Danielle Brown MBE is the author of Run Like a Girl, a children’s book with a collection of biographical stories of 50 highly successful sportswomen. Danielle is a successful sportswoman herself, having won two Paralympic gold medals. She is also a speaker and works with organisations to develop inclusive leadership with lasting momentum.
“Words really matter, particularly for young people, and shape so many of our outlooks and behaviours. Running like a girl, catching like a girl, scoring like a girl – these are things we can and should be proud of.”
Sport is my biggest teacher
My background is elite sport. I am a double Paralympic gold medallist in archery, winning in Beijing 2008 and retaining my title on home soil in London 2012.
World Number One for my entire career and a five-time World Champion, I became the first disabled athlete to represent England in an able-bodied discipline at the Commonwealth Games. During this time, I successfully juggled a law degree and graduated from the University of Leicester with first-class honours.
I always consider sport to be my biggest teacher because this was where I learned important lessons like how to thrive in high-pressure situations and work in a team. I’ve copied and pasted much of the things I learned from sport into what I do now: I’m an international speaker, magazine editor and children’s book author.
Archery, the most inclusive sport?
Archery is an unusual sport in that there are hardly any disabled-only competitions in the UK. So, I loved how inclusive this was: I was simply another athlete rather than being pigeon-holed as a disabled one.
Making the able-bodied team was something I always wanted to do: I figured if I could get one arrow in the middle of the target then I could get them all there.
Making it to the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi was an incredible experience – I was working with a very experienced team who taught me so much, and it ultimately made me a much stronger Paralympic athlete. It was a privilege being able to shoot with them on the world stage and bring home a gold medal together. Becoming the first disabled person to do this for England made it even more exciting – I was truly defined by what I could do rather than what I couldn’t.
Becoming a children’s author
I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I think my parents were worried that this might narrow my options, so they would always say ‘You want to be a writer and…?’ I changed my mind so many times as I tried to figure out my passions and what I would be truly fulfilled doing. When studying law at university, the biggest takeaway from my course was that practising law was not for me.
Sport grew into a crazy big passion, but athlete’s careers are short-lived and mine ended abruptly in 2014 with a rule change that excluded my disability from the Paralympics.
All along, I’ve written. A lot of it was terrible, but I learned so much from the process and got better and better. It took me a while to find my voice and style, and I discovered that this is perfect for non-fiction children’s books. I love being able to share inspiring stories, and I am really passionate about helping the next generation.
My best-seller, Run Like a Girl, features stories of 50 female athletes from around the world, and showcases the resilience, determination, and confidence of these amazing women. I wanted to highlight that no two paths are the same: some athletes overcame unimaginably tough barriers to achieve their sporting dreams, some led teams, and others are using sport as a vehicle to make the world a better place.
I decided to write this book because I wanted to change the way we think about women’s sport. Growing up I never realised that a career in sport was possible, partly because there was a lack of role models. We are seeing movement in the right direction, but we still have a LONG way to go – especially as only 7% of the UK sports media currently focuses on women’s sport. There are so many incredible competitors who deserve to have their story told – and the children out there who deserve to hear them.
Choosing sportswomen to feature
It was so tough narrowing it down to just 50 athletes – there are so many brilliant trailblazers out there and I had some very tough decisions to make.
I believe there is a sport out there for everybody and not all of us suit the traditional ones taught at school, so making sure there was a real variety of different sports was very important, from some of the mainstream ones like athletics and football, through to less popular ones like jousting and adventuring.
I also wanted to cover athletes from all over the world. One of the greatest parts of being an athlete was getting to travel around the world, experience new cultures and meet new people, and I wanted to share stories from people of all backgrounds, abilities, and cultures. Lastly, I was looking for strong role models with brilliant stories, whether they had pushed boundaries and broken records, showed immense courage, or persevered through tough times.
Being proud of running like a girl!
The response has been amazing; honestly, I’ve been so happy and genuinely overwhelmed by the lovely comments I’ve received.
People particularly like how I’ve turned the stereotype ‘like a girl’ on its head. This was driven by my experiences in sport: I often heard male athletes saying “Ugh, I’m shooting like a girl!” when they weren’t doing very well.
Words really matter, particularly for young people, and shape so many of our outlooks and behaviours. Running like a girl, catching like a girl, scoring like a girl – these are things we can and should be proud of.
This International Day of the Girl, let’s celebrate their achievements!
The messages we are given as children profoundly shape our upbringing and have an impact on what we choose to study, our career choices, the way we feel about ourselves, and the way we behave.
Girls face a lot of obstacles and it’s important to recognise these in order to break them down and create opportunities to help them reach their potential.
For me, this is also a really important time to celebrate achievement. All over the world girls are doing brilliant things and they are smashing through stereotypes that have held others back – shining a spotlight on all the fantastic achievements is a great way to keep up the momentum.
Too many plans for the future
I definitely want to write more books because I love the entire writing process, and I’ve got so many more books in me. I signed with an agent this year so I’m really looking forward to seeing where I can take this and how I can continue to push myself to get better. I also want to do more with women’s sport to encourage more participation and engagement, and I’m currently working on some very exciting (although top secret) plans. Watch this space!