Group’s mission to get girls active

Laurie Otis Aubut has been skiing since she was three years old, but an outing this past winter was hardly an average day on the slopes.

Participants celebrate at the FitSpirit Snow Challenge at the Stoneham Ski Resort in Quebec. One hundred people participated in the all-girl outing. It’s part of a holistic approach to promote physical activity for girls

Laurie Otis Aubut has been skiing since she was three years old, but an outing this past winter was hardly an average day on the slopes.

The Quebec teen was part of a group of more than 100 girls who learned tricks from a team of female snowboarders during a February trip to Stoneham Ski Resort in the Laurentians. They even squeezed in some time for video games.

But there’s more to the event than a fun day out — it’s part of a larger-scale mission to encourage girls to get moving.

The all-girls outing is part of a holistic approach to fitness touted by the organization FitSpirit to promote physical activity and healthy living to girls, incorporating core values like healthy eating habits and self-esteem.

“Our key target is actually the girls that are inactive,” said FitSpirit founder and president Claudine Labelle.

“We want to give them the desire of wanting to get out there and be active like their peers.”

It can prove to be an uphill climb, if the numbers are any indication, with statistics that show girls tend to be less active than boys.

Thirty-six per cent of girls reported meeting a target of 90 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week compared to 50 per cent of boys, according to Canada’s Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth released in 2008 by Active Healthy Kids Canada.

For Aubut, 17, the Snow Challenge was more about camaraderie than competition.

If anything, hanging out with other girls helped ease any anxiety anyone may have felt about their athletic capabilities.

“We are all with girls so that’s nice,” she said from her school in Warwick, Que., northeast of Montreal.

“If they’re not pretty good at skiing … if they’re afraid to look bad in front of the boys, we’re all girls, and we don’t care if they’re good or not good.”

As desirable as a day on the slopes may be for some, such activities aren’t always accessible because of cost.

Labelle said the organization normally negotiates to get the lowest cost to make sure girls can participate.

Mentors are also part of the mix, serving as role models of active living by taking part in all-girl outings and engaging with participants.

It’s a dialogue that extends beyond the playing field thanks to a host of Canadian female athletes who are sharing their personal experiences and passion for sports during speaking tours.

Three-time Paralympic gold medallist Tracey Ferguson brought along one of her medals to show a group of about 200 girls at Toronto’s Donview Middle School where she talked about overcoming challenges to reach the pinnacle of her sport.

Ferguson spoke candidly about her recovery from a childhood surgery that resulted in her paralysis and her ascent as part of Paralympic and world champion wheelchair basketball teams. She now competes in wheelchair athletics.

“We’re saying to the girls we’re not here to push you to be an Olympic athlete — that’s not our message,” said Labelle. “We’re here to encourage you to be active, to reach your full potential.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by Ferguson, who said regardless of their level of athletic ability, it’s important to emphasize to girls that they each have a way to get moving.

“Even talking to the kids as I was signing the autographs in line, it was : ‘What’s your activity of choice?”’ she said following her presentation.

“Some of them said I don’t really have a sport. I said, ‘Do you walk to school?’

“They said, ‘Yeah, I walk.’ I said, ‘There you go. You’re on the path to being healthy, and I think that’s the important thing.”’

While the organization has focused its efforts in Ontario and Quebec, any girls can sign up to take part in the activities and challenges, Labelle said. Their goal is to expand Canada-wide within the next five years.

In the meantime, FitSpirit distributes a monthly newsletter with updates on athletes, healthy tips and invitations to events, and plans to launch an online locker room in the coming months which will serve as a virtual platform where girls can communicate.

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