IT was a great honour and privilege for Hartlepool to be chosen to host the Olympic torch on Sunday as part of the relay around Great Britain ahead of the Olympic games in London which are only 37 days away now.
Thousands of people lined the streets along the length of the route and hundreds more congregated in the car park of the Maritime Experience to welcome the torch on its lunchtime stopover.
I had the absolute pleasure of being invited up on stage to address the crowds and, more importantly, celebrate some of the girls and ladies who have been involved in our Inspire project.
The Inspire initiative is an arts and photography exhibition which celebrates the achievements of talented females from Hartlepool.
It came about owing to the really low participation rates amongst women and girls in sport and physical activity, both locally and nationally, and our desire to try and do something about it.
Pictured: Savannah Marshall (left) and Amanda Coulson at the Inspire showcase
A lack of female role models in the sports sector doesn’t help with this issue and you only have to pick up a newspaper or switch on the television to see that sports coverage is dominated by males. In fact, on average only four per cent of sports coverage in the local and national print media is dedicated to women’s sport.
Through the Inspire project, we have extensively profiled many successful female athletes in Hartlepool and, using their passion, dedication and love of sport, we wish to inspire more women and girls to take part in sports and physical activity.
The Inspire project has gained the mark of approval from London 2012 and gained Inspire accreditation last year.
What better time than when the Olympic torch was in town, perhaps one of the most inspirational symbols in sport, to showcase and celebrate the cream of Hartlepool’s female athletes and their achievements?
First on stage were some of our rising stars of the future.
Bethan Kelly competes for Tees Tigers in canoe slalom and is a member of the England junior squad.
Emma Cassell is the world champion in biathlon and took first place in the World School Biathlon Chanpionships
Jasmin Langley is a member of the Hartlepool Wadokai club (Wadokai is a karate club for the uninitiated) and at the European Championships recently, she brought back one gold, one silver and two bronze medals.
Danielle Smith plays netball for Oakesway Netball and Team Northumbria. She has recently made it into the England Under 19s squad and has been British College captain for two years in a row.
Alex Craig is an international fencer. She has competed in several national championships, been British Youth Champion several times, selected to represent GB in the European and World Championships and represented England at three UK School games, collecting a haul of medals.
Amy Campbell is part of the Great Britain Ice Hockey Team. Amy has travelled to Italy, Norway and Canada to represent her country.
Ann Marie Perry is a Champion Dressage rider and is aiming to get in the team for 2012.
Lisa Newton competed in Mixed Martial Arts and has won a silver and two bronze medals in the World Championships. She retired from the sport in 2010 and took up the sport of Roller Derby last year.
Amy Coulson is also a member of Hartlepool Wadokai and recently won two gold and a bronze at the European Championships.
I’m sure we have all seen these girls’ names in the pages of the Mail over recent months but when you put them all together, it really does show that Hartlepool is oozing with talented female athletes and I’m sure we will see some of these names over and over again as they continue to achieve great things in their chosen sports.
Next on stage were Jazz Bradley, Laura Howe, Rebecca Mee, Rebecca Weatherill and Jessica Coates who are all part of the Hartlepool Heat women’s and girls’ team.in the National Basketball League.
It was an honour to welcome Judith Turland (nee Sirs) next up on to the stage. Judith is an ex-Olympian from Hartlepool who took part in the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich for swimming.
Although she could not be with us, I also mentioned another former Olympian from Hartlepool, Margaret McCulloch (nee Auton) who also swam for Great Britain at the Olympic Games in 1968 in Mexico.
Finally, it was a thrill and a pleasure to invite Hartlepool’s two successful women boxers on to the stage and they deservedly got rapturous applause from the crowd.
Amanda Coulson and Savannah Marshall have really put women’s boxing on the map. Amanda is three times ABA champion and represented her country all over the world.
Sadly, she just missed out on selection for London 2012 but is determined to go for the Commonwealth Games in 2014.
Savannah is the pride of Hartlepool having recently become World Champion in her weight category and gaining selection for Team GB for the Olympics.
She is a genuine gold medal prospect and I’m sure the town will be cheering her all the way in a few weeks time.
Unfortunately Hartlepool’s other member of Team GB, Jemma Lowe, couldn’t make it but the mention of her name also gained huge cheers from the crowd.
Jemma is looking forward to her second Olympic Games having competed in Beijing four years ago and we all wish her the very best as well.
The whole occasion really whetted my appetite for the Olympic Games and I can’t wait to watch Savannah and Jemma pitting themselves against the best in the world.
It now feels like Hartlepool is playing a part in the Games and we should all take a sense of pride in all our athletes.
The Inspire exhibition will be held in the Hartlepool Art Gallery from Saturday, July 7, until Saturday, September 1, and is free to view.
Try and pop along to see for yourself the breadth of talent that our town has when it comes to female sport.
Take your sisters, your daughters and your nieces and help inspire them to become Hartlepool’s next crop of Olympic athletes.
We certainly have the role models that they can look up to.