Girls with Sole running towards a mission

(WOIO) -After years of abuse a Rocky River woman turns personal tragedy into something good for northeast Ohio kids.

43-year-old Liz Ferro is like a little ray of sunshine.

Her story starts with a dark journey through sexual abuse as a foster care kid.

This is the reason she started Girls with Sole in August 2009.

Each of the now 350 girls in the program gets a new pair of running shoes to lace up for a lifetime of achievement following the trail forged by Ferro.

“The running shoes help me to come to the light and that’s what I’m trying to show them…and it’s working,” said Ferro.

“We give girls free fitness and wellness programs to empower them and create self esteem and it’s for girls who are at risk or who have experienced any type of abuse,” said Ferro.

Ferro has run 17 marathons and done four Iron Mans.

Ferro has just penned a book about a life spent getting to the spiritual and emotional finish line.

She’s making a difference in the lives of young girls.

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Child Abuse Prevention Month–a ‘soleful’ organization in The Examiner

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month and Liz Ferro is putting her footprint on child abuse. Ferro’s organization, Girls with Solein Rocky River, serves girls from 9-18 years old and aims to empower girls who are at-risk or have experienced abuse of any kind.

Ferro was adopted at the age of two and was later sexually abused as a young child. Through her organization, Girls with Sole!she shares with girls how athletics and fitness helped her through challenging times and how they too can overcome. I met Ferro at an event in February where she talked about her journey. Her story was so riveting that I recently interviewed her for Child Abuse Prevention Month.

I read where you were sexually abused by a male next door neighbor when your 8 and 9 years old. Did you ever tell anyone? I never verbally told anyone about it, however, in order to get it out, I wrote some things about what was going on with the neighbor in an assignment pad that I had in my room, but never used this pad for school. While at school, my mom was in my room and read it. When I got home that day, she was waiting for me with it in hand, and she was upset with me. She asked me if it was true, and I told her that it was. Then she asked me, “Was it so important to you that you wrote it down?” (As if I was happy about it or something.) After that she told me that we would never tell anyone about it. She said that if my father found out about it, he would kill our neighbor and then go to jail. I didn’t want it to be my fault that my dad was in jail so both of us never told anyone, and went on about our lives.

Liz Ferro, Founder/Exec. Dir. (Girls with Sole)
Liz Ferro, Founder/Exec. Dir. (Girls with Sole)
Photo credit:
Liz Ferro

Why do you think it’s hard for kids to tell someone about abuse? I think kids struggle for many reasons and being dismissed, or not believed, is one of the big ones. For me, there was also a lot of shame and embarrassment. I also felt as if I had done something wrong and feared that it was my fault. My mother’s reaction to it further reinforced those fears.

To this day, have you ever spoken to the abuser? I have never spoken to him about it and actually never had to see him again after I went away to college in Ohio. He lived in Rochester, NY, where I grew up. When he was abusing me he was already retired. Recently, when I got my book published, I searched the internet for him and his wife to see if they were still alive. They are both deceased.

You started Girls with Sole! in July of 2009. What were some of the challenges you faced when starting the non-profit? I started in during the height of a recession and many people told me that it would fail. Some people even told me that I should take out the word “abuse” from the mission.

Why did you persevere? I persevered because I knew in my heart that I could not divert from our mission and that Girls With Sole! was extremely needed for a population of girls that was not being served. These girls needed someone to give them hope, strength and healing, and I couldn’t turn my back on them. I figured if it didn’t work out, and Girls With Sole! fizzled away unsuccessfully, at least I would have tried, and maybe helped a few girls along the way. But that isn’t what happened and I am so glad I listened to my heart.

How do you think Girls with Sole! will empower girls who have experienced sexual abuse?
 My hope is that they survive by gaining emotional and physical strength and high self-esteem through fitness; that they realize abuse is never their fault, and that no matter what, they can always move forward. They are encouraged to be themselves and to believe that they can do great things and achieve. It gives them the ability to cross a finish line and release painful emotions in a very healthy way.

In June, Ferro along with several girls and supporters will cross the finish line in the Team LULA 5K run in Rocky River. The race is open to anyone who wants to run and is part fundraiser, which goes toward training the girls and registering them for free. The race also coincides with the promotion of her new book, Finish Line Feeling, an uplifting memoir about her journey from foster child, to sexual abuse survivor to founder of Girls with Sole.

The first federal child protection legislation, Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) was passed in 1974.

February 2012 Liz Ferro is Keynote for Jr League of Cleveland and Girl Scouts of NEO 100th Anniversary Celebration

 The below excerpt was written by Laura ~ and taken from her Blog ~ Running Dame

Tales from the trail

Where R U?

February 11, 2012 · 0 comments

in Cleveland, Life Happenings, Running

This morning I was up bright an early to head downtown to the Cleveland State University Student Center to volunteer for the Junior League’s Where R U? Event.It was quite a snowy ride downtown today, but I made it safely, signed in, and started my job as a greeter! The event was co-sponsored by the Girl Scouts of North East Ohio and was targeted towards girls between the ages of 9 and 18. Unfortunately, the bad weather this morning kept a few participants at home, but it turned out to be a great event!

