Here are three inspiring groups with impressive girl-empowering track records.
It’s the 41st anniversary of Title IX—landmark legislation that expanded girls’ opportunities in sports and other activities—and from coast to coast, organizations that build girls’ self-confidence through sports are continuing to gain traction. According to both doctors and educators, physical activity can greatly enhance girls’ self-image and life success.
Even if a girl isn’t intrinsically athletic, it’s important that she develop some physical competence when she’s young, says Catherine Steiner-Adair, EdD, coauthor of Full of Ourselves: A Wellness Program to Advance Girl Power, Health, and Leadership (Teachers College, 2005). “Whether it’s through team or individual sports, girls need to form a physical relationship with their body that builds confidence,” she says. Here are three organizations that are helping girls become strong, powerful young women, in Colorado and beyond.
Girls on the Run
Girls on the Run (GOR) helps girls develop life skills through interactive lessons and running games. Founded in 1996, the organization guides girls through a running-focused, 24-lesson curriculum which includes activities, discussions, games and positive feedback from adult leaders.
With programs in 200-plus cities across North America—engaging 55,000 volunteers and 130,000 participants—
Girls on the Run is the largest and most successful “girl power” organization. Participants conclude the course with a 5K run, which gives them a tangible sense of achievement as well as a framework for setting and achieving goals.
Take Molly, a 10-year-old from Essex, Vt. Molly has severe scoliosis—she wears a full body brace from armpits to pelvis. “Molly exudes confidence in many ways that athletically she had never been able to share,” says Molly’s mom, Sarah, who requested that their last name not be used. “Being able to run a 5K for Molly was a huge boost of confidence. But it’s beyond that. Molly is very self-conscious of her brace—she tries to hide it. Her GOR coaches created such an environment of support that she not only showed her coaches and teammates her brace, but taught them about why she wears it.”
In their early racing days, mountain bike racing sisters Lea and Sabra Davison used to wonder why there weren’t many strong, female athletes for girls to look up to. In response, they created Little Bellas as Sabra’s senior year Middlebury College project. The organization pairs girls ages 7 to 14 with female mentors, including Olympian Lea, in day- and weeklong camps throughout the country. Mentors and girls ride together and focus on bike skills, team building, confidence building and sometimes even racing.
At a recent Lakewood, Colo., camp in conjunction with Beti Bike Bash, an all-female race, participants interacted directly with top female racers, learning as much about the pros’ favorite ice cream flavors as how to ride a skinny. To the Davisons’ delight, all 35 campers decided to race.
One key issue Little Bellas tackles is body image. “We teach girls that healthy food is fuel, and girls can win scholarships to Little Bellas camps by tracking their healthy eating choices,” Sabra says. “We start by teaching girls how to conquer physical obstacles in the trail, but emotions always come out. We don’t provoke, but mentor in a positive way. When we’re on a ride and it comes out that three out of four girls in the group are dealing with their parents’ divorce, we pull our bikes over and we talk about it. What we’ve learned is that if a girl is struggling within the program, she is probably struggling in other places in her life.”
This year Little Bellas has 28 mentors and will host 300 campers. Next summer, Little Bellas plans to offer three summer-long programs (girls ride every Sunday afternoon) in Vermont, Colorado and a third yet-to-be-determined location.
Three competitive pro skiers from the Rockies—Lynsey Dyer, Claire Smallwood and Vanessa Pierce—noticed that women weren’t stepping it up in the competitive environment; there were a lot of women hanging around, but few hitting the jumps and running the gates. The three created She Jumps to inspire girls and women to get involved as participants in sports, not just fans.
About 2,000 females participate each year in She Jumps events throughout the nation, which engage females of all ages in outdoor activities. The vibe at She Jumps events is welcoming and inspiring.
“We encourage girls and women to create the life you’ve always dreamed of,” says director Carla von Trapp Hunter. “A lot of women are scared of the unknown. Fear keeps them from getting out there. But when you coach them into it, women conquer those fears, and they look back at what they’ve done and swell with selfconfidence.”
Coming next fall from She Jumps founder Lynsey Dyer: Pretty Faces, an all-female action-sports movie. The first Pretty Faces webisodes debut in August; Pretty Faces the movie will hit theaters in fall 2014. For more details, visit unicornpicnic.com.