Voice of Soles Guest Blog Post
By Deanna Black
It is often said we are all running. Running towards something or running away from something.
Liz Ferro is a runner. What began as running away from things has changed to running towards a greater good, running with a purpose and running with the brightest smile on her face entering marathons in 50 states as well as random shorter runs.
Girls with Sole (GWS) was founded because Liz began changing her own life. Realizing how empowering it was, she began sharing what worked for her to empower others to change theirs. And I’m not talking about those challenges that we all face but those challenges we should never have to face particularly as a child.
I met Liz through my fitness friends and had heard about her through talk revolving around races and triathlons in the community. She was the one to aspire to be, the one to keep up with and for the competitive the one to beat. But it wasn’t until I attended one of her LULA (Lacing Up for a Lifetime of Achievement) 5K’s that I really got to know her.
A friend of mine asked me to run in a 5K put on by Girls with Sole, Liz’s organization. During the welcome Liz spoke and I was so impressed with how real she is. No prepared notes, no memorized speech, she spoke from her heart laughing at the moments she got a little tongue-tied. She talked about how Girls with Sole is an organization that teaches girls who have been or currently are in foster care, residential centers, and community programs as a result of being at the wrong place at the wrong time, making poor choices and/or being the victim of another person making wrong choices. Liz was a kid in foster care. Liz was a kid who was sexually abused. Liz was making wrong choices. Liz did get caught in the wrong places at the wrong time. She credited running, fitness and physical activities to not only get her through her own tribulations but over come them. What began as post-traumatic stress disorder has become post-traumatic growth syndrome and this is what she is teaching.
GWS has connected with various programs. Liz and her volunteer coaches show up offering a session of physical exercise and a self-empowerment exercise. I am thrilled to be one of her volunteer coaches.
For my first session, Liz asked if I would teach a yoga class to a group of girls ages 15-19. I had no idea what to expect and even began to wonder if I could even help. What did I know? I grew up in what I call “Mayberry, white bread, small town, middle class America.” I’d been bullied but nothing like the experiences these girls have been through.
We gathered together and introduced each other not only with our name but also favorite color. Then we said the creed, call and response, shoutin’ it out with a clap and a sway:
We’re Girls with Sole and we’re on the move
We’re strong and proud you can’t stop our groove
We know who we are and who we want to be
We sail through life with resiliency
At Girls with Sole we set goals and believe
If we keep lacing up we will always achieve
I led them through a yoga class and while in warrior pose I spoke of the times that we need to fight both to protect ourselves but also what we believe in. But also if there is at all possible, a way to do it with out causing harm to us or to others. That’s a tough one! After class Liz pulled out a bunch of postcards, stickers, magazine cut outs and markers to make our own inspiration card. Then we went around the room sharing the story behind each of our cards.
Every GWS session is like this. We know the physical as well as mental and emotional benefits to exercise. We know how important trusting human connections are to have. We know the importance of being able to speak and admit your feelings, of being heard. This is GWS. I have heard things that I never thought I would hear such as, “I can’t participate today, I have an injury.” I asked what happened because maybe there is a way I can modify the activity so she could participate.
“I got grazed by a bullet.”
What?!?!? This is Ohio!
Though she did not physically participate in the Zumba/yoga class I taught that day, she was in the room taking in the positive tribal energy including the moments of laughter.
Another powerful moment was after another class Zumba/yoga class I taught, Liz had us make Life Maps. One of the girls was sharing her map and admitted that she had “never told anyone that before.” This again is GWS, a safe and trusting environment.
Liz is currently running a marathon in every state to raise money and awareness for Girls with Sole. She is also the author of Finish Line Feeling, an autobiography of herself leading into the inspiration of GWS. All the money raised and donations received are put right back into the organization to provide wellness programs, transportation, running shoes as well as fitness journals and sports bras for the girls. Her vision is one in which each girl views themselves as an athlete. The times we win and find ourselves in the flow or in the zone but maybe more importantly, the times we come in last and what we learned from that experience and what it takes to get back out there again. Liz shares with the girls the times she got knocked down and what it took to get back up.
Currently Girls With Sole are at 6 locations in the Northeast Ohio area. Since their beginning in 2009 Liz has served around 800 girls. I have seen first hand what a difference Liz has made in these girls’ lives let alone all others around her. I have always taught that everything we do makes a difference. And I mean EVERYTHING, from eye contact with a stranger passing by, to answering the phone at 2 AM to hear your best friend crying on the other end, to sharing your story letting others know they are not alone, to giving a young girl a pair of running shoes and watching her cross the finish line. At some point when around Liz Ferro, you too will have a Finish Line Feeling.
Extra note: A couple years ago, I signed up for a sprint triathlon at Huntington that I had done the year before but this time had not trained at all. Maybe a run, more like a jog here and there, definitely no swimming unless you count falling off the stand up paddle board and swimming back to it and a bike ride on my cruiser to a local café. I saw Liz was competing in it to so before the race I thought if I could just stand next to her, maybe some of her energy and athletic skills will rub off on me! I found her, hugged her, got a pic with her and shaved 4 minutes off my time from the previous year! Boom! Finish Line Feeling!