Women everywhere are working hard to make a difference in their communities and the world at large. Some have overcome tremendous adversity and find ways to keep going. Others have blazed a path where few women have gone before. But, all of them are making a difference in some way. Each month Hope for Women seeks out and talks with one such woman thanks to the nomination of readers. Read the stories of women much like you and be inspired to make a difference today!
Hope for Women: Who has been your biggest inspiration?
Liz Ferro: Katherine Switzer and Sister Madonna Buder are both heroes of mine and sources of inspiration. They’re both trailblazers and incredibly strong, resilient women as well as incredible athletes. They are incredible examples of what women are capable of and demonstrate the strength in mind, body and soul that are essential to success in life and athletics. They go hand-in-hand in order to be a complete, well-rounded and healthy person. Both of these women are heroes in my mind because they went against the grain. They have faced and overcome fears, obstacles and stereotypes. I look up to them because they empower women and, in my eyes, are the epitome of strength, resilience and perseverance.
Sister Madonna Buder is also known as the Iron Nun. She’s a Roman Catholic nun and a Senior Olympic triathlete. She’s the current world record holder for the oldest person to finish an IRONMAN triathlon, which she accomplished at age 82. This just blows me away since I have completed five IRONMAN triathlons and can’t even imagine doing them at that age. She is beyond incredible.
Katherine Switzer is known as the Marathon Woman. She accidentally became a sports icon 45 years ago when she was the first woman to officially (but illegally) enter the Boston Marathon when it was considered a men’s only race. She used her gender neutral initials upon registering and blended into the pack as best she could at the start of the race. Her entry revolutionized the sports world when she was photographed being physically attacked by the race director for wearing an official bib number as he tried to forcibly remove her from the course. The photo flashed around the globe and became one of Time- Life’s 100 photos that changed the world. Katherine finished the race, she campaigned for women to be able to run in the race and five short years later women were allowed to run the Boston Marathon.
HFW: What do you do to encourage others?
LF: I hope I encourage others by example, by showing them I truly care about them and that I want to see them thrive. In my non-profit, Girls With Sole, our mission is to use free fitness and wellness programs to empower the minds, bodies and souls of girls who are at-risk or have experienced abuse of any kind. We envision a world where every girl thinks of herself as an athlete — and is inspired and nurtured in mind, body and soul — to achieve her fullest potential and innermost success. Since its founding in 2009, Girls With Sole has utilized the proven power of fitness and sports combined with a unique curriculum of self-esteem building activities and art projects to instill confidence, self- esteem, physical strength, teamwork and a passion for success in the lives of nearly 1,000 girls and young women in northeast Ohio. By partnering with schools, social service agencies, juvenile detention facilities and hospitals, Girls With Sole reaches girls aged 9 to 18 who otherwise would not have access to sports and fitness opportunities and, therefore, a healthier body image and self-esteem.
All girls served by Girls With Sole participate in a comprehensive curriculum that exposes them to a wide variety of sports and fitness activities that include, but are not limited to, running. Each of our youth receives free running shoes, sports bras, water bottles, a fitness journal and entry into at least one 5k race per year. They also receive a free copy of “Finish Line Feeling,” my personal memoir.
HFW: What obstacles have you overcome?
LF: I was born in Rochester, N.Y., and lived in four foster homes before I was adopted at the age of 2. Traumatic experiences in foster care caused so many moves in such a short period of time.
As a child, I was sexually abused (raped) for about a year by a next door neighbor and didn’t receive the counseling or support needed at the time. It was a secret I was told needed to be kept, so I kept it. With that secret came low self-esteem and a path of self-destruction. I was so close to the edge, but the thing that always held me back and saved me every single time was sports. I found solace in fitness, running and sports. To date I have crossed many finish lines and have completed more than 65 marathons, five IRONMAN triathlons, two 50K Ultra Marathons and countless other road races and triathlons. The empowerment and inner strength gained from sports spilled over into all areas of my life and kept me moving forward even when I didn’t think I could. This is what made me think, “Why isn’t there an organization for all the girls out there who need to discover this for themselves?” I thought someone needed to start a program that can save lives and teach healthy coping mechanisms, the way that I learned them on my own. Then I realized I was that somebody!
HFW: What do you most enjoy about what you do?
LF: The thing that moves me most and makes what I do so rewarding is when I see a light go on behind a young girl’s eyes where there was once doubt and darkness.
The girls we serve face abuse, neglect, violence and a dim future assumed by everyone around them to be pre-determined. I simply refuse to accept that. Many of the girls I work with have don’t have fitness and wellness in their lives or on their radar and have very little, if any, confidence in themselves or trust in their abilities or even any hope for their futures.
The absolute best part of what I do is to witness the transformation through Girls With Sole programs. I see the girls begin to put the GWS Power Principles into action. (POWER = Perseverance, Optimism, Wisdom, Energy and Resilience) The light of confidence and hope shines from within and catapults them into physically and emotionally healthy young women who know they are limitless.
I am a survivor of child sexual abuse who found hope, confidence and healing through fitness. The impact is both measurable and invaluable: girls whose newfound confidence, strength and hope translate into academic success, leadership, a sense of belonging and the satisfaction that comes from setting and reaching ambitious goals. It’s amazing!
HFW: What’s one message you wish all woman could hear?
LF: Know this:
- You can start over each morning.
- Stay optimistic and joyful; don’t let the bitterness of the world steal the sweetness in your heart.
- It’s OK to say no.
- Be kind to yourself!
- You can be vulnerable and strong simultaneously; it’s OK to cry.
- And, finally, don’t forget to treat yourself like the magnificent and lovable human being that you are. You’ve got this and you can always Keep Moving Forward with POWER. (Perseverance, Optimism, Wisdom, Energy and Resilience)