FitSpirit program helps girls stay active

The aim is to leverage strong social bonds among teen girls to cultivate a lifelong love of sports, running, dance or other physical activity

Photo credit: Vanessa Cyr Photography

Little girls run, jump, dance and play with abandon, but a funny thing happens when they get older: far too many stop doing the activities they love. Many feel self-conscious about their changing bodies. Others stop because they want to leave behind childish games and find new, more grown-up pursuits. But for most girls, it often comes down to one question: what are my friends doing?

That’s why FitSpirit, a Quebec-based program encouraging adolescent girls to remain physically active, focuses on leveraging the strong social bonds among teen girls to cultivate a lifelong love of sports, running, dance or other physical activity.

According to founder Claudine Labelle, half of girls who are involved in sports will quit when they reach puberty, so it is a critical time to reach out and encourage them to stay active.

“Girls have such a strong power to influence one another, either to take the right or the wrong path,” Labelle said. “We’re trying to bring a positive influence with FitSpirit. Girls have the power to get their friends active.”

The program is delivered in schools in Ontario and Quebec, and aims to reach as many as 25,000 girls between the ages of 12 and 17 this year. It helps girls discover the benefits and fun of being physically active by partnering with community organizations to provide activities designed to get young girls moving.

The focus is on activities that help girls spend time with friends, encourage each other and identify role models. Labelle said that leaders work with schools to introduce girls to activities that are popular in their local area, including dance, Pilates, yoga, or hiking. By engaging girls in these activities, FitSpirit hopes girls will build self-esteem, support one another, challenge themselves to push their own limits, and, of course, have fun.

The eight- to 10-week program culminates in a non-competitive, no-pressure 5K or 10K run or walk at a FitSpirit Celebration event held in spring. This event brings together thousands of girls for a high-energy day with friends, regardless of their skill level or physical fitness. Apart from the runs, there are various sports and activities, along with DJs, dancing, and food. This year, it is being held on May 12 at the Laval Nature Centre.

“It’s a party, that’s how we present it,” Labelle said. “The girls just want to join in and have fun and we want them to connect physical activity with fun.”

In previous years, these events were only open to girls attending partner schools or involved with specific community organizations; however, this year non-partner schools are invited to register as well (deadline is March 27).

School administrators can register online at fitspirit.ca/participate/celebrations.