Saturday, February 18, 2012

Transformations through fitness

This week I had the opportunity to speak to an innovative and inspiring woman, Liz Ferro, Founder and Executive Director of local non-profit Girls With Sole.

GWS provides free running shoes, fitness journals and fitness and wellness programs for local abused and at-risk girls ages 9 to 18. Ferro’s vision is to provide these girls a supportive place where they can grow and connect, where their achievements in fitness can empower them to believe in themselves.

This struck a chord with me on a number of levels. I know first hand what the transformative power of fitness can do.

I left an abusive relationship 4 years ago. I was obese, emotionally broken, and at a crossroads in my life where I couldn’t see anything outside of my pain. When I was about to turn 30, I had enough of feeling sorry for myself. I got myself to the gym. I started taking Tae Kwon Do. I set goals that I never thought I could accomplish.

When I crossed my first half-marathon finish line at the Cleveland Marathon last year, I was crying. The last mile of the race my body was breaking down. I spent the last half of the race thinking of all of the reasons why I was there. The pain seared into my ribs. My right arm was alternating between spasms of numbness and pain.

When I crossed that finish line, I was crying but not because of the pain. I was crying from pride. Although I was nowhere near a competitive pace, the simple accomplishment of making it through 13.1 miles shook me.

I didn’t expect it. As I entered the last stretch and the course narrowed, I saw the finish approaching and everything hit me like a flood. My emotions and my memories overtook the scene unfolding in front of me. I thought of all of the awful things that I lived through and all of the hours of struggling through workouts. It was this strange mélange of anguish and triumph.

That moment was a turning point for me and my training. It was real. It was powerful.

What Girls With Sole is doing is important. It’s needed and I have nothing but respect for Ferro in how she has taken her passion for fitness and given these girls an opportunity to believe in themselves.

As I was talking to Ferro, I noticed that her voice was brimming with pride. She oozed love for what she’s doing. She doesn’t get a paycheck. Until the organization can support salaries without jeopardizing programming, she’s a full-time unpaid volunteer.

She does what she loves to do despite the personal cost. That’s an amazing thing.

Talking to Ferro, I ran into something missing in my life - having the guts to step outside the mold to do what I really want to do with my life. This led me to a question, what is it that I really want to do? I don’t know that I know the answer, but at least I’ve started to acknowledge the question.

Are you doing what you really want for your life? What would it take for you to make that leap of faith?

If you’d like to learn more about Girls With Sole or support the girls with in-kind donations of running shoes, sports bras or water bottles, please check out the GWS website or see my article on Girls With Sole.