From inventing laser lights to being a boxing champ, The Locker profiles three inspirational women who are blazing a serious trail. Check in next week for part two.
THE BOXING CHAMP
Nicola Adams, 34
Nicola may be a two-time Olympic champion (the first ever woman to win a boxing gold medal), but when she was growing up, women weren’t even allowed to fight in competitions. It was banned by the Amateur Boxing Association of England until 1997, as it was believed PMS made women ‘too unstable’ to box.
At the age of 12, Nicola joined an after-school boxing club at a gym in Leeds with her brother, as something to do while her mum went to aerobics. “There weren’t any other girls, but I didn’t mind, I loved it,” she said.
In her new autobiography, Believe, Nicola reveals she felt boxing was her destiny at her first proper fight, when she was just 13: “I won the match and that was the moment I decided that, one day, I was going to be an Olympic champion. When I used to tell people I was going to win gold, they’d laugh at me, but I didn’t care. One day, I was going to prove them all wrong.”
Her determination saw her through tough times – including breaking a bone in her back. She was still in recovery in 2010 when boxing was announced as an Olympic sport, and she had to try out for Team GB dosed up on painkillers.
As well as her two Olympic golds, she’s also the World, Commonwealth Games and European Games champion. She has just turned professional and aims to become Britain’s first female professional world champion. “I want to be remembered as the greatest, like my hero, Muhammad Ali,” she says. Only a fool would bet against her.
THE ARMY’S RISING STAR
Janay Gibbons, 26
With no military family history, student Janay was set to be a scientist. But, soon after starting a PhD in Molecular Biology at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, she realised an office job wasn’t for her.
“I wanted an exciting, challenging career,” she explains, “one that offered opportunities to push myself physically and mentally, somewhere where hard work was rewarded.” The answer? The Army.
Deciding she’d like to ‘try before you buy’, Janay joined the Cambridge University Officer Training Corps, which offers a taster of Army life and training. She loved it, and was promoted to the rank of Junior Under Officer, with up to 50 cadets in her charge.
She was also picked as one of a handful of ‘Churchill Next Generation Leaders’ to take part in a leadership development programme open to rising stars in any field nationwide.
This year, Janay took the opportunity to design, plan and lead an expedition of 12 British officer cadets and several members of the Moroccan Armed Forces to trek over 150km through remote villages and climb the three highest peaks in North Africa in winter conditions.
Despite still studying for her PhD, Janay was responsible for everything from kit, food, travel and accommodation to detailed safety plans.
“I’ve had comments from some friends who think this isn’t a ‘girl’s job’, but they make me more determined not to give up. Being a woman has never got in my way – maybe because I’d never let it,” she says.
“Someone once said to me: ‘You’re good, for a girl’, and my response was, ‘I’m not striving to be good for a girl, I’m striving to be good full stop’.”
Janay is now going through the selection process to train to be an Army Officer at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.
Emily Brooke, 31
Emily doesn’t class herself as an entrepreneur. Yet through Blaze, the company she founded in 2012, she has established herself as one of the most prominent inventors and CEOs in the country.
She set up her business a year after graduating from the University of Brighton, where she had first come up with the idea of a front bike light that projects the laser outline of a bicycle on the tarmac ahead.
Funding for the Laserlight was initially found through Kickstarter, where more than £55,000 worth of pledges were made. The buzz created by the online campaign – this was a time when crowdfunding was a new concept – attracted the backing of larger investors like Sir Richard Branson’s family.
The product came to market in 2014, and has since shifted thousands of units and won acclaim from cyclists and motorists alike. One study found that it improved cyclists’ visibility to a bus driver from 72% to 96%. Their universal popularity has seen Laserlights adopted by bike share schemes in cities across the globe.
Emily’s company has since developed a range of rear lights and partnered with community schemes such as The Bike Project, which supplies second hand cycles to refugees.
It’s been a long journey for Emily, who caught the cycling bug after completing a charity ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats, but it’s all been worth it. In February she was named Business Woman of the Year 2017 at the FDM Everywoman in Technology Awards, and in June was named on the Queen’s Birthday Honours list.
As she told the BBC: “Life is for living. You’ve got to run at it. You only get one shot.”