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New online series 'to start conversation' about healthy women in sailing

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If there's one thing Jenny Armstrong wants her new Healthy Women in Sailing series to achieve, it's to start the conversation about how we can better support our young female sailors in 2023 and beyond. 

And while, in the past, that hasn't always been an easy discussion to have, it's never been more important than it is right now, she says. 

Armstrong, an Olympic gold medallist and Yachting New Zealand's women's sailing manager is the driving force behind the successful new online series launched in October. 

The series is themed 'Wellbeing is the foundation to build performance and fun' and spanned two virtual seminars in as many weeks. It was aimed at upskilling and educating the country's female sailors, parents, and coaches collaboratively and educationally.  

It canvassed a range of topics - from brain health and nutrition to injury prevention and mapping the journey of a high-performance athlete - and featured in-depth conversations with several industry experts. 

"We wanted to get to as many people across the country as we could, especially those who are outside of our existing programmes, to give more people more information to better support our valuable female sailors," Armstrong said. 

"Reach across the entire country was the main reason for running the series online, as opposed to in-person, as it enables us to share the sessions with the click of a button and have it as an online resource tool for future reference." 

The work is part of Yachting New Zealand's groundbreaking Women and Girls in Sailing strategy, launched in 2019 and refreshed earlier this year. It is also closely aligned with a similar campaign being done by Sport New Zealand.  

An estimated 80 sailors, parents and coaches tuned in across the two sessions, Armstrong said. 

Speakers included a range of specialists from High Performance Sport New Zealand - performance physiologists Anna Skipper and Lucy Jacobs, head of psychology John Sullivan, performance nutritionist Kelsey Paterson, physiotherapist Mark Overington, and athlete life advisor Vicki Hudson. 

Veerle ten Have, the country's leading female windfoiler and an Olympic campaigner, was also on hand to answer questions from attendees and to share some of her experiences on the various topics. 

Brain health was a big focus of the first session, Armstrong said. 

"John [Sullivan] offered insight into balancing life and sport and also delved into the importance of staying brain healthy, including sleep as part of the recovery process, and addressing some of the stigmas that still exist around the concept of brain health." 


Yachting New Zealand's women's sailing manager Jenny Armstrong.

Nutrition was another popular topic, with Paterson speaking at length about the concept of fuelling for growth, development, and performance. 

"It led to some valuable discussions around things like how to know if you're eating enough, the causes of under-fuelling, and what happens when energy needs are not met," Armstrong said. 

"These are all part of our education efforts to illustrate why nutrition is so important for female health and how to be better at it - from ensuring you get your eating schedule and routines right to the best available snack bars for sailors." 

The series concluded with a detailed look at the journey of a high-performance sailor. 

"Balance is key, especially as so many of the girls are now managing their sailing, other sports and academic studies. We wanted to talk about ways of not only being able to juggle both but to excel at both," Armstrong explained. 

"It's a fine balance to maintain because having healthy women in sailing also means spending enough time with your family and friends and in other areas of life." 

Identifying "red flags" and knowing where to turn for help is critical. 

"The biggest benefit of this series is to start this conversation and show that there is support available if you are struggling in one or more of these areas - whether that is from your GP or school counsellor, coaches, or a trusted adult," Armstrong said. 

"I am also just a phone call away for any advice or guidance." 

To access Yachting New Zealand's Women and Girls in Sailing online resources, or to watch the Healthy Women in Sailing series, click here.