Generation Next: Kyra Edwards On Tackling Stereotypes And Changing The Face Of Rowing
By Nick Hope
January 29, 2021
BBC Sport's 'Generation Next' follows a
group of inspirational young athletes,
from a range of backgrounds and sports,
as they bid to become our next sporting superstars.
"Inspiring more people of colour to take up my
sport would be a much greater and more significant achievement for me than winning Olympic
gold, states Kyra Edwards.
Sporting success is traditionally measured in
medals - particularly by the British Rowing team
who have topped the Olympic standings at the
past three Games.
However, 23-year-old Edwards is determined to
leave what would be arguably an even greater
legacy than those who made rowing one of Team
GB's most decorated sports.
Classmates who knew her at school will not be
surprised to hear that she has such aspirations.
They learned about her determination the hard
"I was quite different to most girls in terms of
how athletic, sporty and competitive I was, while
my friends were more girly and into their hair, makeup and nails, recalls Edwards, who played football for Nottingham Forest's academy in her teens.
"I was focused [on winning] and I remember my
friends wouldn't speak to me for about a week
once because I was getting way too into a game -
fouling, hitting and getting really competitive.
As a young teenager she learned to control that
passion, but almost a decade on now wonders
whether she was actually suppressing her "real
"I was told a lot when I was younger that I should stop being so feisty and it was really hard for me to
take in as I didn't know why someone would say
that to me, she tells BBC Sport.
"Looking back, a lot of the backlash I've experienced from being so aggressive has definitely come
from the fact I'm a black woman.
She draws parallels to the treatment Grand Slam
tennis champion Serena Williams has endured
throughout her illustrious career.
"Serena is a huge role model and icon to me
because she's unapologetically fiery, feisty, passionate, strong and powerful on the field and isn't
off put by social media pushback against it, states
"It's so important to show that passion and fire
can be imperative to any athlete's success and it's
not something to shy away from.
Edwards took up rowing after excelling at indoor interschool events across the Midlands and
after competing for Britain as a junior, she secured
a sports scholarship at the University of California
in Los Angeles (UCLA).
"I didn't put too much thought into being the
only black person in the GB rowing team when I
was a junior, but at uni there were more conversations about race, segregation and injustice and
that's when I started to become more aware, she
In the years since, Edwards has regularly spoken about her experiences to raise awareness and
provoke change in an attempt to improve diversity in the sport.
She understandably wants to be known for more
than activism, though, and is keen to emphasise the mindset change she has brought to the
women's rowing team since completing her statistics degree and returning to the UK in 2019.
"I think traditionally GB rowing has been much
more individualistic and it's worked with the results, but what I learned in the US was the importance of a strong team-dynamic, she says.
"I'm at my proudest when I'm part of a team and
it's really special to feel so empowered by the
women around me and empower them at the same
Edwards and fellow GB rower Saskia Budgett
began dating while they were studying at UCLA
and won Under-23 World Championship bronze
together as part of the women's quadruple sculls
They are partners, team-mates but also technically rivals for a place in the senior British line-up
at future Olympic Games - although they try not to
see it that way.
"Since we've been together, Saskia and I have
always effectively competed against one another
so that dynamic has been part of our relationship,
says Edwards, who insists they ban any talk about
rowing when they are at home together.
"We don't talk about rivalries, we just both want
the best for one another.
"At UCLA I really felt like our relationship brought
the team together and back in the GB rowing team
everyone has been really chilled and supportive,
which is great because I think sport is extremely
important as a tool for social acceptance.
The Tokyo Games are a potential target for
Edwards, but she is expected to be a serious contender for Paris 2024. Should she compete in either
then she would become Britain's first Olympic rower
of black heritage.
"What I'm doing, it's about more than just me,
it's about the whole community that don't normally do rowing and don't really feel they belong
in this space, she says.
"There's something inside of me that says I can
do this, I can inspire, be the best in the world and I
have this immense drive to achieve that.