06 March, 2023 | Posted by Michelle Hogan

International Athlete Kate Veale on Mental Health in Sports, Embracing Equity and Following Her Passion #IWD23

International Athlete Kate Vaele on Embracing Equity and Following Her Passion #IWD23

The theme of International Women’s Day 2023 is #EmbraceEquity.

Equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities.

Equity recognises that each person has different circumstances, and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome. 

To celebrate and support International Women's Day 2023, Portobello Institute is sharing inspiring insights from women who follow their passion to fulfil their potential as they share their experiences with embracing equity.

Introducing Kate Veale

My name is Kate Veale. I am an international racewalker. My biggest achievement to date was winning the World Youth Championships. I have won 20 national senior titles. Injury and mental health issues halted my athletic progress but with a lot of work and patience, I feel I am on the right path. I’m currently training towards my goal of the Olympic Games. I studied sports science and health and went on to complete a PME in primary teaching. I am a mother to my daughter Fíanna.

What does International Women’s Day mean for you?

International Women's day celebrates women from all over the world. It shines a spotlight on the many inspirational stories which can empower us all. It gives us a chance to think about the work done and improvements made as well as think about what we can all do to help with future change. It’s an opportunity to educate, raise awareness and challenge stereotypes. For me, it ignites feelings of pride, empowerment, inspiration and freedom. There’s a coming together and a sense of belonging. Women supporting women. 

What does embracing equity mean to you as a successful sportswoman?

Embracing equity is important because it promotes fairness, justice, and inclusivity. To me embracing equity means welcoming individuality and acknowledging each person has their own unique story. It’s important to acknowledge a level playing field isn't always evident. There are many barriers (physical, social, cultural etc.) that have prevented some people from involvement and advancing in sports. Understanding these barriers can help embrace equity in sports.

Differences in backgrounds, circumstances and experiences must be taken into consideration when providing resources and supports to specific individuals to help overcome barriers and help bridge the gap. This may or may not mean treating people the same. One size does not fit all. I think we should believe, value and seek out differences as a necessary and positive element of life. 

We can get closer to equality in sports through equity. Equality is providing everybody with the same support, while equity is providing everybody with the specific support required on an individual level to provide the same opportunities.

It’s important to create a culture where people are respected and comfortable being their true authentic selves. I believe sport is a powerful tool that can help change many global issues.

I love this Nelson Mandella quote “sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. Sport can awaken hope where there was previously only despair. Sport speaks to people in a language they can understand.” 

How do you think embracing equity can support women in sports?  

Embracing equity can support women in sports in many ways. It can help give women the same access to opportunities, treatment and advancement as men. This will help women to thrive and reach their potential.

The world of sports is one where gender bias exists in and out of competition. Lots of progress has been made, however, many barriers still exist, such as harmful stereotypes that continue to have an impact on women. We still need to work on identifying, celebrating and increasing the visibility of women who play, coach, officiate, volunteer and work around women in sports. Qualities like competitiveness, knowledge, skills etc. know no gender.

Embracing equity will help with accommodating factors that may have an influence on women. Our bodies are different (biology, hormones etc.). There are complexities in coming back to sports after childbirth. The female athlete has less ability to grow muscle while also showing a difference in bone structure. Therefore, our needs are different. Training may need some adaptations. The majority of research in the field of sports science has been done on men. A lot of coaches and team support are men, who may not always be aware of such issues. 

Using social media correctly may help provide momentum in providing equity in women's sports. Often on social media, women's sports are sexualised and emphasis is put on body image. This isn’t helping with issues like eating disorders and body dysmorphia in athletes. Social media platforms should provide recognition, visibility, support and respect for female athletes. “If she can’t see it, she can’t be it” was a slogan used by one of Sport Ireland's many great initiatives to support women in sports. Raising awareness with meaningful narratives, resources, and activities can help combat gender bias and discrimination.  

Embracing equity can redefine women's sports. It will help women enhance the experience of girls and women in sports and inspire future generations. It will help them to see a future in it, to feel like they belong and to seize opportunities to get involved, whatever the standard or role they play.

They will feel more listened to, seen, taken seriously and ultimately empowered. It can make a real tangible change. Equity in sports can be a beacon of hope for embracing equity elsewhere. 

Have you ever faced a situation in your life, sports or career that was not fair, impartial or just? How did you overcome the challenge of this? 

Yes, I can think of many situations that were not fair, impartial or just. The main one that had the biggest impact on me was I was a youth athlete it was decided I wouldn’t be sent to some competitions as I had enough in my own age group.

I understand the reasons for this decision and for some other athletes, I would agree with it. However, for me, it had a detrimental effect. I believe I should have been left to the bigger competitions and longer distances if I wanted. I feel like I missed out on opportunities to win more global medals.

