June is Pride month, and we are rounding it off with a story from the Snowsport Community.
Earlier this month we sat down with Ash Clayton a Freestyle skier who identifies as gender fluid and used the pronouns they/them. It was brilliant to hear about Ash’s journey within the sport, rapidly progressing from a novice to the Europa Cup, shattering barriers, and becoming a role model almost overnight with unwavering determination, a grounding beyond their years, not to mention their humility.
Ash has been involved in snowsport for the past 8 years. Now at 18 years of age, it is safe to say that the time, effort, and miles put into their development, has paid off with interest!
Just over two years ago, having been talent spotted and progressing through the Futures sessions and our pathway, a conversation happened with Snowsport England coach, Robert Taylor (aka Bobby T), that would give Ash the belief that the rapid and scarcely believable upward curve they had been on, was not only really happening, but was set to continue. With a wry smile, Ash tells us how Bobby approached them during the session and matter of factly said “Ash, you are really, really good”.
From this moment on there have been multiple camps across Europe, honing their skills, making huge progressions and now being a Europa Cup athlete.
Naturally, Ash didn’t just put on some skis and suddenly realise they were mega talented, there were inspirational coaches that made this possible. From Rob Machin to Nick Lark at Hemel Snow Centre, Ash recalls how the advice they gave not only helped at the time but a mantra from Rob is still the go-to when training gets tough, and that new trick is proving challenging:
“Go back to the fundamentals. Break it all down to the fundamental parts and just focus on those”.
When you talk to Ash, you realise that this approach hasn’t been isolated to Snowsport but to each facet of their life.
In a world where complexity often overwhelms there is profound wisdom in the simplicity of returning to the fundamentals. Like a compass guiding us through the maze of life, this powerful advice helps us to strip away the layers and complexities.
This principle has been applied by Ash when being true to themselves and being open about their gender fluidity and how this has impacted upon their Snowsport journey.
Ash went back to the fundamentals, who they are and how they wanted to be treated. The answer is incredibly simple, they want to be treated; with respect, the same as every other athlete, regardless of their gender, sexuality, or any other protected characteristics.
Part of this is the correct use of preferred pronouns when talking to people, you never know how important they are to someone, how positively impactful it can be to take the time to ask what they are and use them, or equally how impactful it can be to use the incorrect pronouns, even if unintentionally. As part of our celebration of Pride month, we shared an article about pronouns, you can read it here.
As an individual, Ash is very open about their gender and identity and talked to us about their admiration for their role model, Jay Riccomini. We discussed the impact Ash hoped to have by sharing their story, if it helps just one person feel they can be their true selves, or open the conversation for someone, they will be happy. We also talked about the moment that Ash shared their gender preferences with their coach, this was a positive experience, although we know that this isn’t always the case. These conversations can be hard to approach and if they do not go well, they can have huge impact on those involved.
For many people, the decision to open up to your peers may in fact be the hardest part of all.
We hope by utilising pronouns more within our organisation and taking some steps to educate ourselves, we can show active allyship for the LGBTQIA+ community.
Ash has what they describe as ‘my little Snowsport bubble’ of people who are warm, supportive, and understanding of who they are and how they like to be known. The way in which Ash speaks about this ‘bubble’ is heart-warming. It made us feel proud to be representing this sport, and highlighted the wonderful people we have within our snowsport community.
That said, we all know how much more there still is to do and the work that is being done by Snowsport England to improve the inclusivity of our sport to all members of society.
We are committed to making our sport more inclusive for everyone, including members of the LGBTQIA+ community. We will outline our intentions and objectives in our new Diversity and Inclusion Action plan, that is being developed for publication by February 2024.
As an athlete, you can just sense that Ash is on the cusp of something special. Bobby T had this to share about them, “Ash has worked so hard with their progress through the winter and competing in their very first World Cup was a highlight. They need to keep it up and enjoy every second of it”.
Ash is certainly a star of the future and one to watch! You can follow them here. They have a brilliant attitude and outlook, a strong support network around including family, peers and coaches, support from the structures within the sport as a recipient of the TASS (Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme) and sponsors including Ski Exchange and Jibworx.
It is fair to say, we will enjoy watching every second of Ash’s progress and career, we thank them for their time and sharing their story, and wish them the best of luck!
If you are interested in following in Ash’s footsteps, you can come along to any of our events, courses and development sessions.
To see our latest Futures sessions, click here: https://snowsportengland.sport80.com/public/widget/3
To read more about our long term ‘Inspiring Snowsport’ strategy and how we are going to improve equality, diversity and inclusion within our sport, click here: www.snowsportengland.org.uk/inspiring-snowsport/