Sameera Ashraf: 10 years in martial arts

Most of my friends are shocked that I compete in Martial Arts as I am only 5ft 2 and they tell me I do not look physically intimidating! I enjoy training and competing and I generally get supported by those around me which means a great deal, as I know that my friends believe I am capable of competing.  I am a blue belt in kickboxing and karate. I have been training in martial arts for over 10 years and have competed in regional and national competitions. My greatest achievement was qualifying for the world championships in two consecutive years from 2010. However, due to a lack of funding at the time and a commitment to two jobs, I was unable to attend.  I love martial arts, but I have found it fairly expensive. Whilst self funding my college and university degrees I had to buy club uniforms, club regulated equipment, pay for gradings, competitions and travel to and from competitions. This is definitely a challenge of training and competing, but it is doable and I managed.  In June 2014 I was awarded the Asian Women’s Award in Sport. Since then I have been lucky enough to get involved in the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust as a volunteer.


Dame Kelly Holmes presented the award to me and I had the opportunity to tell her what an inspiration she has been to me. Following the awards ceremony I was contacted directly by the Chief Executive of the Trust who expressed her wish to have me as a part of their team of mentors who work with young people. I was excited to accept this opportunity and started networking with elite athletes who work tirelessly to assist in the various programmes which enable young people to improve their employment and life skills. My first professional role as a mentor was during the Commonwealth Games were I was asked to assist in the Young Leaders Programme. The young people were involved in the opening and closing ceremonies, assisting the various organisations stalls in Glasgow Green such as UNICEF, helping at various events and individual games. They worked well together as individuals and as part of a group. I really enjoyed working with the young people and I learnt so much from each and every one of them; they inspired me. All of them have so much potential and positive spirit despite the difficulties they face within their personal lives. Since 2008 I have worked with women who are victims of domestic violence. Many of these women are not British born and due to their domestic circumstances they are often unable to acquire the skills which can help a woman gain confidence. This sense of isolation can make the already incredibly negative effects of emotional and psychological abuse even more profound within the women I provide a service to. I have been able to positively use my martial art skills to work within a team and facilitate self defence classes to these women. I faced cultural and religious barriers when I was younger and to be perfectly honest I feel I still do. My grandparents migrated to the UK in the 1960s. The world was a much different place back then, I understand for my grandparents and my own parents that keeping a firm hold on their heritage, cultural and religious beliefs is part of how they identify themselves. But as a British Asian, growing up was confusing as my family wanted me to keep to their traditional way of appearance and demeanour. But then I would go to school, view what was happening in the media and learn societies expectations of a British girls and I found it conflicting. The main thing that would bother me when I was growing up was how my three brothers always seemed to have more freedom than I did. I had to come straight home from school and get changed into traditional dress ‘shalwar kameez’ and help my mum do household chores. My brothers helped out around the house too, but they were allowed out with their friends. I remember being very naive to the ways of the world by the time I went to college and university as I did not have any exposure to life beyond the family home. This is why I try to encourage others who feel different, isolated or alone. I can relate to them on some level. And through self-defence classes I feel I can give something back.

It is important to point out that the purpose of learning and improving skills and knowledge in self defence is not to encourage the individual to go from being a victim to an aggressor. Instead it allows the individual to take a more focused approach of ascertaining how they can use their own body to defend. Having even the smallest amount of knowledge can give an element of power back to these women I have provided a service for: if the women who are being abused feel they are less afraid it can help to empower them.

As an Asian woman I feel it is important to encourage South Asian females and males of any age or size to take part in sports. The level of health promotion within previous generations has not been particularly high and it is known that this is likely to have an impact on how future generations may view health and overall fitness. It has been established within government health reports that the prevalence of diabetes and heart related health issues are high within the South Asian communities in the UK. As a result this is now an identified target group for health promotion and interventions. When successful, health campaigns can assist in maintaining positive family connections to encourage children and adults to get involved in fitness and healthy eating. I have noticed a higher amount of health promotion targeting my generation and I believe younger people are becoming more aware that simple changes in diet and lifestyle choices in particular can help to reduce the risks associated with the above health issues.

Samera ashraf landscape full

Amongst training and work, I co-host Edinburgh’s only weekly Asian radio programme on a community radio station. We have been on air for over two years. Within that time we have had the opportunity to look at issues affecting British Asians today. To encourage more Asians to take up exercise regularly and engage in positive health choices we often invite guests onto the show that are knowledgeable of health promotion and inclusion in the wider community.

I appreciate that it is difficult to break down the existing barriers in getting South Asian girls and women involved in sports. This is something that I am keen to continue promoting, to show that it can be done. I hope to be a role model to other girls of any age or background to show that we can also achieve at high levels within sports. One thing I always say: believe in yourself!


