Annie decided to do 52 sporting challenges in 52 weeks back in 2015 in order to help her get more active outside of her demanding job in banking. It led her to create her own company – Team 52 – which aims to encourage other people to get more active. She tells us about her challenges and how you can get involved too.
Were you sporty as a child? Does being active come naturally to you?
I have loved moving for as long as I can remember – all kids love moving, and I guess I never grew up. Swimming after school on Fridays, Sunday walks with my dad, cycling on country lanes, and school sports. Being active does indeed come naturally to me. But it can be tough when I’m tired and rushing around. I have a little rule: if I have a choice (which is most of the time for all of us!), I opt for the more active route; so that’s stairs instead of taking the lift, walk-n-talks instead of meetings, and cycling instead of public transport.
Please tell our readers about your 52in52 challenge.
Deciding to take on 52 sporting challenges in 52 weeks has turned out to be the most significant choice I have made to date (the second was ticking a box on my UCAS form to study in Spain as part of my degree. The third was taking a job in banking a year after leaving university).
The 52 sporting challenges in 52 weeks was a slightly nutty project I created to share my joy of being outdoors and active. Born of the frustration of sitting down so much, and having an overflowing calendar, the year-long project was a bid to get busy people active – I took on the challenges alongside my full-on career at Deutsche Bank.
They included: cycling from London to Paris to run the Paris Half Marathon, sea kayaking in Devon, Llandudno Sea Triathlon, a 5km swim, bouldering, flying trapeze, rollerblading….basically a bucket list of activities that I had been meaning to do for years. The 52in52 paved the way for the company I now run, Team52 (www.team-52.com) – a challenge platform that makes it easier for busy people to spend time outdoors.
What was your favourite 52in52 individual challenge and why?
My favourite challenge of the Exerk 52in52 (I nicknamed the 2015 project Exerk - Exercise and Work!) was the 7 lidos in 7 days for several reasons. The first was the people that joined me. This swimming challenge was when people started to get the gist of why I was doing the 52in52 and what it entailed. By the end of the year, over 450 people had joined me – so my mission to get busy people active was quite successful in its own little way, and continues in its own big way now with the legacy, Team52.
The second reason I loved the 7 lidos in 7 days challenge was that we explored the amazing venues we have on our doorstep. I hadn’t been to Brockwell, Tooting Bec, Parliament Hill or Hampton Lido before then so it was a great kick-start to try them out. The third was that I got to talk about the challenge on live television. London Live invited me on to talk about the 52in52 project just after the challenge and I used it as an example of how much fun we can have if we carve out time to get outdoors.
Who was the most inspiring person you met on your journey?
Danny Bent. I was introduced to him by someone I got talking to in a toilet queue (I heard her talking about triathlons and I was keen to try one so asked her a few questions)…it’s funny how those tiny moments can lead to such great things.
Danny founded Project Awesome, has organised two relay runs across America in aid and was my biggest support during the 52in52. He joined on 22 of the 52 challenges, making some awesome videos along the way and introducing so many people to the challenges too! Both of us are on a mission to bring people together through physical activity, with both of us working on the inaugural London Relay together.
How did you keep motivation up not to skip any of the challenges?
By making myself very publicly accountable! Not only was I posting about the challenges, but I also had strangers and friends signing up to join me – so I had to show up as I was hosting them, whether it was trail biking in Surrey or cycling Greenwich to Bushey Park through all the Royal Parks. It’s a technique we use to help people stick to their best intentions at Team52. By making the cause bigger than ourselves, we make it easier to keep going, one challenge at a time – a great life lesson!
How did you come up with the ideas for the challenges?
By following my curiosities. The first few challenges I committed to were activities I’d been wanting to do for ages. The rest came as I went. If someone said they’d wanted to try velodrome cycling, I said, ‘well let’s do it together – it can be one of my 52 challenges’ – so we booked it in the diary, gathered other people and did it. There wasn’t time to sit, ponder and procrastinate.
A few ideas were generated in the pub – like the reverse sprint triathlon (running a 5k Parkrun backwards, cycling 20k (forwards) along the canal to swim backstroke for 750m in the Serpentine), and the Circle Line Relay – running as a team via all the Circle Line tube stops. Challenges are a great way to be spontaneous and creative – it’s one of the reasons we set up Team52 – to break people free of the perception of exercise as a chore, done because you ‘should’. We want to help people live a life less ordinary, and think challenges are a great way to kick-start that.
What was the hardest challenge and why?
The hardest challenge was the mammoth feat of juggling everything. I had to make trade-offs, learning to be strategic about what I said yes and no to. My career at the time was an 11-hour-a-day desk-based one, with the odd work travel abroad. My dad passed away between challenge 6 and 7 – 2 months after being diagnosed with leukaemia. His diagnosis was a core reason I chose to take on the challenges in the first place. You’ve got to get on with living. He did, and I do too.
Are there any skills or sports that you tried that you will keep up now that the challenge is finished?
Wild swimming and bouldering were two of my favourite takeways from that year. I will always love exploring new areas by bicycle and running or hiking trails. I became much more social in my sport – learning the value of sharing the experience – for fun at the time, shared memories for ever and accountability to make sure I actually turned up!
What do you wish you'd known before you embarked upon this journey?
I feel that I learnt, and am learning, everything I need as I go, at the right time. The importance of sleep, the power of saying no, the value of videos for capturing and sharing – you learn those by doing, making mistakes and growing from them.
I listen and read a lot so absorb guidance and advice like a sponge. This means I am sometimes too affected by other people’s opinions and can be swayed by what other people think, taking myself off my path as a result, then taking time to get back on it. Only I experience the world in my skin so I believe it’s important to do and be what you need to be. Knowing that you’re not tethered to the past, and we have a choice on how we spend our time and energy has been the best lesson I’ve learnt, and continue to relearn every few months – it’s an easy one to forget!
What's next on the horizon for you?
Six months after finishing the Exerk 52in52, I left banking to see what else was out there. I used the skills I had discovered during the challenges, namely journalism and event operations, to travel and work on new and different things.
2019 is all about Team52 – the challenge platform that helps busy people spend more time outdoors – which I founded with Georgie Akin-Smith (@g_who_dares). Fitness is often the first thing to go when life gets busy, so we’ve built a framework to make it easier for you to stick to your best intentions, bringing people together to do awesome challenges and spend more time outdoors. Do find out how to get involved by following me @annieross5252 and @team52challenge.