Winter finally decided to arrive this weekend!

The great thing about volunteering is how great you feel after the event! I was dreading having to wake up on a Saturday morning at a time that I would normally get up for work during the week, but on my drive home I couldn’t take the smile off of my face. Where R U? turned out to be a fantastic event!

Tropikana from 107.9 served as the official Emcee and did a great job engaging the girls in between speakers. Zone Cleveland was also there providing entertainment and an electronic graffiti photo wall. It was pretty cool!

There was a fantastic line up of speakers for the event. First up was a panel of speakers from different walks of life including:

All of the speakers did a fantastic job, but I was particularly moved by Terri Burgess Sandu and her personal story. She started out as the daughter of a delivery truck driver, battled depression, and moved on to become the Executive Director of Hard Hatted Women. Now she is the Executive Director of Workforce Development and the Director of the Entrepreneurship Innovation Institute at LCCC.

The part of the day that I was looking forward to the most though was the Keynote Speaker, Liz Ferro, the founder of Girls with Sole. I think it would be fair to say I have a mini crush on her! She walked in, and being the best greeter I knew how to be I said “Hi, you must be Liz Ferro!” Luckily, she wasn’t put off by my excitement and we had a really nice chat about running, marathons, and triathlons. Girls with Sole has only been around for less than three years in the Cleveland area and has had such a huge impact. Liz is even in the process of publishing a book called “The Finish Line Feeling.”

She opened up her speech with having all of the girls stand up to do a shake out. It was fun and definitely increased the energy after lunch.

There were plenty of activities that the girls did at each of their tables during the day including participating in a dream wall and writing down things inside of a bubble that keep their bubble (life) full and then writing down things outside of the bubble that keep their bubble from getting to its full potential!

There were even little bottles of bubbles at each table for each person to blow as they were doing the activities.

Despite the awful weather this morning, I am so glad that I volunteered today. I realized today that the same feeling I get after I get a really good run in I can feel after I volunteer. Call it “Volunteer’s High” or “Runner’s High” the endorphins must all come from the same place.

I hope that I am able to volunteer this year with Girls with Sole. Although I know that I won’t be able to lead my own group given my 9 to 5 job, I hope that I can help out with the organization in other ways.

My plans for the rest of the day include basking in my “volunteer high” and getting ready to watch Michigan State trounce Ohio State in basketball tonight (hopefully)!

Have a great, snowy Saturday Cleveland.

Liz Ferro receives American Red Cross of Greater Cleveland Hero Award for Girls With Sole

Girls With Sole was proud to be recognized by the American Red Cross of Greater Cleveland as a 2011 Hero ~ because our actions continue to inspire our community and our good work continues to make our region stronger, safer and healthier.

Liz Ferro, Founder and Executive Director of Girls With Sole, was chosen as a 2011 Red Cross Hero in Cleveland, Ohio in the category of Innovation.
Heroes were honored by the American Red Cross in Cleveland Monday, November 14. 2011.
19 Action News anchor Denise Dufala was the emcee at the hero awards, which took place at the Intercontinental Hotel.


Liz Ferro recognized by Traditional Home Magazine~ Classic Woman Award 2011

Traditional Home Magazine Classic Woman Award 2011
Girls With Sole and Founder, Liz Ferro, was honored with the 2011 Classic Woman Award at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York City on Monday, November 7, 2011 by Traditional Home Magazine. The award was presented to Liz by Natalie Morales, Anchor for NBC’s News TODAY.

Watch the awesome video created by Traditional Home Magazine:

Traditional Home Magazine 2011 Classic Woman ~ Liz Ferro

Girls With Sole featured in CBC Magazine ~ November 2011


Thanks to triathlete Liz Ferro and her nonprofit group, Girls with Sole, local abuse victims are achieving wellness through sports

By Thomas Skernivitz

Surrounded by girls with precious few role models, Liz Ferro has no trouble sharing her story as a childhood victim of sexual abuse. Her only problem arises when those girls —more than 300 of them, divided among three chapters of Ferro’s nonprofit organization, Girls with Sole —     discover that they don’t have their hero all to        themselves.
“Each group thinks that it’s my only group of kids,” Ferro says. “When they come together and see there are others, they’re, like, in shock — ‘Oh, Ms. Liz, there’s others? I thought we were your only ones.’”

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as too few when it comes to abuse. The participants of Girls with Sole, aged 9 to 18, are literally trying to run from their past. It is not an easy task. Seventy-three percent of girls in juvenile justice have experienced sexual or physical victimization, according the U.S. Department of Justice.

