I am Generation Equality: Janine Shepherd, aerobatic pilot, author, resilience expert

Date: Tuesday, January 5, 2021

I am Generation Equality
Janine Shepherd gave her speech in special event: “Generation Equality: Empowering Women and Girls in Sports” organized by HeForShe partner Fenerbahçe Sports Club on 8 March 2020 International Women’s Day
Janine Shepherd delivered a speech at the “Generation Equality: Empowering Women and Girls in Sports” event for 8th of March in 2020. Photo: Fenerbahce Sports Club

I am Generation Equality because…

We are all connected. Because when you have a woman; you have a man, you have a family, you have a community. If you look at the statistics you can see that when you educate girls, it helps society and changes the world.

I believe my accident had a purpose [a bike accident which paralyzed Shepherd for six months and ended her career as a cross-country skier]. I had to come back to my body for a reason. Over many years I had tried to find out what the reason was. Then, I realized that my purpose was about people and about inspiring them. As a role model, you are there for other people. Even though I lost my Olympic dreams, I was able to refocus on a different life and found new dreams. This is how I inspire people.

After the accident I realized that I had a body that didn’t work anymore. It really hit me that my life as an athlete was over. I knew that women are discriminated against, people with disabilities are also discriminated against. So, being a woman with a disability had become a great challenge in life. I did get very depressed and hit rock-bottom. But there is a gift in rock-bottom. When I was there, I realized that if I believed my body was lost and I’m not strong anymore, I wouldn’t be able to come up again. We are not just bodies; we are not a thing. We are going to lose our bodies eventually. Everybody is going through something and that is a universal human story and that’s how we heal.

Three actions you can take to be part of Generation Equality:

  • Acting as a bridge between generations in order to understand and respect different perspectives
  • Building a world where women can live free from fear
  • Icon- a girl raises her arm
  • We need role models. We need women to stand up and show what they’re capable of.

I think one of the important messages in my story is that life has an incredible way of presenting possibilities that challenge our idea of how we thought life was supposed to look. The past ten years of my life have been difficult. I went through a marriage break up; I was a single mum. But I changed my life. I wanted to be a good role model for my two daughters. They are inspired by me. I want all girls to be strong. I can see that when you give education to girls and when you support them, they are capable of extraordinary things. They are very passionate, proactive and we need that.

People do give up. Being an athlete helped me a lot. My mindset, loving the hills, recognizing that life is not meant to be easy. We have to have challenges. One of my favorite books is The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck, a very famous book. He says, “if you accept that, it’s not difficult anymore.” What I say to people is to expect life to have hills. 


Janine Shephard, once one of Australia's most promising cross-country skiers, was seriously injured in an accident on her bike while training. She said she changed completely after this grave incident. The athlete, who spent six months paralyzed in a hospital, not only learned to walk again but also achieved what medicine considered ‘impossible’ and she became an acrobatic pilot. Shepherd gave an inspirational speech at the 2020 International Women’s Day event held by UN Women’s HeForShe movement, Fenerbahçe Sports Club and Tüpraş in İstanbul, Turkey. You can also watch her TED Talk, “A Broken Body isn’t a Broken Person.”

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