Yesterday was the first (hopefully annual) Fast and Female event in Fairbanks Alaska. Fast and Female, a Canadian non-profit organization, puts on camps for girls ages 9-19 throughout North America. Participants get a T-shirt, assorted goodies, and an awesome afternoon with ‘athlete-ambassadors’. F&F’s mission is ‘empowerment through sport’ and they achieve that mainly by exposing girls to inspiring and motivating female elite athletes. These ‘ambassadors’ lead the girls in fun activities on skis like relays, downhill practice, and games, which are usually followed by yoga and an inspirational presentation.
Our event consisted of 14 ambassadors, 54 girls, 12 volunteers, 4 ski stations, 1 awesome yoga instructor, 2 Olympians, 6 dozen Lulu’s bagels, 30 pounds of Spinach Creek Farm carrots, 10 invaluable sponsors, and countless grins!
Kicking off with a bit of a welcome speech, I tried to get things started on the right foot. I had helped with a few of these before, but I had never tried to be the lead ambassador and had never been part of the organization process. I was nervous that I would forget what I wanted to say, and I was nervous that the girls would be able to tell how nervous I was! Luckily my teammate Kikkan Randall is a pro at these kinds of things, and she helped to make sure things went well. We didn’t forget anything too important, and the welcome speech went off without a hitch! After showing a video of Chandra Crawford introducing the organization, we headed outside for some ski stations.
As the leader of the downhill station, I led girls in some valuable playtime on the terrain garden of Birch Hill. I tried to explain that being confident in your ability to handle the bumps is very important because you never know what will happen in a race. I yelled ‘bend your knees’ and ‘loosey goosey’ a lot as well, but I think the most important part of my station was just the time spent goofing around on skis. Confidence in downhills comes from conquering the tricky ones over and over again, so the more times that the girls took on those bumps, the more they got out of it.
Next came a great presentation by Olympians Kikkan Randall and Holly Brooks. They each told their (very different and equally inspiring) life stories, and talked about how they ended up at the Olympics in Vancouver. Apparently Holly decided that she wanted to make the Olympics while she was in the hospital in Seward, unable to finish the Mount Marathon race without an IV. I knew she was crazy!!
We showed a video of world cup results by the Canadian team from a few years ago (they might not be from the US, but we’re all North American and as Kikkan says: “Canadians are our friends”). Videos like that never fail to get me a little misty, I love watching the amazing things that people have accomplished. Chandra, Sara, and Becky have always been my role models. Watching them succeed internationally gives me goosebumps, and makes me want very badly to be there too. I don’t know if all the girls had the same connection to those skiers, but they seemed to be affected by the video as well.
We talked a little about nutrition, training, travel, and teamwork in a Q&A session, and then moved on to yoga. Erica Carroll, the JR Nordics director at the Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks, is also a yoga instructor. Therefor, she was not only instrumental in the organization side of the event, she was also the leader of our little yoga session and is my new hero. Not only did she plan the perfect routine, but she was funny the entire time, kept every girl interested, and did it all one-handed with a microphone in the other. We’re talking a one-handed plank pose while talking into a mic! It doesn’t sound that hard, but it is. Also, Kikkan’s, Holly’s, and my own expressions as we tried to follow along probably added to the amusement factor. Skiers are known for their tight hip flexors, and we three are certainly no exception.
Finally, it was time for poster signing. Each girl went home with an event poster signed by every ambassador, and each girl that I talked to told me that she had a great time and would love to do it again next year. In my opinion, that counts as a total success!! I hope to be able to organize something at the same time next year, so girls… mark your calendars for the last weekend in October!
I wanted to help organize this event partly because of a similar stimulus in my ski career. North American elite skiers once did early season training in Fairbanks, and when I was about 10 years old I was lucky enough to meet Becky Scott. Basically the only words we exchanged were "Hi! My name is Becca too!", but the inspiration of meeting her made me want to become an Olympic skier. Those early season Nor-Am races aren’t held in Fairbanks anymore, so this generation of tough Fairbanksan Females doesn’t get a chance to meet those speedy racers. I hoped that bringing my Olympian teammates Holly and Kikkan up, as well as making the experience as fun as only a Fast and Female event can be, would inspire them to dream big as well.
To wrap up, I would like to thank our event sponsors. I just can’t get over how willing people were to support Fast and Female Fairbanks! The Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks hosted the event, so we were able to use the facilities at Birch Hill. SBS Retirement Consultants, our title sponsor, really got the sponsorship ball rolling. They were followed by Bettisworth North Architects and Planners, Martha Hanlon Architects, Lulu’s Bread & Bagels, Equinox Physical Therapy, Fairbanks Cancer Treatment Center, Challenge Life Racing, Beaver Sports, and Goldstream Sports. Very few businesses turned me down… the level of support was really overwhelming!
Being able to put smiles on girls’ faces and help them feel empowered to achieve improbable goals is a really great and humbling feeling. It sounds so cliched, but I really feel like making a difference in their lives helped to inspire me as well. I am humbled and awed by the power to change how girls see obstacles, and I hope that they came away feeling truly capable and inspired to follow their dreams.
I keep wanting to thank everyone who helped out, but I already thanked them all at least twice! So, one last ‘thank you’ to all the ambassadors, volunteers, sponsors, parents, and Fairbanksans who were involved in putting this event together. It was an amazing experience, and I hope to work with you all and do it all again next year!