Strong Women: 'My mum died so young – I had to be healthy for my children'

There is still a stigma about the word ‘strong’ when it is applied to women.

There is a belief that a woman can’t be feminine, or sexy if she is strong. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Strong Women is a weekly series that aims to help women reclaim and redefine the concept of strength. You don’t have to look a certain way or be a certain size in order to be strong, fit and love your body.

Sport England reported that 75% of women are put off being active over fear of judgment. We want to change this and highlight the stories of diverse and inspirational women who embrace their strength.

Finn Madell lost her mother while she was pregnant with her first child. Amidst the grief of shock, Finn resolved to get fit and healthy so she could be there for her own children for as long as possible.

I needed to manage the stresses of my career and try to make my well-being a priority to ensure my children had a fit, strong and well mum. This became a real focus for me.

I saw what the stress of the job did to my mum. I was never going to let the same thing happen to me, or my children.

How does training affect your life?

Training as I do gives me energy and positivity.

I trained this morning at 6 am and I feel great. I am going paddle-boarding straight after work because I know that exercise really energises me.

It is so important to me that my children feel and see that I am fit and well. I didn’t get this feeling with my mother sadly.

Five years on, I’m still there, training four times a week.

I have run lots of 10km races, done a half marathon, completed two Survial of the Fittest races, got into road cycling and been on two cycling holidays, where we did between 50-100 miles each day.

I absolutely love the feeling of being strong and well. The benefits to me are huge.

My children (who are now 10 and 14) are very proud, and they also love fitness.

At Christmas this year I decided to start a Level 3 Diploma in Nutrition and Fitness. It’s really difficult fitting it in with my now senior management job and home life but I am determined.

If I can do this, anyone can! I want to help people to feel the benefits of feeling fit and strong. It is the best feeling.

I think I had to really identify what it was that I loved about fitness and being strong. For me this was never aesthetic.

I have never wanted to be ‘skinny’. Of course I wanted to be slimmer, but I always knew that there was so much more to it. The achievement factor is big, the mental challenge mixed with the physical challenges is something I really enjoy.

I also enjoy food and drink and am not one to deprive myself.

I have faced lots of obstacles along the way. Fitness and finding the time to train is always the first to be put on hold if there are other life pressures. To overcome this, I train early.

When I started, this was working out at 5 am! It’s now 6 am, but when it’s done, it’s done. I can get the children to school and on to work knowing I’ve done what I need to.

It makes me feel so much better. I smile to myself when in meetings thinking about the mornings training session. Box jumps, weights, burpees. I love it.

I do have to go to bed very early though. However, I’ve found a way to make it work and the benefits are huge. I now want to get my P.T qualification to help others. It doesn’t have to be gym-based but getting up and moving makes people feel better. Fact.

I am 45 now. I am fitter than I have ever been.

Why do you think of yourself as a strong woman?

I am strong. I love it. I lift heavy in the gym. Heavier then most others who are younger than me. Others comment about how heavy I lift.

I get amazing encouragement from the coaches and the others there and it gives me such a buzz. I actually like the feeling on muscle ache, which I am pretty sure makes make me weird. People often comment on how ‘well’ I look. I’m not skinny, but I am strong and healthy.

There certainly aren’t enough strong women represented in the media. I do think this is getting better though. Campaigns like This Girl Can and the latest, more realistic-looking Sweaty Betty models really help.

Real women being used who are strong and an inspiration is what’s needed. I think the emphasis needs to be on well-being rather than just being skinny.

There is still the perception that weight lifting makes you bulk up and that strong is not sexy for women. I think this is changing, but slowly.

I train with men and women, admittedly all of whom enjoy this type of strength training, but there is real encouragement and respect. I love this. And this is how perceptions can change.

I think this approach can and will be intimidating for some women, so it’s important to find a route that suits the individual. It’s not OK to be critical of others, so if someone wants to do Zumba or aqua aerobics, give praise and encouragement.

Fitness and strength has impacted more positively than I ever imagined. It is a brilliant outlet for stress, the endorphins are amazing and the benefits to body strength and composition as I get older are so important.

I have made some brilliant friends and done amazing things.

My children are proud that I can do the monkey bars in the park – It’s the best feeling.

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