Picture this: you’re 30 years old, almost 31. You’ve just completed your first ever Volvo Ocean Race – and you scooped the ‘best rookie’ award in the process. You’re at your physical peak – fit, hungry and raring to go. Oh, and you’re female.
Meet Sophie Ciszek, one of the stars of the SCA campaign – the first all-female team to enter the Volvo Ocean Race since 2001-02.
She’s six foot tall. She can run faster, longer and harder than you. She can almost certainly lift more weight than you. So why is this young athlete, at the peak of physical fitness and full of motivation, on the verge of quitting the sport altogether?
“The Volvo Ocean Race was a whirlwind of fun – the pinnacle of where I want to be,” she explains, taking a well-earned break from helping out at the Boatyard in Alicante.
“It was exactly what I wanted to do – to learn. We achieved amazing things, and I learned what it takes to be a pro Volvo Ocean Race athlete.
“And then, well, it just ended. You go home and you just want to keep sailing, but it’s so hard to get a ride on boats.”
You’d think that with her award-winning pedigree, Sophie would have the offers piling up – but that’s not the case.
“It’s super frustrating. I went home to Australia after the race and it took me over a month just to find someone willing to put me on board in the Sydney-Hobart Race.
“It’s not easy. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs since the end of the Volvo Ocean Race,” she reflects.
“To be honest, I just don’t think that female acceptance in the rest of the sailing world is there yet.”
Ah, the gender debate. It’s a contentious issue – and whether or not the actual perception of women in the sport is changing is a case that has been, and will be, argued for some time to come.
But, let’s face it – the truth is that this isn’t a problem that Sophie’s male Volvo Ocean Race under 30 counterparts have struggled with.
“Half of the under 30 guys who did the Volvo Ocean Race have now moved on to the America’s Cup, or are sailing Maxis, TPs or super-yachts in the Caribbean.
“A lot of people seem to have the same old perception of women, whether that’s being not as experienced, not as strong, or whatever. I think that’s always going to be there, but you have to prove your own worth and what your skills are, and show the guys what you can do.”
She smiles. “It’s like surfing – you paddle out and you’re in a line up with 20 guys, and you’re the only girl. They’ll all drop in on you and take your wave, until you stand up and take a wave and show them you can surf.” – Read on