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Canadian Sport Institute Calgary – Scratch lightly at the surface of female sport participation in Canada and you will find grim and disheartening statistics.  Despite the benefits, which are widely reported, most young girls and women simply don’t take part in sport or exercise.  It simply isn’t right. 

That’s precisely what Chandra Crawford, a CSI Calgary alumni and 2006 Olympic Champion in cross-country skiing, thought over ten years ago when a girl she was babysitting said she wasn’t happy being a girl because “girls don’t get to do fun things like skateboarding and instead have to worry about their appearance all the time.”  Crawford thought, ‘this has to change.’  Fast and Female was born.

Founded by Crawford in 2005, Fast and Female seeks to provide a positive and empowering environment for girls in sport.  The organization’s mission is to keep girls healthy, happy and active in sports through their teens by introducing them to inspiring athlete role models. 

One way this goal is accomplished is by hosting events where girls come together learn, have fun and spend time with some of Canada’s most successful female athletes.  Fast and Female’s next event is the Calgary Summit on November 6, 2016 at WinSport.  Programming for the day ranges from physical literacy stations to nutrition seminars to yoga and dance, as well as spending the entire day with Fast and Female athlete ambassadors.

Rachael McIntosh, a CSI registered athlete, is an aspiring Olympian in the heptathlon and this will be her second Fast and Female event as an athlete ambassador.  McIntosh, now 25 years old, participated in many sports as a young girl but switched to track and field in high school.  “The only reason I started out in track and field was because of my coach; she made it fun for me,” recalls McIntosh.  “I think a lot of girls are missing out on that – they need a leader to make it fun.  Sport is important and what keeps girls in sport is more than that.”

Through events like the Calgary Summit, the organization strives to provide a non-competitive environment for girls to learn and have fun.  Leah Lacroix, Fast and Female Executive Director, says the summit is an opportunity to gather girls together and let them know about their options in sport.

“Some girls are at a point where they are trying to figure out if they want to continue in sport and we are there to help them see that they are not alone and that there are many options,” says Lacroix.  “They can move to another sport, or shift gears to a recreational program. Sometimes they need that extra inspiration to keep going or try something new.” 

While inspiration is available in high doses there is a focus on practical lessons too.  Kelly Anne Erdman, CSI Calgary Performance Dietician, will provide nutrition seminars to each age group as well as to the parent and coach session.  “The emphasis is on how nutrition is important for performance and also teaching the girls to listen to their bodies and connect with any signs and symptoms they might be feeling,” she says.

Ten years on, what keeps Crawford going is the feedback from parents and girls after an event.  “You can’t always see on the surface just how deeply a girl is absorbing everything,” she says.  “But afterwards the testimonials and letters we get are amazing.” 

Another benefit, an unexpected one, is the impact these events have on the athlete ambassadors themselves.  “The athletes really get a lot out of being ambassadors,” marvels Crawford.  “It helps bring more meaning to what they are doing in sport.  It’s been amazing to see that.” McIntosh agrees, “The day is really inspiring for me too!”

It turns out if you dig a little deeper you will find that although the statistics on girls in sport may be grim, there is growing hope for young girls in Canada thanks to organizations like Fast and Female, whose programs reach over three thousand girls every year.  When girls learn that they have many options, the world becomes a better place.

Sign up today for the Fast and Female Calgary Summit November 6, 2016

Canadian Sport Institute Calgary: @csicalgary

Written by Kristina Groves: @kngrover

Photo by Dave Holland: @csicalgaryphoto