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Presentation by Ellen Massey Leonard

Posted on: 10th December 2014 | Category: Special events

On Thursday 4th December, Surval was privileged to have Ellen Massey Leonard – a young woman who sailed round the world by the age of 27 – come to speak to the girls about her life and adventures so far.  Her fascinating experiences, combined with her vigour and enthusiasm in relaying them, had the girls spellbound the entire morning and bursting with questions.

     Ellen talked about her childhood in British Columbia, during which her passion for sailing was born, and she led her captive audience through her journey from country to country and continent to continent.  Photography enthusiasts marvelled at the incredible images she had captured, and wildlife fanatics adored her tales of the different animals she had seen along the way.  Her passion for travelling and appreciation of the beauty of the world was infectious and it was difficult not to be left with a lingering feeling of Wanderlust after listening to her speak.

     Few of those who listened to Ellen will follow her path in life – (although you never know, there may now be a few budding sailors amongst the Surval girls after being regaled by her tales!) – but there were many valuable lessons to be gleaned from her experiences and translated into our own lives. 

     She taught us much about following and achieving our dreams.  Ellen is a very impressive woman, having balanced her incredible sailing achievements with her studies at the prestigious Yale University.  She faced many challenges along the way, not just the physically gruelling demands, but also those personal and emotional.  She was a lesson in how ambition and hard work lead to achievement. 

    Ellen told us of how people often scoffed at her ambition to sail the world, and how others belittled it as ‘taking a tropical holiday’.  Having listened to how demanding her journey had been, we were incredulous that anyone might rubbish Ellen’s accomplishments in such a way.  However, she explained that in life, we shall inevitably be met with people who will try to crush our dreams or belittle our achievements. Her message to us was that we simply should not let them, but that we should be determined in the face of adversity.  She urged us to strive for our goals, and be proud of, and content within, ourselves when we have achieved them.

    Perhaps one of the most pertinent lessons which the Surval girls took from Ellen’s words concerned the challenges she faced as a young woman on this journey and in the male-dominated sailing world in general.  She expressed how shocked she had been, coming from a fairly sheltered background, at the attitude of one of the crew members who underestimated and dismissed her simply because she was a woman.  She had been brought up in an environment where women were treated equally to men, but her travels opened her eyes to the obstacles women face in many professions and environments.  However, with quiet confidence, she described herself as being equal in ability to some of the crew and superior to others.  Equally, with humility, she admitted that other sailors were more advanced than her, but she stressed that the crew’s individual sailing abilities depended upon experience and not upon sex.  She described how she and her boyfriend (now husband) completed the journey very much as a team, very much as equals.  She was an example of feminism at its finest – without being aggressive or ‘man-hating’, she had confidence in her own ability to overcome those who doubted and even ridiculed her capabilities, and let none of this stop her from conquering a traditionally male-dominated world.   

    Passionate and engaging, confident yet modest, resilient yet feminine, Ellen Massey Leonard was a true role model for the Surval girls.  The girls thoroughly enjoyed the morning with her, and her fascinating and inspirational tales will undoubtedly stay with them for a long time to come. 

Please click here to see more photographs 

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