Commonwealth gold medallist and athlete mentor Sarah Clark

Sarah Clark BP Young Leaders ProgrammeI have been lucky enough to be given the opportunity to be involved with the BP Young Leaders in Scotland over the last 12 months. These young people have inspired me. They have taught, talked, informed, laughed, involved and developed me as a person. I now know a lot more about myself, and understand others more than I did 12 months ago. I listen more. I advise less. I understand that each of us have challenges in life. We all have hang ups. We all struggle with something. However, I have learned to understand that each of us can learn, develop and improve. Through communication, questions, listening but most important by making mistakes.

Over the last twelve months, I have seen individuals seize opportunities with both hands, challenge themselves, step up to the mark and come out the other end a better person.

On Sunday I was lucky enough to meet the Action for Children Group, Sidi, Panache, Adele, Amanda and Lori (along with Jackie) while they were volunteering at the Glasgow European Open Judo for Women. I was there as a supporter (my club mates were competing as part of the GB Team), a British Judo VIP and part of the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust ‘Give Back Team’.

sarah clark with BP Young Leaders

I arrived at the event at 10am to be greeted by a really enthusiastic group of young women. I was happy to see the girls. I went off for an hour to attend a JudoScotland catch up session, discussing ClubMark, how clubs have been getting on with the pilot system and how to move forward. I then ‘ran out’ of the meeting and into the arena and began watching the judo. There was four GB players in each of the seven categories (apart from -48kg where unfortunately we didn’t field any players). I was glued to the judo, almost until the break. I then went out and caught up with the BP Young Leaders. The girls were involved in various tasks taking place at the event such as facilitating mini movement sessions for children, organising people, becoming involved with the children as they tested their skills and many other tasks. It was then time for the girls to chill out for a bit. But did that happen? No! We went down to watch the Masterclass that was taking place in the arena during the break and then the girls were all asked by JudoScotland if they’d like to carry the flags at the opening ceremony of the competition. All were delighted to be involved.

Following the opening ceremony, we all sat together for a couple of hours and watched the judo finals. The girls were really looking forward to watching them and had special interest as Sally, Connie and Big Sarah, who were all competing in the final block. Sally won Gold and Sarah and Connie bronze. It was really interesting chatting to the girls, explaining judo, the rules, the whys, the why nots, what the scores meant, how you could win.  It actually made me appreciate and understand non judo players view and the complexity of the sport. It is a fantastic spectacle but some of the rules could definitely be modified (again) to make it more viewer friendly! We also spent time chatting to each other about ourselves, what we do day to day, our likes and dislikes.

Finally, the competition ended. I left to head down to the north east of England for a few days to see family and everyone went their separate ways. I will see Adele very soon again in Falkirk and I look forward to seeing everyone else in the near future. As always, I was proud of all the young leaders and had a great day. I have encouraged the girls to volunteer again at the European Championships next year as it will be a much bigger event and it would be fantastic to see them at a major championships.

Commonwealth medallists inspire Young Leaders in Glasgow

20140730_214005The Young Leaders had three judo medallists visit them on Wednesday evening: Gold medallists Sarah Clark and Sarah Adlington, and bronze medallist Connie Ramsay.

There was a Q&A session, where the three of them talked about the run up to the games, how their fights went, and how they are now feeling.

The Young Leaders have been busy in Glasgow, but have had time in between shifts to listen to talks from several of our athlete mentors including Theo Spalding-McIntosh, Mara Yamauchi and Damien Hoyland.


Young Leader from 2012 talks about her experience


“I got put forward for the young leaders programme by my care worker. I was still at school and the programme gave me the motivation and skills to empower me and made me realise I had potential. Our workers were amazing, our hub became like a family  to us all however dysfunctional at times! We were given phenomenal chances and experiences which without the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust & BP we would never have had.

More so the Olympics was life changing all the people I met and encountered and being part of something so special and having athletes and workers around you who were there because they wanted to empower you and levelled with you not because they were paid to made all the difference. I regained my self confidence and felt like I had a purpose in life. “It’s not where your from it’s where you’re at” and ” It’s not what happened to you it’s what you do with it” were words I never believed in until completion of the programme.I was enabled to see myself and life from a different perspective and not stereotyped.

After the programme I secured a job as a community learning & development youth worker as I was influenced greatly and wanted to be able to give something back. I am starting university to study psychology and without the young leaders and my mentor helping me with my personal statement I wouldn’t be where I am now or be the person I am today and will always be eternally grateful for what they gave to me. A few of us were that inspired we are looking to continue the Olympic legacy into volunteering in Rio in order to give other disadvantaged young people the inspiration we had.

Embrace the opportunities given to you throughout the programme and the commonwealth as they will live with you forever, the memories the atmosphere, the people everything! You might not feel it now but it’s life changing & you will miss the games life but never let it fade; it will eternally be part of you. be proud of what you have accomplished and gained as it can be hard at times but so so worth it! You were there and you made something magical happen. It reiterated that anything is possible and despite where you come from or issues you gave faced, the world is your oyster and you can do anything you put your mind to! Good luck to all the young leaders and embrace everything while you are at the Games.”

Lauren, 23, from the 2012 Young Leaders Programme speaking about her experience