When researching for my podcast interview with Sophie Grégoire Trudeau I looked into some of the organizations she supports, and FitSpirit was at the top of the list. After the interview they reached out to connect and I am thrilled to bring you my Q & A with founder Claudine Labelle!
Why did you start FitSpirit?
At a young age, I had the opportunity to become a swim coach for kids from underprivileged areas. This experience allowed me to focus on something other than my obsession for competitive sports. At that moment, I realized that sport was having a real impact on the lives of these children. This life changing experience allowed me to discover the additional benefits of sport and physical activity. A couple of years later, I read about the lack of physical activity in the lives of young girls. The statistic was already shocking as 9 out of 10 girls failed to meet Canadian exercise guidelines by the time they graduate from high school1. So, I decided to create FitSpirit to reverse this trend and give girls the powerful tool of physical activity in order for them to be better equipped to rise up to any type of challenge in their lives.
What do you think are the underlying reasons for girls dropping out of sports when they hit puberty?
There is a real lack of role models for girls in sports. Teenage girls are going through so much at this crucial period in their lives: Fear of being judged, concerns about weight and body image, body transformations, lack of confidence in their abilities, and more specifically, the fact that the available activities generally are not tailored to their needs and interests.
What is FitSpirit doing specifically to help?
In partnership with the schools, FitSpirit organizes all-girl physical activities in which everyone feels safe and valued, regardless of their skill level. Guided by caring professionals with whom they develop trusting relationships, the girls have fulfilling experiences with physical activity. All FitSpirit activities being centered on friends, role models and fun; a winning combination that will help them to be active for the rest of their lives.
I’m sure there are boys who also drop out of sports at puberty too – why focus specifically on girls?
The main reason why I decided to make this choice is simply that dropping out of sports has been proven to be a bigger issue among girls than boys. In fact, this gap has been observed in most industrialized countries, including Canada2.
In the model I developed with the FitSpirit team, I do believe that having girls only activities has been a success factor. This is why I have decided to keep focusing on girls with our program.
When I interviewed Sophie Grégoire Trudeau she was excited to talk about your organization. How did she get involved, and how does it help to have a high-profile ambassador?
In 2016, FitSpirit was getting ready to launch its first media campaign to increase awareness around its profile and to educate the community on the issue of teen girls dropping out of sports. At this moment, it was the beginning of our first big fundraising campaign. We can say it was a real turning point for the organization and I was looking for a voice that would resonate across Canada, a voice not necessarily associated with sports. When I met with Sophie Grégoire Trudeau for the first time, her connection with FitSpirit values was so natural that I felt like I was talking with an old friend. It was quickly clear to me that she would be perfect as our official spokesperson.
She tremendously helped us create this momentum around our organization and all the members of our community love her: girls, teachers, volunteers, donors, ambassadors, etc. She is inspiring for everyone and we are just so lucky to have her with us.
What’s the best way for people to help if they want to get involved or support FitSpirit?
I invite everyone to join the FitSpirit community and to share the FitSpirit message.
We are currently in the registration period for schools. So if your daughter is in high school, please invite the school to become a FitSpirit partner. We need to spread the word that we create opportunities for girls to be active in a positive atmosphere tailored for them. More specifically, FitSpirit is always looking for FitSpirit Ambassadors (https://www.fitspirit.ca/get-involved/ambassadors) and dedicated volunteers (https://www.fitspirit.ca/get-involved/volunteers).
Finally, FitSpirit could not carry out its mission without the continuing support of generous donors, sponsors and partners. They allow us to offer accessible activities.
All the opportunities to support us are listed here: https://www.fitspirit.ca/give/support
Follow us on our social media platforms or visit our website to know more about our opportunities.
I know you have children of your own. What are you doing at hope to help foster lifelong physical activity?
When I do physical activities with my kids, I want them to have fun. I make them try many different sports and activities to help them find what will light that spark in them. We do bike rides, skating, running, we make sure to always respect their limits and it is always fun. My favorite thing is to create special moments when we do sport. For example, we play tag as we run in the forest. As my husband and I are quite busy, this is our special time together. We consider sport an important privilege in our lives. It is our way to come together as a family. It gives us the opportunity to take a step back and have real conversations. Sport makes us open up to each other much more then when we are sitting at home.
Final question: how would you finish the sentence “This mom loves…”?
To be able to live her passion to the max surrounded with loved ones, and share this passion on a large scale without compromising on family or personal time. Sport is the key to make this all possible. It brings so many great benefits to everyone’s lives.