I grew up in the capital city of Aotearoa/ New Zealand. The first name given to the harbour area was Te Whanga Nui a Tara [The Great Harbour of Tara]. The first European settlers there named the port or ship landing area after a gentleman named Nicholson, and so the name became Port Nicholson. Local iwi Maori pronounced this as Poneke. As the city developed, it was eventually renamed after the Duke of Wellington, and so it is now known by some people simply as Wellington.
The Duke of Wellington was famous for working very hard as a military leader, including riding a horse into battle and leading his soldiers to victory, most famously against the French at the Battle of Waterloo. He was also good not just at killing people, but also at negotiating lasting peace and working and dealing fairly with local people when his soldiers were “necessarily” (in the eyes of the victors) occupying their land.
As for Wellington city, being a very small capital and with having two university campuses near the down town area, there are a relatively high number of people here who are interested in and alert to politics. Even the local graffiti can be political! When I was in high school there, I saw an often spray-painted quote, which read:
“Girls can do anything!”
This line was also on stickers and badges, and was discussed in local news media like the national weekly magazine, and sometimes even in daily newspapers. I guess it had an effect on both men and women and boys and girls, because within about twenty years, New Zealand saw a day when we had the first elected female Prime Minister (we don’t have a president), and also female perhaps for the first time but certainly all at the same time was the head of the largest national SOE (State Owned Enterprise or company) NZ Telecom, the largest private company, and also the head of the judiciary (or highest judges of the land). It was a fairly incredible time, and really, really good to see.
Well, these days, differences in pay between men and women continue, and there are still less women in government and in top positions in companies in New Zealand. But, leaving there for a minute and turning to the world of sports: Just yesterday, I learned the name of a fairly amazing and inspiring person. Her name is Chrissie Wellington.
It’s not likely that she is any distant relative of the Duke of Wellington as this was just his title and not his real name. His real family name was Arthur Wellesley. She is, however, related in the sense of sharing similar traits in her work, such as travelling around the world and completely conquering her opposition. Christine Ann Wellington is a professional triathlete. She swims, cycles, and runs, and is not simply one of the fastest women in the world, having broken and set many new world records for women triathletes, but, she also finishes amongst the fastest men’s times in all her races. She is, quite simply, one of the fastest people in the world.
Just the other day, she reset the world record for women racing an ironman distance triathlon, which also ended with a new world record for women running a full-distance marathon of 42 kilometers. According to her wikipedia page:
“Her marathon time of 2:44:35 was also a new world record. Only four men finished in front of her, and only one man, the winner Andreas Raelert, who also set a new world record, was able to beat her marathon time.”
Chrissie Wellington, finishing the Ironman Arizona race, 2010.
An ironman running race is a full length marathon, which is more than 42 kilometers.
This event follows immediately after swimming and cycling events.
Time spent preparing (or resting) between events – or “in transition” – is added to the cycling time.
Her similarities to her name-sake, however, do not end there. Just as the Duke of Wellington was not solely focused on winning battles but also on relating fairly and equitably to the local people wherever he went, Chrissie Wellington also shows a passionate love of seeking opportunities to encourage development for poorer people in developing communities. Having studied geography and then gained an MA in development studies graduating with distinction, she thereafter also travelled and worked a lot in places such as Nepal. She continues to help people by only accepting sponsorship from companies with a similar commitment to providing aid to developing communities. In the name Wellington, we see now another another example of a young woman who is achieving amazing and amazingly constructive, positive feats, and proving that indeed, girls can do anything.
So what exactly does this phrase mean to you? What does it mean, to be able to “do anything” as a female, or even as a male? Does it mean that all women should do, or be, the same as men? Or, does it mean that women should do everything possible? Perhaps it means that women are capable of doing whatever it is that they choose to do. Some more recent reflection on this topic is available here.
In the meantime, I hope Chrissie Wellington continues to be an inspiration to everyone who learns of her and her amazing strength of body, mind, and character. In particular, however, I hope Korean women learn of her, and take note that gender does not define ability in any way at all. “Girls” (or women of any age) can indeed “do anything.”
Ironman cycling races are 180.25 kilometers long.