I used to be afraid. I used to be afraid of what people would think, of what I would see when I looked in the mirror, of what I had to go home to and what I might find when I got there. In fact, I used to be so afraid to go home, that when I finally psyched myself up to put the key in the door, I’d turn around and run before my conscience told me to go back.
You may be thinking, “Mandi, running from your fears is cowardly and unrealistic.”
That’s what my counselor told me. She also told me that refusing to face reality is called “being delusional.”
I called it having a Superpower. I fail to see the difference. When life sucks real bad, I could just leave whenever I wanted, like a magic trick, “wanna see me disappear?” Don’t ask, I’ll do it anyways to save you the trouble. Poof! I’m gone.
So, I bet you’re wondering where I went when I ran from my fears. Well, I can tell you what places I didn’t go: the library, school, my grandmother’s, Joe’s Crabshack, the grocery store, on a pilgrimage. Long story short, I didn’t go anywhere innocent or family oriented.
My family was too high to care where I went or what I did. Then, I discovered drugs and had a new way to escape reality. I didn’t even have to leave my house! Then on one fateful evening, I was arrested. My family relinquished custody of me and I was getting released to a foster family. My life spun out of control when I got out. I had a crazy, weird new family. New school, and eventually new drugs. My addiction finally came to the light and things got bad again. My foster family decided to move to Minnesota and I was truly alone. I went to a group home and two weeks later I came to RTC. Later in the day when I got here, they told me to put on my own clothes for working out and I thought, “great, we’re gonna be doing military drills or something, I just know it!”
We went down to the gym and I was instantly greeted by Ms. Liz, my first thought was,”who is this crazy hyper pixie lady?” but it turns out that Ms. Liz isn’t just some pixie lady who shows up to work us out.
It reality, she’s my Fairy God Mother. She took my shoe size and bra size and I was instantly amazed by the amount of generosity a single woman can possess.
Over the past 6 months, Ms. Liz has done so much for me and every other girl here at RTC. She helped me shed my skin and learn to fly. Even after all of the adversity I’ve been through, she has helped me turn into a beautiful butterfly. Ms. Liz has inspired me to turn my life into something better. I’ve seen the future, but through someone else’s eyes. I’ve stepped through the looking glass and seen an alternate path. I’m so grateful and lucky to have the opportunity to meet Ms. Liz and participate in Girls With Sole. I know what I could be. I’ve seen, what others have seen, and I am no longer ashamed of what the future holds.
I AM NO LONGER AFRAID.
-Mandi, GWS Participant, Age 16
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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: