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Generation Next: Kyra Edwards On Tackling Stereotypes And Changing The Face Of Rowing

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 way. "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 self. "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 Edwards. "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 recalls. 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 time. 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 in 2018. 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.

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