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Netball player who broke her back set to inspire young women at Wales’ first ever Female Youth Sports Conference

04 Mar 2022 4 minutes Read
Francesca Antoniazzi

A netball player who broke her back in a horrific accident is set to inspire an new generation of young women at Wales’ first-ever Female Youth Sports Conference.

Francesca Antoniazzi from Anglesey who broke her back 5 years ago, is one of the young people speaking at the conference is, which is being hosted by Urdd Gobaith Cymru in the run up to International Women’s Day.

The Welsh youth organisation’s #FelMerch conference, which translates to ‘Like a girl’, will be held over the weekend (5-6 March) at the Urdd’s residential centre in Cardiff Bay.

Its aim is to inspire, support and empower young women between 16-25 to get involved in sports.

150 women from across Wales are expected to attend the conference, to enjoy motivational speeches and various workshops delivered by 20 inspirational and leading experts in their fields.

The conference will also be an opportunity to share ideas and discuss volunteering, training and qualification options and opportunities in the sporting world.

The bilingual conference, which is suitable for Welsh learners, will be hosted by endurance adventurer, athlete, and presenter Lowri Morgan.

Following her accident Francesca did not give up on sports and started to train as a wheelchair netball player and weightlifter and has won two gold medals at the Welsh Championships and two silver at the British Championship.

She said: “It always seems impossible until it’s done. There is always a way around it, even if you have to ask for help, help is not a weakness.”

Other speakers include Gemma Grainger, Hollie Arnold, Laura McAllister, Natasha Harding, Elinor Snowsill and Gwennan Harries.

The nationwide #FelMerch project was launched in June 2021 by the Urdd’s Sports Department supported by Sport Wales, to tackle the fact that young women are more likely to give up sports in their teenage years, especially since the pandemic.

Gemma Grainger, Wales Women’s National Manager said: “I am really looking forward to being involved in the Urdd’s #FelMerch conference. The weekend, as well as the wider #FelMerch initiative, is vitally important in growing girls’ participation and offering more opportunities in all sports across Wales.

“I have been fortunate enough to see the success of #FelMerch first-hand at the Urdd centre in Llangrannog, and the Urdd’s support in organising fan buses to our Cymru matches. I am excited to see how #FelMerch will continue to develop in the future.”

Gemma Grainger

‘Challenges’ 

Four-time Paralympian and multi world record holder Hollie Arnold added: “Throughout time young women have often been told they can’t do something, or that they wouldn’t be good at something because of their gender.

“I’ve had challenges in my life growing up with a disability, but I have always used it to my advantage. For me it is all about mindset and attitude towards whatever the challenge may be.

“All young women deserve the same opportunities and that is why I’m thrilled to be part of Wales’s first ever female youth sports conference, #FelMerch, helping to inspire, empower and provide opportunities in supporting young women and girls to fulfil their full potential and reach their hosen goals.”

Delegates will hear from women who have achieved success in professional sporting roles, as well as looking at sports in its wider context.

Trainer Catrin Ahmun will discuss fitness and mental health, a session with chef Beca Lyne Perkins will teach delegates about the relationship between food and sports, and a body image and sports session will be held by model and ex Love Island contestant Connagh Howard.

The event will be held with the support of the Welsh Government, and Deputy Minister for Arts and Sport, Dawn Bowden, is looking forward to taking part: “I’m delighted to have the opportunity to speak at this first ever female youth sports conference and in supporting the #FelMerch programme of activity.

“#FelMerch is playing such an important part in encouraging participation in sporting activity, regardless of ability, and in creating safe environments in which to do so. It promises to be a very inspirational event.”

Siân Lewis, Urdd Gobaith Cymru Chief Executive added: “Ensuring that young women get the support and opportunities to take part in sports is a priority for us as an organisation – 56% of young people who take part in our weekly sports provisions across Wales are female.

“#FelMerch has created further opportunities for girls in sports, inclusive weekly activities, discussion forums, community hubs during the holidays and much more. The response has been brilliant, and we hope that this conference will help inspire a generation of young women to experience all the benefits of being involved in sports.”


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