IWD2021 - Aneela McKenna: The Borders mountain biker blazing the trail for diversity in the sport

Aneela McKenna moved from Glasgow to the Scottish Borders 17 years ago. She has worked in diversity and inclusion for more than two decades, but it's only in the last few years that she decided to combine her passions.

"The problem with sport is that there's a lack of diversity - it's as simple as that", she said.

"What I really wanted to do in mountain biking was to bring more women into the sport. I remember when I started out in the 90s, there were very few women in the sport."

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Before coronavirus, Aneela would regularly host women-only bike rides in the beautiful Tweed Valley. She said: "I don't know what it is, when you get a group of women together they just forget that they are mums, they're wives - you know? They just want to have a ball and let their hair down.

"The whole point about equality is that we want to have spaces where women have a choice, where they can ride with other women but they can ride equally with men and women.

"We want to get to a point where we can have that equality between men and women being able to do things together without women feeling that they are less able, or don't have the strength to do it, because they do. And that's something that we need to be able to change."

Aneela is passionate about getting more people from black, asian, and ethnic minorities involved with sport, in particularly biking. She was recently appointed Co-Chair of Diversity and Inclusion for British Cycling.

"It's not just about women, it's about all groups. They need to be able to participate. Some people may feel like they're excluded from certain spaces or may not even realise that it's for them.

"From my own personal experience, I always do see myself in a minority. I'm different and in the Borders there's not a lot of people of colour. So we've got a lot of work to do when it comes to diversity and sport. If we don't talk about it then we'll never make change."

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Aneela speaks passionately about the Black Lives Matter demonstrations across the world, which she says was was a real 'turning point'. She believes it gave her the opportunity to 'make real change.'

"It's such an exciting time to see the progress that's been made and not just that, it's the voice that are speaking up. I feel even my voice has been heard for the first time and for me it's really empowering", explains Aneela.

"My work is very rewarding but it's really challenging as well because people don't get it sometimes. They may not understand why people of colour are saying that they need to be in the space.

"It's just so important for people to have a voice because it can be empowering to yourself. But by doing that, you can empower 100 other people."

  • Discover more about Aneela here.

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To marking International Women's Day, throughout this week ITV Border will share the stories of five inspirational women from Cumbria and southern Scotland.

In this series we hear from activists tackling racism in Cumbria, nurses working on the coronavirus frontline and volunteers who have dedicated their lives to helping others.