I’m so excited, I’m so excited, I’M SO EXCITED. For the past 2 months, I’ve been trying to come up with a creative way to give visibility to incredible, passionate, original, adventurous, ambitious, brilliant, captivating, compassionate, powerful and determined women who inspire me on the daily in Italy. And I kind of had an idea of what I wanted to do, but I was bouncing ideas back and forth in my head forever on who and how I wanted to kick off this new series on the blog.
And then it happened. While I was having my morning coffee and Facebook/Instagram scrolling (I try not to scroll in the morning, I promise!), I saw a picture of Agata with her gorgeous dog literally attached to her hip and I was like “WHO IS THIS BADASS WOMAN RUNNING IN THE ITALIAN WOODS WITH HER DOG ATTACHED TO HER HIP AND HOW CAN I GET TO KNOW EVERYTHING ABOUT HER RIGHT NOW?” So I wrote to her, tried to not be creepy and asked if there was any way I could possibly interview her for my tiny blog, and she replied YES!
So here we are. Welcome to the BADASS WOMEN IN ITALY series. The whole point of this interview series is to inspire women. Inspire women who are thinking about moving to Italy, women who already live in Italy, women who believe in supporting and lifting up other women and a general reminder to all that WOMEN. ARE. UNSTOPPABLE. WOMEN. WOMEN. WOMEN.
My favorite part about this series is the “THIS GIRL IS ON FIRE ROUND” (see what I did there? QUEEN ALICIA KEYS) at the end of each interview. Grab a glass of wine, a cold beer, a warm coffee, a tea, JUST GRAB SOMETHING. Let’s do this.
HI AGATA. Tell us who you are!
I’m Agata, I’m from Poland, and let’s just say I am over 30. 🙂 After finishing University in Poland to become a sports journalist, I couldn’t find my dream job. I knew I needed to change something so I decided — without previous knowledge of Scotland or the UK (I’d never been there) — to go to the University in Scotland in Aberdeen. I completed my undergraduate degree in marketing and my master’s in international marketing. Straight after University, I got a job with a big company, so I decided to stay in Scotland a little bit — I lived in Aberdeen for almost 10 years and then moved to Edinburgh for better opportunities.
It was a struggle but I met Roger — my cross staffie cross border collie — whose owners were looking for help/a dog walker! Never thought twice so I became his dog walker. Long story short, within 6 months of helping them, things changed and they were looking for a new home for him, so I took him and that’s how it all started… Roger is super smart, loves playing on my Ipad, and randomly by mistake he submitted my CV to this software company (oops, I left my search job app open and he wanted to play his game). So I became a dog mum with a dream job!
I used to always come to Italy with my parents for the summer or winter holidays. I’ve loved Italy ever since then. Everything here always fascinated me. I think I know Italy better than my own country! I am absolutely in love with the food here. Luckily, my current job agreed to transfer me to my dream country Italy. I wanted to be closer to my family in Poland (they still always holiday in Italy) and I also wanted to pursue my dream of racing with my dogs around Europe — where the best quality races in the World are.
Was there anything you were scared of before moving here? Anything holding you back?
I think the scariest thing was that I couldn’t speak the language. I also read a lot on the internet: be careful, never trust landlords, and so on. I didn’t have the opportunity to come for a long time to search for the current house I’m renting. I flew for 20 hours to Italy, rented a car and drove to meet a stranger to see a house I found on the Internet. It was scary as the house is in a very remote location. It’s the perfect temporary choice for me — for now.
Another fear was that I didn’t know anyone, so I thought a lot about what do I do if something happens to me without knowing the language and without help. Knowing zero Italian meant knowing there would be a massive barrier to get to know the locals too.
Tell us about your passions!
I love learning different languages (I speak a few), I also just love learning/studying new things. I miss times at University. I love reading books and my secret passion is cooking. Shut me in the kitchen and you will never want to let me out; I put random ingredients together and they always work. I absolutely love cooking.
I am also passionate about dogs and their behaviour. In my free time, I study dog behavior, and I’ve helped a few dog rescues, working as a behaviorist to make sure newly adopted dogs are happy in their new homes. Since I have dogs, I discovered that sometimes, it’s hard to know where you can go with them or what the rules are, so I started my blog and started discovering dog-friendly places around Europe.
I am so curious about Canicross, a sport I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW EXISTED until I found out about you! Tell me everything.
So let me start from the beginning… the dog that totally changed my life — Roger! He had five different homes before me, and he had some behavior problems. I wanted to find something that we could do together and he could be tired at home while I was at work. So I found this thing called canicross — running with a dog (I always hated running! Since I was a child, I played volleyball as a semi/pro athlete). So canicross was an addition to my volleyball at the time. After one year, I decided to ditch volleyball (that I played for over 20 years) and put a little bit more effort into canicross.
Canicross is cross country running with your dog. You use special equipment. You wear a human belt that sits on your hips, it has a bungee lead attached to you and your dog and your dog has a special sled running harness.
I started going for some local races where I met so many people who loved their dogs as much as I loved mine. Roger also started having less problems, and was happy to stay at home alone. I also noticed that with this sport, a lot of people had multiple dogs! Since I’ve always wanted to have two dogs, I thought I could do it too. So, without telling my parents, I found my second rescue dog in Greece. She was an almost five month old puppy when she arrived and loved Roger from the start. She needed time to trust me, but she and Roger were inseparable. I also have love for fast Italian cars so her name is Laferra from La Ferrari (at the time, I didn’t even think about moving to Italy yet).