I wasn’t given a say in the matter because I was a youth athlete and I felt the people who made decisions didn’t know me enough to know what was best. It took away my control. They took a mainstream general long-term athlete development approach instead of looking at me as an individual and accepts I may be an outlier to this. It took me years to overcome it to be honest. I always had thoughts of 'should have, could have, would have'.

I would go over what may have been or how I should have been more assertive and stood up for myself. It left me with a very toxic view of my sport. Something I loved turned into something that I hated. It was traumatic as athletics was my life and it felt like it was being taken away from me.

I learned to control what I can and focus on myself. I surrounded myself with the right people who understand and work with me. I accept and acknowledge the feeling and give myself the space to process and work through it.

In your sporting career, how do you embrace equity to fulfil your potential? 

In my sporting career, I have embraced equity to fulfil my potential. I have adapted and improvised in many areas. I have found ways that work the best for me in all aspects of life.

I did this by making many mistakes and trial and error. I have ADHD which was so debilitating when I tried to do things in the same way as others. I worked on accepting my tendencies and I am continuously working on self-development and understanding myself more. I have learned about my needs. I take responsibility for my development. I take every opportunity to educate myself on relevant topics and issues. I have researched more about female athletes. I am a lot more open with my support team than I have been in the past. This helps them understand, learn and help me best.

In Ireland, I have trained with mostly men. I have talked to and sought out to train with other female athletes to learn from them. I have adapted and changed my training based on issues such as a chronic hip issue I have. I am always open to new opportunities which can help me. 

Has a person or organisation ever embraced equity to support you?

Yes, I've been very lucky that people have embraced equity to support me. My coaches have educated themselves on issues that concern me such as nutrition, S&C, injuries etc. and we have found professional people to help me.

I have had changes in training styles to ones that suit me. Coaches have learned about the type of person, athlete and learner I am and what I respond to best.

My parents and family have been so supportive in many ways such as helping out with my daughter and other things I struggle with such as organisation.  

In the team sport environment, what do you think can be done to embrace equity to allow people to follow their passion and fulfil their potential? 

In the team sport environment, there are many things that can be done to embrace equity to allow people to follow their passion and fulfil their potential.

To be successful, it is vital for sports teams to work together. To do this it’s important to understand that each athlete is unique. There will be a range of differences in physical, socioeconomic, educational etc. but the concept of a team reinforces the idea that although each athlete is distinct, they work as one unit. In other words, their diversity must be embraced.  

The team environment should be an open one, where everyone feels comfortable. Team unity is key. There should be a sense of belonging with everyone included, involved and given an opportunity to speak, express their views and ideas, and contribute. It’s important that each person feels a sense of autonomy.  

It’s necessary to see athletes' uniqueness to provide them with opportunities and support to thrive. What each player needs may be different so there needs to be flexibility and adaptations to training, preparation etc. When athletes are treated as individuals and their specific needs are met, they feel valued resulting in athletes performing to the best of their ability for their team. 

What do you think you can do as an individual to embrace equity to support people to follow their passion and fulfil their potential?

This is so important for many reasons. We all have a part to play in social change, to challenge stereotypes. We can all help with a cultural shift. The goal is to foster a culture of empathy and understanding where people feel empowered.

As an individual, I can take responsibility for this and model how I confront bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. I can reflect on how I can be part of the solution, not the problem. Every small thing adds up and helps with change. This creates a landscape for future generations as there is a ripple effect. 

Understanding bias and building awareness is the first step towards real change. I examine my own biases and unconscious judgments and assessments. Where they came from and now that I’m older I can see them from a much broader perspective and through a different lens.

I like to think of myself as being open-minded and understanding. I know that I can’t fully understand what they may be experiencing as it’s just from my own personal perception but I can still try to put myself in their shoes. I can work to try to understand more and hold myself accountable. I can always make sure I’m kind and remind myself I don’t know people's stories. What I can do is support them in the way they need. I would love to help people and go into coaching in the future. 

What works for one person may not work for another. Coaches must be open-minded, not the case of 'it’s always been done this way'. There are many ways to achieve the same outcome. Working with the person to figure out their strengths and weaknesses. It’d important to meet people where they are, educate others to increase awareness of disparities and address the imbalance as best one can to level the playing field.  

I hope that my telling my story, showing up as myself and not being ashamed can help others. If it only helps one person it’s worth it. Perhaps this can help with the stigma associated with some issues like mental health. It can help with changing the narrative and give people permission to have open conversations and get rid of the taboo.  

What are you passionate about?  

I am passionate about my sport, racewalking. I like the technical challenge of the event. I get a buzz from pushing past my comfort zone and seeing where I can take it.

