My 5 role models… with Emily Freeman

We’re celebrating the release of our Role Models Poster Series; posters of awesome role model girls doing the sports that they love. We’ve sent these out to over 355,000 children, including every primary school in West and South Yorkshire, and every school who’s signed up to our Girls and Sport Pledge. We’re passionate about putting more awesome female sporting role models in front of girls (and boys!) and to celebrate we’ve interviewed some awesome grown up role models about the 5 people who inspired them.

In this week’s article Totally Runable’s Natalie Jackson spoke to Olympian and Former UK Number 1 sprinter (as well as her Totally Runable and #SeeSportyBeSporty Co-founder) Emily Freeman about those who inspired her during her sprinting career.

Sally Gunnell

“There is so much to be inspired by in Sally Gunnell. As a young athlete in the early 1990s, she was a hugely inspiring character for me growing up. She is still the only women ever to hold the World, Olympic, European and Commonwealth Gold Medals at the same time. I remember her setting the world record over 400m hurdles of 52.74 in August 1993, when I was just 12. The moment that inspired me the most was meeting her not long afterwards. I’d been invited to a training session with her at Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield. Meeting her in person was amazing to me. The idea of being an Olympic Gold Medallist and World Record Holder became a real thing that someone I had met had done. That blew my mind, and definitely inspired me to aim higher in my own athletics career.”

Nicola Sanders

“Nicola was an athlete who competed through the same era as me. Although we didn’t compete in the same event (Nicola was a 400m specialist where I ran the 200m) I remember a performance of hers that really inspired me in 2007. It was at the National Indoor Championships in Sheffield. She took gold in the 400m with a massive personal best. She then went on to win the European Indoor Championships in Birmingham a couple of weeks later in a national record of 50.02 seconds. The inspiring thing about it was that she made it look so easy. It was the kind of race we all dreamed of having; she looked 100% in the zone. Knowing how hard she had worked to make something look so easy was inspiring for me, because it made it seem possible. It made me wonder, if Nicola could do that, what could I do?”

A speaker whose name I don’t even remember

“This sounds like a strange one, given that I don’t actually know who he was, but when we talk about inspiration I don’t think it matters. It’s wasn’t who he was, so much as how he made me feel that inspired me. I was at the English Schools Championships as a teenager, so I was already pretty good at athletics, but I hadn’t done brilliantly. I remember sitting in the grassy infield of a track with all of the other athletes, listening to a speaker say how great the championships had been. He told us that we all had the potential to be great, and said that we shouldn’t look at those on the podium and think they were different from us. We should look at them and ask how we could do what they did, so that we could do the same as they had done. That lit a lightbulb for me and almost gave me permission to believe in myself. I eventually came back at 18 and won the English Schools Championships in 1999 in the 100m, so as a motivational speaker, he really did his job!”

My Friend Anna

“Anna and I went to our first athletics club together, aged 11. I’m not sure I would have gone on my own, but we went along to Spenborough Athletics Club in Liversedge in West Yorkshire. I wasn’t super confident as a child but having a friend to go with me made the whole thing fun. I loved being there and working hard to improve on our own performances. I think having fun and being with your friends is a great foundation for excelling at any sport; it certainly was for me. If you’re not having fun, you won’t keep training and turning up, and without that you’ll never go as far as you are capable of going.”

My Grandparents

“This is a joint one, is that cheating? I couldn’t have a list of the people who inspired me the most that didn’t feature my Grandparents. Having recently become a parent myself I know how helpful it is to have my Mum around to help. When I was little it was my Grandparents, my Mum’s parents, who took me to the track twice a week and often waited for hours in the car to take me home. As with lots of sportspeople there are so many unsung heroes that go into the team effort of your successes, and my Grandparents were the unsung heroes for me. I remember them being hardworking people, which I think instilled that as a value for me, but I also remember them always doing whatever they could to support me and my sister, which is why they need to be on this list!”

If you know a school who might like to know more about the Gender Sport Gap and what they can do to measure and start to close it, they should be a part of Totally Runable’s Girls and Sport Pledge. It’s completely free to be a part of and includes some brilliant resources to start your school’s Gender Sporty Gap journey.

Sign up at or email Natalie Jackson to find out more at