At a Fast and Female event in early December, a multi-time World Cup medalist stood in awe of what the program was offering to young girls.
“It’s amazing what can change the course of a kid’s life, and hopefully this will change it for the better,” she said.
Chandra Crawford? Kikkan Randall?
Nope. This time, it was top Canadian alpine skier Kelly VanderBeek.
Fast and Female, which was founded by Crawford in 2005, is a unique organization with a specific goal: to keep girls involved in sports, no matter what that sport may be. Last year, almost 2,000 girls participated in the program, she said.
“There’s a ton of organizations that focus on high performance, making you the best, cutting edge, science, whatever,” Crawford told FasterSkier in an interview. “There’s even more focused on introducing beginners. We’re right in the middle.
“Fast and Female wants to see more retention of girls in sports,” she continued. “You’ve already got the gear, and your mom drives you on Tuesday, so just keep doing it. A new slogan could be something like ‘never never never never never quit.’ Never totally drop physical activity from your life.”
This month’s event in Lake Louise, Alberta, was the first alpine event the organization has offered. It was a huge success, with 45 middle school and high school girls, all part of ski programs in the area, participating. Besides getting breakfast, a yoga lesson and the chance to watch World Cup action on the slopes, they ran into American superstar Lindsey Vonn on the way back to her bus.
While Fast and Female has always focused on cross-country skiing and biathlon – and will continue to do so – expanding into other sports has always been a goal of Crawford’s. It’s just been a hard project to tackle.
“We need to serve as many sports as we can while still maintaining the impactful depth of the experience,” she said. “There’s been a ton of demand from other sports. It’s just a question of whether we are organized enough to branch out without stretching ourselves totally too thin. It’s already hard just to meet the demands of the nordic community.”
But this year, it made good business sense to expand into alpine, Marie-Helene Thibeault, Fast and Female’s Executive Director, said in a phone converation.
“What we saw right away this summer was a big shift after the 2010 Games,” she told FasterSkier. “Sponsors had invested heavily in sports leading up to the Games and during the Games, and now everyone is kind of catching their breath.”
Crawford called this shift the “PostapocOlympics”. Because of the changing financial climate, the organization was unsure whether they would re-sign their main sponsors. Crawford said that they did a lot of brainstorming about how to turn Fast and Female into a financially sustainable institution, and even hired a business coach.
After a few months of worrying, it turned out that all of their past sponsors stayed on board.
“We’ve had to make some adjustments to their investments,” Thibeault said. “But overall, it’s kind of coming around right now, which is great and which is showing us the value that our sponsors are seeing in investing in girls and in sports.”
But even though the financial side of things worked out in the end, the organization benefitted from the soul-searching it had to do. And during those sessions, they decided that offering events in more sports was part of a sound long-term strategy.
“This spring and summer I started getting calls from the alpine community, and at that point we thought, okay, here’s a great opportunity. We’re seeing the need from other sports to bring Fast and Female to their communities, and we have sponsors who are in need of more value – they are very happy with their investments in cross country and biathlon, but they want to see us in more cities, reaching more girls, so how can we do that? All right, well how about bringing in more sports.”
And the response from elite athletes has been impressive, as illustrated by VanderBeek’s comments after the Lake Louise event.
“This is new for me… but even the name Fast and Female gets me all excited inside,” she said in a Fast and Female press release. “For me it was a perfect fit. It’s a program I hope to see expand the next few years because it’s certainly striking a cord with the young and with the girls.”
Thibeault said that while she does have to recruit a few “ambassadors”, many of them approach her because they have heard what Fast and Female has to offer.
“We have some ambassadors come to us, and offer their services and want to start a program. Actually just yesterday we signed up Ashleigh McIvor, she’s the gold medalist in 2010 in ski cross. Chandra connected with her, and right away Ashley came back to us and said, ‘yup, I’m on board, and by the way we have our national championships at Lake Louise at the end of April, can we do an event there?’ And I’m like, ‘ohhh, yeehaw, here we go!’”
Crawford was grateful for all the support her fellow ambassadors were offering.
“We really appreciate it when our amazing Olympians call up and want to host an event,” she said. “That’s making a world of difference.”
And at the end of the day, making a difference is Crawford’s goal – no matter what sport the latest Fast and Female event may be focused on.
“Sport has such an ability to do good in society,” she said. “Especially in terms of the pressures facing young women. We’re having health crises, but at the same time people are dropping out of sports. And that’s ridiculous. We want a really good environment for girls to participate in.”