Running with your dog in front of you is an amazing experience. You forget about the whole world and just try to follow your fast dog (no matter what size). I had two dogs and we would train a lot together. In 2017, I managed to qualify and attend the World Championships which, lucky for me, was organized in Poland. I competed with Laferra who was one of the very few rescue dogs at the competition, and I discovered people used special dogs.
I met so many people there, and now I have friends from all around the world who do the same thing that I do with my dogs. At this event, I started to have a dream. I said to myself that maybe if I train hard, one day I can be on that podium at the World or European Championships. So since then, I’ve been training with the best canicrosser in the entire planet, Ben Robinson, and I really improved my running. I’ve absolutely fallen in love with running, with being outdoors, and with seeing my dogs super happy about all of us running together.
At that same event, my parents came to see me, and my mum said: “I have never seen such a strong connection between people and their dogs.” She said canicrossers have a different level of love for their dogs. My parents also said I needed a proper sled dog for the sport if I want to pursue my dream.
That’s how it started with my third dog, my golden boy eurohound (mix of Alaskan Husky, German Shorthaired Pointer, Eurohound) came from a well-known Dutch Racing Dog kennels in the Netherlands. It all changed again. I have three dogs and we train every day. My third dog is called Masi from Maserati.
At what time do you wake up in the morning and what is the first thing you do when you get up?
I am an early bird! My alarm clock starts between 4.30-5am. Before anything I need my coffee. Later, I go out with dogs. I love to spend quality time with them before I head to work for the day and on the weekends, the early the better too as we meet fewer people, so the dogs can have more freedom.
When people visit you in Italy, where do you bring them?
Since I moved to Italy, a lot of friends and family visit me. I absolutely love Lago di Garda and its different beautiful cities, but I’m also in love with the Dolomites.
What aspects of Italian culture have you fully embraced?
I think polish culture is very similar to Italian culture as we both like to spend a lot of time with our families. I still find it so difficult that everyone wants to help me. Hmm I think it’s actually hard to say! But I think the coffee in the morning and my “tradition” Saturday breakfast choice: cornetto con caffe.
What is your go-to aperitivo drink?
Limonata, since being an athlete makes my diet slightly restricted in terms of drinks. I do allow myself a treat drink every so often: Limonata or Birra Bionda (Morelli especially).
After some time, I discovered that Masi is a type of wine, so I feel obligated to Masi wine. And so far, so good. Moxx Masi Sparkling White Wine is my favorite (and I am not a wine drinker at all!).
What’s your favorite Italian meal? Do you have a favorite restaurant or bar in Verona?
I would call myself a foodie, I love to try anything new. Working with Italian colleagues and enjoying our lunches out, I have managed to try most of the local dishes! The good thing about Italian cuisine is that, from an athletic perspective, it’s very good for me and my performance.
I am absolutely in love with pizza. As I live outside Verona, I have a lot of small local pizzerias that use local ingredients. The best! Any pizza for dinner is a winner. I make it a tradition for myself to have pizza at least once a week.
What was the hardest thing about moving to Italy? Do you ever feel homesick?
I think, because I lived in Scotland for over 10 years, I never look back and I never really miss Poland either. I think once you find your happy place, you do not get homesick as you live to the fullest and just follow your dreams. For me, that’s Italy… I always say it is my Italian dream and I’ve never been so happy as I’ve been since I moved here (of course it wasn’t easy, but there is always solution to everything).
I think once you find your happy place, you do not get homesick as you live to the fullest and just follow your dreams. For me, that’s Italy.Agata
Do you speak Italian? If so, was it hard to learn?
When I moved, I spoke zero Italian. After six months of being here, I started learning by myself with duolingo and progressed to more advanced apps. I bought a lot of books and read as much as I could even if I didn’t understand anything. Then, I started watching TV in Italian and when possible, with English subtitles. After 6 months of learning by myself, I decided to get an Italian teacher to help me with grammar. I continued what I did but also had two lessons with my teacher. I am far away from being fluent, but I can have simple conversation with people. I definitely understand more than I think I do.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone moving to Italy, what would it be?
I think if you dream about Italy, just follow your dream! People are so friendly and so helpful that it won’t be difficult to settle in quickly.
THIS GIRL IS ON FIRE ROUND
Favorite Female Superhero?
Danica Patrick – she’s the most successful woman in the history of American open-wheel racing. She accomplished multiple firsts for women in the sport, including being the first and only woman to win an IndyCar Series race at the 2008 Indy Japan 300.
The woman you admire the most in your life?
My Mum, in the bad and the good, she is always a strong woman.
Should women break the rules more often?
Are there any rules? Haha well I think it is worth living to the fullest every minute of your life, so if this means breaking rules then why not!
If you could choose one woman to have dinner with, dead or alive, who would it be?
Irena Sendler, the Polish nurse who smuggled thousands of Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto (and away from certain death) throughout the early 1940s.
If you knew the world was ending tomorrow, what would you do tonight?
The thing I love the most is just to cuddle all three of my dogs and go for an amazing outdoor adventure with them.
Thank you SO MUCH AGATA for sharing your story! Does everyone feel as inspired as I do? I’m ready to STRAP KIWI TO MY HIP and take her to the mountains for a run. If only she wasn’t 10 years old and didn’t just get 900 euro + IVA knee surgery. I guess we’ll stick to long walks at the park and live vicariously through Masi, Roger and Laferra. I THINK WE CAN ALL AGREE THAT AGATA IS ONE HELL OF A BADASS WOMAN IN ITALY. Agata, you rule. Thanks for inspiring us. We’re cheering you on AND CAN’T WAIT TO SEE YOU WIN THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS.
Credits: Photography by Howling portraits and Massimo Dettaglio – Massimo Della Giovampaola photography.