You need to have the heart, hunger and fire in your belly to take your body to places it doesn’t want to go and get the extra per cent. It’s where I feel most alive, connected and free. It’s actually very spiritual. It helps give me a sense of self and place in the world. I consciously try to be the best version of myself. It’s continuous work, learning, growth and self-development. Self-awareness in sports is key.

To excel in any area of life you need patience, discipline and consistency. I feel very lucky to be in a position where I am able to compete in racewalking and I appreciate the hard work that goes into trying to reach my potential.

There is a satisfaction to be got from struggle, life would be boring without it. You have to find ways to overcome obstacles. In the future, I would like to use my passion for physical activity, sport, health and well-being and all I have learned to give back and help others.  

How do you follow your passion?  

I follow my passion by making sure I live with integrity; my actions are in line with my values. My sport is one of my main priorities. It guides my actions, it’s what I base my decisions from.

I have centred my life around my sport. I’m thinking about it all the time. I think, “what can I do today that will make me 1% better and get me closer to my goals”. I take control and responsibility. I have to be honest with myself. I am constantly auditing, looking at my strengths and weaknesses, evaluating, reviewing and planning.

You have to see yourself as a working document or a business. Everything is a cost-benefit analysis. You must make some things non-negotiable. People can romanticise the plans but dread the execution. I think having something to work towards is so important in life, having a purpose in your day which gives a sense of satisfaction and fulfilment.

Tony Robbins put it perfectly saying “success without fulfilment is the ultimate failure.” 

I remind myself it’s about the journey and the small steps I take each day, the consistency, habits and routines. I try to celebrate the little wins and look at things from a place of gratitude. The way you look at things is everything. 

What challenges have you faced while following your passion or what has ever held you back from following it? 

I have faced many challenges and things that held me back while following my passion. I had a lot of success as a junior athlete. I then didn’t progress to a senior level and felt that I didn’t live up to expectations and let myself and others down.

Things didn’t go the way I envisioned and planned. It was like my identity was taken from me. I felt like a failure. I have had many injuries which have stopped me from progressing, this led to feelings of frustration and hopelessness. I thought I may not be able to come back and that my athletics career was over. I felt hard done by. I questioned myself so much. I felt incompetent and I had a fear of failure. I doubted my abilities. Mentally I felt crippled.

I became someone that I didn’t even recognise and it was a dark place that took a lot of work including spending time in the hospital to get over. Becoming pregnant at 20 and then a single mother, I thought maybe it was selfish and not acceptable now to still go for my dream. I have a duty to take care of my child. How can I spend time away training and racing, what if my athletics career doesn’t work out, should I just get a secure, safe full-time job? 

I cared too much about other peoples’ opinions and judgments. Comparison to others and comparison to my past self would send me on a negative spiral. I would be thinking of how I think it should be. It can be difficult financially as I don’t make money from my sport, and there are lots of expenses involved such as physio, travel to races, equipment etc. I made the decision to not work full time so I can focus on my training and recover better. If I want to compete with the best in the world I have to train like a professional. I realise now there are always going to be challenges and it’s about how I deal with them. 

How did you overcome these challenges?  

I overcame these challenges by primarily working on my mindset, attitude and how I respond to them. I took personal responsibility and made a commitment to myself to do all I can to reach my potential.

I trust the process and focus on consistently doing the simple things right. I had to change my perspective and interpretation of my struggles. I accept there will always be mistakes challenges and obstacles, but they are opportunities to learn, grow and become the best version of myself.

It’s not about what happens to me it’s how I respond. I’m more flexible in my thinking and I accept and deal with change better. I became more self-aware. I used tools such as breathwork, meditation and journaling. I focus on what I can control. I had to stop letting what I can’t do, or change stop me from doing what I can do. I became more solution-orientated than problem-orientated.

I had to work on my perfectionistic tendencies and celebrate the small wins. I had to accept and meet myself where I was at. My daughter Fíanna put a lot of things in perspective and is a motivation for me to better myself and to be a mother she can look up to and is proud of. I want to be a good example to her. 

I now embrace my individuality and authenticity more. I do more of what feels right to me. I stopped worrying about other people. I now choose what’s best for me. I know this is my unique journey and don’t compare it to other people. I have surrounded myself with supportive and positive people who help and inspire me to be the best version of myself. They are people I trust, and who I can reach out to. Environment is key. I believe I’m working with some of the best people in their field. I wouldn’t be able to do what I'm doing without them. I can’t go back in time but I can try better understand it and learn from it.

I remind myself how far I've come and reassure myself that in the past I did the best I could with what I had. If there was no struggle life would be boring. I feel grateful for so much now. 

