An avid cyclist, swimming coach and athlete, Claudine Labelle’s world was shaken when she suffered serious head trauma in a bike accident. No longer able to race, she channeled her energy into community work and founded FitSpirit in 2007.
“[The accident] really put things into perspective for me,” Labelle says. “It gave me a chance to redefine myself.”
She created an organization dedicated to educating teenage girls about the long-term benefits of physical activity, such as an increased focus in school, stress reduction and improved self-esteem.
By age 14, girls drop out of sports at two times the rate of boys, according to research done by the Women’s Sports Foundation, an organization dedicated to ensuring all girls have access to sports. One of the reasons is that girls are bombarded with images of external beauty, not those of confident, strong female athletic role models.
Labelle says another reason is that girls feel uncomfortable and awkward being active in front of people because their bodies are beginning to change.
In order to motivate girls to get moving, FitSpirit gives talks in high schools across Quebec and Ontario; having reached more than 100,000 teen girls since its inception. At these talks, volunteers encourage girls to join the flagship program called FitClub where they train for eight to 10 weeks and participate in a five or 10 km running event in May.
The major runs are held in Montreal, Toronto and Quebec City, but participants from schools in other parts of the provinces can hold their own events if they cannot make it out to one of the major cities.
Girls train for the event at home and during school time by running or walking at their own pace and by participating in Zumba classes. Some schools add in other activities like Pilates or yoga.
Starting this year, FitClub volunteers will be asking students what other kinds of activities they would like to see incorporated into the training program. “FitSpirit is about having fun in a non-competitive environment with your friends and having good female role models for young girls,” Labelle says.
Earlier this year, Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau came on as an official spokesperson for the organization.
For more information, visit fitspirit.ca