This sporting life by Liz Ridgway
Updated: Oct 18, 2019
Liz Ridgway, personal trainer and founding member of women’s Aussie Rules Football team the Sussex Swans, tells us how her life wouldn't be the same without sport.
It’s hard to quantify and explain fully, but sport, fitness and leisure activities have literally saved my life, not once, but several times. As one of the UK’s few female Personal Trainers who happens to be Trans, I see the tangible benefits of planned activity, fitness training and sporting participation every day as my clients work towards a greater sense of purpose and personal equilibrium. For Trans athletes and participants, as for all athletes and participants, sport is about the physical, social and mental health benefits of participation. As a species we evolved to be runners, to stand up straight and to be tenacious in our endurance and ability to adapt, regardless of where we think we are with fitness, we are all still capable of reaching our potential.
It was at the end of my final years at primary school, at the height of harassment, bullying and vilification that I asked my brother to teach me how to kick a football. Without even considering the conflation of so many issues of gender, identity and stereotypical behaviour that I’m aware of today, somehow, deep down and very basic, I knew that if I could prove my capability in kicking a ball, I might be spared another few years of trauma. My brother turned out to be a rubbish kicking coach, but it didn’t matter, this was the beginning of my redemption, the freedom from vilification and a life of constant activity. By the time I’d reached high school I’d found some comfort with other weirdo’s and outcasts from primary school and we began regularly kicking a football around after school and during lunchtimes. One of my former bullies approached me one day, fully expecting to receive the usual mouthful, instead he yelled at me, ‘bloody hell Ridgway, had no idea you could kick, come to training tomorrow after school, we need numbers for the B side!’ I plucked up the courage to attend the session then continued to train regularly, competing in my first game, my school grades started to improve along with my capacity for physical activity and co-ordination. Things were looking much better, despite the fact I was play acting around the concept of my gender.
It’s was the early eighties, Roller Disco was taking my generation by storm on a Saturday afternoon and Ice Skating rinks were being built in my home town where huge numbers of people were turning up to learn how to skate on wheels and on ice. Inevitably it took me a while to find my balance, but before long I’d joined a local Ice Hockey team as was training on a Sunday as well as playing Aussie Rules Football on a Saturday morning. This became my life for the next 5 years until the rigours of study and developing a career became the focus for me. Over the course of the next 8 years sport and activity became less prominent where I was favouring driving a car, 3 course lunches, consistent consumption of alcohol and absolutely no routine or self-care practice. I packed on a whopping 5 stone/70lb/32kg of body weight and it wasn’t until I saw a picture of myself from 10 years earlier that I was truly shocked. This combined with a heavy dose of gender dysphoria lead me to a critical period of my life where I began self-medicating and abusing various illicit substances to numb the pain. I started to use the excuse that my work in technical theatre and its inevitable unsocial hours was the barrier to taking up exercise and activity again, despite the simple fact that I was clearly becoming more and more unhealthy and shortening my life considerably, both physically and mentally.
So often is the case I am inspired with connections to other people and talking about their journey, one impromptu conversation at work leading to an invitation to try In-Line Skating. I’d been talking to a colleague at work and we discussed our previous involvement with sports and of course the general decline in our quality of life as well as the barriers to being more active. I took to In-Line skating like a second pair of feet and a few days later I was in a skate shop buying my own pair, soon to be cruising along the esplanade in Melbourne on afternoons and late evenings. The purchase of a mountain bike came shortly afterwards and I was riding to work and on days off I’d cycle in the countryside around the city limits. The excess weight began to fall off me with many friends being the first to recognise. Long term change was clearly in my sights and I added a few small challenges like cycling the length of Tasmania, 580 km in 8 days to really cement the change and take away a massive sense of achievement and a boost to self-worth.
Just after my arrival in the UK with a pair of In-Line skates and a suitcase I began working as a waiter on wheels, delivering food from Ed’s Diner in Soho to businesses in the area. The money wasn’t great so I’d skate home to Brixton past all the sights from the West End to South London, it was an amazing summer and I was super fit with all the skating. Inevitably the long dark winter lured me to the gym, rock climbing, yoga, with a decent day heralding lots of skating. Running ultimately saved me during the 10 years of my transition, the intimidating thoughts of a gym session wasn’t something I could entertain. The following years were about losing most of my muscle mass due to hormone therapy and a complete change in training methodology, my weight plummeting from 80kg down to 69kg. Once I’d completed the recovery from surgery and a move to Brighton, fitness and sports became central to my life once again, continuing to skate, being a founding member of a women’s Aussie Rules Football team the Sussex Swans and starting my business as a Personal Trainer. My life wouldn’t be the same had I not discovered sport, I adore where it’s has taken me in life, how supportive it’s been to self-care and how individual it is to me. The best part now is I can share my experience and passion with others through personal training and it’s so good to be at it aged 53.