Inspiring Women

10 min read

By Sabby Chesterman

They say the five people you spend the most time with influence your life the most. Similar to this, the friends you have, near and far can often be the biggest inspirations in our life and catalysts for change. Here are four short stories of friends, in their own words, who have inspired me to get outdoors and fit sport in. Who are the women in your life that inspire you?


Hayley Nixon

I have always been actively involved in sports, from an early passion of swimming, to an international rowing career with hopes of the Olympics and to where I am now, which is travelling the world, racing surfski and achieving a lifelong dream to be a world champion. I have shaped holidays around sport, for example a solo cycle around Croatia, I joined a team to cycle from Land’s End to John ‘o Groats – the entire length of Great Britain and one of the most mentally challenging endeavours was a 24 hour solo row on a rowing machine in Joburg. While I have always been competitive, sport has always been about connecting with the outdoors, meeting new people and getting to experience and immerse yourself in a new place and understand the local culture. Sport is not a hobby, it’s my lifestyle, income and passion.

After five years of surfski paddling, I reflect on what a wild ride this sport has taken me on, with an exponential learning curve! The highlight of course is to be able to call myself a World Champion, something most athletes dream of, and although that title fulfilled so much, what it has exposed me to in the ocean paddling world has been far greater than a title on paper. What was so obvious in this journey was the gender inequality in the sport and how low women’s participation numbers were. It has been a personal passion to understand and address any barriers to surfski paddling that women feel or experience – what is keeping women from paddling in the ocean and what is not keeping them in the sport for as long as our male colleagues? I’ve spent the last two years aiming to change the attitude of race organisers and the paddling community as a whole, towards women in the sport. My goal is to promote surfski racing; to encourage girls and women; and to insist on gender equality in racing, prize money, media and sponsorship.

The outdoors for me is freedom and release from the ground hog day of normal life… it’s an opportunity to be challenged by the elements and a beautiful way to express your skill or sporting passion through your craft. I often find myself thinking that downwind paddling is just like the challenges of life: there a tough sections and hard times but when you get to put your paddles down and surf a wave with the sea splashing in your face you know those hard times were for this moment, this joy, and it’s worth it, so never give up!


Romy Chevallier

I always thought that being an athlete meant competing for times, worrying about performance goals, being fast and agile .. none of which I am.

In fact I don't consider myself an athlete at all. I am that person who pants (and complains) climbing up a mountain; the girl with holes in her pants because I slide down steep slopes on my bum; the team mate without the matching outfits or the cool kit; and the woman on the trail that is always last in line. But the enjoyment I receive from being outdoors is immense, and in that sense I am an outdoor enthusiast and a nature lover in every sense of the word. 

My inspiration stems from a place of admiration for what I see when I am outdoors, and from a place of marvel for my functioning body and mind. Fresh air, movement, the places I get to go to and the views I see along the way are what keep me going back. I revel in the gentleness of natural beauty and I'm inspired constantly by the difference in every sunset and sunrise, every season and every path that shows a different view. Sports for me are my springboard into nature, the tool I use to access, journey and explore the miraculous sights and sounds of the wilderness.

Through trying to do long hikes and scary climbs I have gathered a huge amount of confidence along the way. I didn’t start that way. It built slowly. I also learned that what counts is not your ability, but rather your mindset and your enthusiasm. The desire or will to do something quickly surpasses your skills after a few hours of slog and another day of the same smelly socks. I encourage every women reading this to just go outdoors and try. Even when you don’t want to, you will never regret a walk or run or climb or swim. It adds such diversity to one's experiences and to ones list of personal accomplishments. It will build you as a person, heal you and nourish you. The more you do it the more you will want to. Find an encouraging friend or partner, or a group of enthusiasts, and start, anywhere. After all, the mountains are calling


Kate Langlois

My biggest achievements are show-jumping and playing hockey for my country, playing tennis and six down touch rugby for my province, riding DC and mountain biking 550kms through the EC over 6 days. Currently I mountain bike and run.

My exercise routine at the moment looks like this: I work long days in the finance world in Joburg, but for me being outdoors and fitting in sports is essential, if anything I want to inspire the corporate ‘vaalies’ out that there is so much potential around. I meet my running group, the self-formed and organised “G&T club” at 5:30am twice a week, running 10km routes through Joburg urban and park areas and always finishing with a coffee. Our two phenomenal women founders and team leaders, set our routes and keep the team posted. We enter road and trail races so that we have something to train for as a team. As well as running I love mountain biking and we have a riding group, joining rides like the “Surf & Turf” and “Urban hills”. These groups are there consistently, and I really value safe riding on the roads and the encouragement.
My suggestion is simple, be brave and start your own group. Our running group started as three friends with a set routine and formed a WhatsApp group. They then started inviting friends to join, and we now have over 15 consistent runners that all come run when possible. Get a smart watch and start using Strava to track your progress. Running is free, it doesn’t cost much (riding is more expensive), so run if you have a tighter budget. Always work on self-improvement, the power of compounding applies to the little things you do in your life, surround yourself with like-minded individuals who value fun and progress no matter how small it seems at the time.

Sport has given me my deepest friendships and my most memorable adventures. I have seen what it can do for the women and men I love, for their mental strength, sense of community and purpose. My best moments are post exercise coffees with friends, this has changed my experience of living and I highly recommend getting this dose at least three times a week!


Sarah Ferguson

I’m the founder of Breathe Conservation, an international a non-profit organisation that believes in a plastic-free ocean and aims to eliminate disposable plastic. I’m passionate and since 2012, have been competing in and pioneering ocean swims in and around South Africa, and internationally, to raise awareness about single-use plastic pollution, including last month being the 1st person to circumnavigate Rapa Nui (Easter Island) - 63.5km in 19 hours.
As a woman I love being able to inspire other women to follow their dreams and passions. My primary support team is mostly women based and some of my greatest influences growing up have been women. I think we have a powerful role to play in growing our respective sports. Being outdoors gives me freedom. We rely on nature to live and so being able to be outdoors and enjoy nature is so important – it’s is a place we realize we are not in control of our lives. It is humbling and exhilarating.

If you have a passion for something, only you can make it happen. Surround yourself with experts in the field or people more experienced than you to learn from. Join a club, hire a coach, or just get out there. Having goals or a purpose is also hugely motivating. I now swim for more than just myself, I swim for my faith and I swim for a cause. Plastic pollution is a global crisis we are facing and I use my love of the ocean and swimming to create a platform to have a voice to share to the world and hopefully inspire change.


They say the five people you spend the most time with influence your life the most. Sabby Chesterman introduces you to the four most inspiring women in her life, and pays tribute to their strengths, beliefs and attitudes. Who inspires you to be a better version of yourself, to be brave, to be different and to try new things?


They say the five people you spend the most time with influence your life the most. Sabby Chesterman introduces you to the four most inspiring women in her life, and pays tribute to their strengths, beliefs and attitudes. Who inspires you to be a better version of yourself, to be brave, to be different and to try new things?