About two weeks ago I was in Fairbanks, enjoying some snow, chilling with my parents and pooches, and getting ready to put on our fourth annual Fast and Female event. As usual, I somehow left all the event promotion until the last few weeks, so there was a lot to do! It was actually really amazing how Fairbanksans would just help me get the word out: Andy Blossy at KUAC helped me put a public service announcement on air, the folks putting on a showing of Pretty Faces, the first all girl ski movie, let me say a few words to the audience beforehand, and when I called Sports Editor Danny Martin at 7pm on Friday, he put a blurb in the Fairbanks Daily Newsminer the next day. So things were busy, not to mention with poster design and printing, T-shirt printing, and generally getting my act together beforehand. In the back of my mind however, as I bustled around getting ready, my main goal was to have something specific to say.
It’s easy to think of Fast and Female as one big happy mishmash of good feelings, fun things, girls, and pink. Usually it’s predominantly a whole bunch of fun activities that I would, to this day, want to have as highlights at my ultimate birthday party. Slacklines, Basketball, and Biathlon? Yes please! Having been a part of numerous events over the past few years, I have some unspoken expectation of what will happen and assume it will all be just awesome for the girls that arrive. When asked to explain what’s good about it, what exactly we do and what’s the purpose, it’s hard to come up with a concise answer.
That particular mental block stems partially from all the different levels and angles of benefit. Each girl needs a different kind of encouragement, and each will learn different things from a particular facet of the event. While they’re doing sports with friends, meeting awesome local role models, trying out new sports, hearing when the Nanook ladies’ games are, eating healthy snacks, and hearing that it’s okay to love pink feather boas and still be a badass athlete, each girl is learning a disparate lesson. Part of what makes these events so magical is how ambassadors have such a varied range of ways to connect with girls and show how much we love and need sports in our life. Just watching a swimmer have a blast trying out a ski erg for the first time can be all it takes to get one girl stoked on sports, while some girls really want to get a chance to dance and shoot laser rifles in the same hour. How can you sum up that intrinsic benefit and reach them all in a few words? When you only have five or ten minutes to leave an impression on forty girls, or thirty seconds to come up with an explanation for a potential sponsor, what do you say?
What I learned on the 26th of October, was to trust the girls to tell you what they need. I wasn’t sure how to approach the speaking portion of the event. I wanted to make a difference, to say something that they could all relate to, but I couldn’t choose a theme. Did I want to talk about how awesome it was that athlete’s bodies prove their worth based on what they do, rather than how they look? Did I want to mention how dedication and work in sports gains you respect from your peers, maybe more than having the latest particular model of iPad? How about the favorite: all of the ambassadors like to dress up and look pretty sometimes, but that doesn’t mean they’re not tough athletes. In the end I just had them all brainstorm instead, and it turned out to be the best and most productive thing that could have happened.
We had a relatively small group, 40 girls and 20 ambassadors, so there was a lot of one-on-one attention throughout all the activities. I think this really opened everyone up, we weren’t nearly as nervous, and girls were unafraid to speak up and ask questions. I asked them why they thought girls dropped out of sports, and they gave me a whole lot of answers. The most common had to do with people judging them, with athletes not seeming ‘cool’ or with teammates being cliquey. This is where our Nanook ambassadors knocked it out of the park; reminding girls that the people who judge are often the people who aren’t doing as much with their lives as you are. All of the ambassadors had dealt with cliques on teams, but we were still skiing, shooting, swimming, and ‘ballin. I think that the girls needed a reminder that it’s okay to do your sport because you love it. If it impresses people, that’s a bonus, but there will always be plenty of ‘haters’. The trick is to shake them off, just like we have to in any other aspect of our lives.
I am happy I never figured out the perfect speech for that sunny Sunday, it turned out to be even better to let the girls and ambassadors have one of the most important conversations that a female athlete can have; the one in which your hero tells you it’s okay to be your awesome self.
Thanks again to everyone who made this event possible: to NSCF and Pete Leonard for all the logistical help with the building, insurance and some awesome photography, to my Mom for helping so much with everything, to Bettisworth North and SBS Retirement consultants for being such constant and fabulous title sponsors, to Lulu’s Bread and Bagels and Spinach Creek Farm for our fantastic local snacks (best bagels and carrots in the world, respectively), to Heartstream Yoga for the inspirational 15 minutes of yoga instruction, and to Beaver Sports and In My Element for goodies! Most of all though, thank you to the Alaska Nanook, APU, Alaska Biathlon, and Fairbanksan ambassadors that came and gave a long afternoon of energy to such a great cause. I hope you had fun, and I’ll see you next year!