A former swimmer who is now making tracks in triathlon, Gillian Sefton has developed a passion for motorsport in her professional life. In this latest edition of ‘My sporting life’, Gillian tells us how much she loves life in the fast lane.
How did you first become involved in sport?
I grew up swimming from the age of about four and swam competitively, training five or six days a week and competing at district level. I also qualified for national competitions.
When I got to about 18 I stopped competing and began coaching at my club but after I finished university and started working that took a back seat. I tried to keep up my fitness by going to the gym but without the sense of team that I had enjoyed with swimming, it got boring very quickly, so I joined a masters club and then found G72 Tri in Blantyre.
Initially I just joined up to be part of the swimming side of things but within three months I had been roped in to the full sport, had a bike by Christmas and I’m registered for a half marathon!
Where did your journey into the world of motorsport begin?
When I left university, I worked in swimming events and development, and at Glasgow 2014. Scottish Swimming offered me a part-time development role, but I had to take on a second job to cover the bills, so I signed up with a car hire company’s graduate scheme.
That gave me a bit of experience in the motor industry so when this role came up my sister encouraged me to go for it. I didn’t think I stood a chance being a woman and not knowing the sport, but I created a business plan and went into that interview fully prepared and fighting for the role. I think I was more surprised than anybody when I got the job.
What does your role as National Development Officer entail?
We’ve got over 100 club across two and four wheels, so I had to hone that down to make it feasible. We created a plan to educate clubs on what we do and what we could offer them and invited them to apply to be part of our ‘Focus Clubs’ initiative.
I’ve now got nine clubs split across two and four wheels that I work with on an individual basis, tailored to what they need.
Initially I think they thought we were going to be a policing body, dictating what was going to happen, but that’s not how it works. I go into the clubs and find out about them, who’s involved, what they’re there for, what they hope to do. Based on those informal discussions we come up with a plan. It can be really rewarding to see them achieve their goals.
How have you been able to make an impact?
One trials club wanted to increase its youth membership, but everyone involved in the club had been in the sport for a long time and had reached a high standard. When new people tried to get involved they found it too hard and off-putting.
I worked with the club to take it right back to basics, riding on the flat or around cones, and as a result they brought in a whole new youth membership and increased their female membership as well.
What has been your biggest success to date?
Kingdom Off Road Motorcycle Club was set up to tackle anti-social riding - a real issue in Fife.
Through sponsorships and the support of the local authority, the club put on free 12-week blocks with a dozen youths who had been referred by the police or social work. It got them off the streets and they were really engaged but there was nowhere to go at the end of the block.
I worked with the club to create a general membership, we got more coaches involved, and obtained a fleet of bikes to make it accessible for the kids even if they couldn’t afford their own bike. They could practise or train regularly and were introduced to the mechanical and engineering side of things too.
We secured National Lottery DCI (Direct Club Investment) funding from sportscotland so the club now has two part-time coaches, one paid through DCI. Last year they won Club of the Year at the Sunday Mail sportscotland Scottish Sport Awards for their work.
That was huge for them, and for the sport, as motorsport has never really been featured before and we were up against some big competition.
What has been your biggest challenge?
At the risk of sounding controversial, the biggest challenge has been breaking down attitudes. This is still a male-dominated sport. Across our membership we see that – it’s 80% male, 20% female. The age profile is generally older too. As I’m the complete opposite I do sometimes come up against a bit of resistance but not as much as I thought I might, people are generally friendly and welcoming.
I welcome the challenge. I think that the more opportunities I am given to show that I am genuinely interested in the sport, the more I can evidence my work and prove myself. I am developing stronger bonds and relationships and I really don’t see it as a negative, I like to be challenged.
Have you tried the sport for yourself?
I jumped in with both feet, went along to lots of clubs and fully immersed myself in the different disciplines. I’ve tried trials riding, I’ve had trials bikes jumped over me, I’ve done a bit of auto testing and I’ve experienced circuit racing – though just as a passenger so far. I’ve also achieved my Level 2 performance coaching qualification this year.
What advice would you give girls who might be interested in motorsport?
Go for it. I didn’t come from a motorsport background but I’ve worked hard, been accepted and earned my place. I love my job, I really do. There’s so much variety in it, so much variety in motorsport in general.
You can compete, get involved in engineering, be a mechanic or an official, there really is something there for everyone, just give it a go.