How do you believe we can encourage and support more people to follow their passion and fulfil their potential? 

We can all lead by example. Reviewing our attitudes as a society and changing mindsets and narratives may be a good place to start.  

We must foster a culture of positivity and respect for people, with less judgement. It’s important to understand the perspectives, realities and lived experiences of others.

Open and flexible thinking should be encouraged. Success should be seen as an achievement of a desired aim or purpose instead of the focus on money, fame and power. We can make it acceptable to not fit into the mould. There is no exact way to do things and sometimes you can learn as you go. 

For people to reach their potential we first need to help them identify their passions and talents and create ways to utilise them each day.

It is an outlet where people can be their best selves. I believe education, training and professional development opportunities are essential. As well as this people should be provided with more resources and support.

Support systems, structures and strategic collaborations based on a foundation of shared purpose, trust, and appreciation should be prioritised. There should be continuously evaluated and improvement initiatives to ensure they are effective. I think it’s very important that we invest in this. 

We need to help people to believe and show them what is possible with examples. I think sometimes people can get overwhelmed with everything that must be done so it's important to encourage them to break things down into small steps. Everything in life can be hard but someone following their passion is choosing their hard which is empowering.

I love this Theodore Roosevelt quote- “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither knows victory nor defeat.” 

What inspiring women in sports do you look up to and why? 

There are so many inspirational women out there that I look up to, including, Katie Taylor for what she has done in pioneering women's boxing. 

Simone Biles, as she has been very open talking a lot about her ADHD and mental health which I was able to resonate with. She has helped break down the stigma. It makes me look at my ADHD in a more positive way and shows me what can be done.

Irish athletes such as Ciara Mageean and Sarah Lavin. I have been at competitions with them as a youth athlete and it makes me feel so proud and inspired to see where they are now. I know so much hard work has gone into getting there. 

When you were younger, who were your sporting role models? 

When I was younger my sporting role models were, Olive Loughnane and Gillian O’Sullivan who were massive inspirations and role models for me in my sport of racewalking. They showed me what was possible and that Irish racewalkers can compete with the best in the world. They showed me what women can do in the sport and helped me to believe. 

Jamie Costin was one of the reasons why I tried racewalking. He is my club and seeing him compete in the Olympics exposed me to the sport. He was in a serious car accident before the Athlete 2004 Olympics, breaking his back. Despite all odds, he was able to return to the sport and went on to compete in his 3rd Olympic games in 2008. He coached me throughout my junior career and I learned so much from him. It was great as he was a full-time athlete still competing so I was able to see the day-in-day-out work it took to get to his level. This level of professionalism just became normal for me. It was so cool for me as an 18-year-old competing in the World Cup of Racewalking cup in Russia alongside my coach.

Robert Heffernan, Ireland's most successful racewalker. His passion, drive and belief are inspiring. He coached me when I was in a really bad place both physically and mentally and taught me so much about athletics but more importantly life. He was open and honest about his struggles and helped me see I'm not the only one going through these issues. His energy, positivity and enthusiasm are contagious. He has a can-do attitude. 

How do you feel about being a role model for young people? 

It’s an honour to think I would be a role model. I feel privileged to have the platform to make a difference in young people’s lives. I value being genuine, honest, open and authentic. I hope my story can encourage people to not give up. I hope they feel they are not alone in their problems.

If I am able to do it others certainly can too. People may see someone being successful and it can look like it came easy to them, but behind the scenes there has been so much adversity and obstacles to overcome.

The confidence that successful people get comes after action. Motivation is fickle and it’s about discipline and work ethic. I am far from perfect and I will continue to make lots of mistakes. But I hope people can see that we are all continuously learning and with hard work amazing things can be accomplished.  

International Women's Day Webinar with Portobello Institute

Portobello Institute is delighted to celebrate International Women's Day 2023 and support this year's theme of #EmbraceEquity

The webinar, led by Dr Danielle Prescott, will take place on Wednesday, 8th March '23 from 7 pm - 8.30 pm. You can register for the webinar here.

We invite you to this webinar with three industry practitioners from the world of elite sports who will discuss their experiences and the importance of embracing equity when it came to being successful in their chosen careers.

Screenshot 2023-03-01 at 11.00.47

IWD Webinar (640 × 476px)

Register for our International Women's Day webinar here.

Read More: International Women's Day 2023 Will #EmbraceEquity For A Better World

Read More: Dr Judith Butler on how to #EmbraceEquity in Early Years and Follow Your Passion

Read More: Mary Kate Murphy on Embracing Equity for Women in Facilities and Workplace Management

Portobello Insider

Join our mailing list to receive the latest insights and exclusive content from your chosen department of interest