striving, keep doing our jobs as best we can, showing that we can be leaders and influencers and encourage upcoming generations of girls that they don’t just have a place in the fitness industry but they are absolutely crucial to it.

PT: How do you intend to make history in your life and career?
KS: Through being a pioneer in women’s pole vaulting and helping get it onto the international stage and representing GB, to becoming a Gladiator on TV and realising what a massive influence we could have on a whole generation of boys and girls. Then there was overcoming a broken neck and 11 hours surgery to repair it and refusing to give up and going on to establish some of the earliest boot camps for women in the UK. Following that there has been all the work with schools for more than 10 years, I look back on over 30 years of trying to influence, inspire and help when it comes to matters of health, fitness, wellbeing and sports. Knowing that, over the years, through TV, the national media, my boot camps, fitness holidays, school clubs and even panto audiences! I have literally reached millions, and that is very satisfying and rewarding in a feel-good sense. Through the worst of times and best, I’ve always tried to learn and press onwards. It has been an amazing ride so far,  and there’s more to come!
For more information on Kate and her latest athletics camp venture visit: www.aspiretogreatness.co.uk
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