Fortunately, Ferro, a triathlete who knows how to cover ground, does not mind spreading herself as thin as her runner’s build. The Rocky River resident travels once a week to each of three Girls with Sole locations — Bellefaire JCB in Shaker Heights, the Intergenerational School on Fairhill Road in Cleveland, and the Multi-County Juvenile Attention System in Canton. There she works with girls who have been taken out of foster care because their behavioral levels are too high for regular family homes.

“The crazy things that have happened to them at such young ages have already put them in that place,” Ferro, 42, says. “Even if other people aren’t labeling you, you’ve already put yourself in that mindset, and it’s really hard to come out thinking that people aren’t looking at you a certain way and thinking certain things about you. That’s why I think they embrace Girls with Sole so much because it makes them feel like normal kids again. They can be themselves and blow off steam in a healthy way.”

Ferro, a native of Rochester, N.Y., moved to Northeast Ohio in 1992. She founded Girls with Sole in 2009 after serving one year as the executive director of Wigs for Kids. Two years later she is still the only full-time employee of the organization, although she receives assistance from volunteer coaches and board members. “My two big passions are kids and fitness,” she says. “I thought, ‘What is wrong with me? Why would you not put those two things together? Those are what saved your life.’”

Adopted as a foster child at age 2, Ferro experienced sexual abuse as a child. The predator: a neighbor. The result: low self-esteem. The possible (if not probable) path: self-destruction. “I was close,” Ferro says, “but it was always sports that held me back by the scruff every single time.”

It did not hurt that Ferro could look up to her adopted parents, particularly her father, who pushed her to compete in athletics, if only to wear her out. “My dad didn’t know I was abused, but he knew I had negative energy that needed to be expended somewhere, someplace,” Ferro says. “He knew I had some talent and was very supportive of my athletics, to the point where, if I was in sports, I didn’t have to get a job after school.

“In the eighth grade I was already on the varsity swim team, and I was falling asleep at the dinner table. My dad was, like, ‘This is what I was going for. This is what we need to do with this girl.’”

Still, Ferro wasn’t immune to lapses, even as a swimmer at Niagara University. Drug use and bulimia were the usual outcomes. “Stuff happened — all kinds of crazy things I’m not proud of,” Ferro says. “But every time I tried to sabotage myself, I thought, ‘I can’t mess up my body, I can’t mess up my sports.’ And that would make me stop doing it. I quit bulimia after college and never did it again. That’s an unheard of thing. Usually you need years of therapy.”

Ferro wants that same kind of intervention for the at-risk participants of Girls with Sole. Her mission is to convince them that fitness and wellness — in the form of running, yoga, and traditional team sports, along with proper nutrition — can empower their minds, bodies, and souls. “These kids are not coming from places where fitness and wellness is a norm,” she says. “Survival mode is a norm for them or for their parents even. So they don’t have anyone showing them this lifestyle at all. To get the mind-body-soul connection on their own probably isn’t going to happen.”

“My two big passions are kids and fitness. I thought, ‘What is wrong with me? Why would you not put those two things together? Those are what saved your life.”

Compounding the problem, most of the girls, unlike their leader, who has finished 14 marathons and four Ironman triathlons since 1993, do not like to sweat, let alone run 3 miles at a time. “I don’t know if that’s a teenage thing, but they don’t embrace it. They think sweating is gross,” Ferro says. “Meanwhile, I’m always pouring, and they’re, like, ‘Ms. Liz, that is so nasty.’ It’s part of my mission to teach them that sweating is actually the opposite: That it’s a badge of honor … and that it feels so good to earn your shower.”

The Girls with Sole groups combined three times this summer and fall to compete in 5K races — the Fall Classic in Strongsville, the Believe and Achieve trail run in Kirtland, and the group’s annual June benefit, the LULA (Lacing Up for a Lifetime of Achievement) race in Rocky River.

“The counselors told me that one of the girls got in the van after a race and said, ‘I can’t believe that I had so much fun that early in the morning and I wasn’t stoned or drunk,’” Ferro says. “For them to say that is huge because you would think they’d be complaining, ‘I can’t believe I had to do that.’”

With Girls with Sole “going fast and furious,” the goal, Ferro says, is to become profitable enough to hire a paid staff. Accomplishing that will be difficult, she adds, considering the organization, with the help of corporate sponsors, is already outfitting all participants with new running shoes and sports bras. “Each kid needs a brand new pair of shoes,” Ferro says. “First of all, it’s needed. They don’t have proper attire at all. But I also love it. They’re so excited. It’s a really big deal. I’ve had kids tell me it’s their only pair of shoes. And it just breaks my heart. I could cry right now just telling you.”

And she does. The tears are earned, like one of those steamy post-run showers. And there is no shinier badge of honor than making a difference in the life of a child. “You can definitely see a huge change in some peoples’ behavior. I could see it even way before two years,” Ferro says. “But with lot of kids, you can’t follow them much longer than that because they get discharged. And that’s a good thing. That’s the point.”

But not always the end.

“We had one girl who graduated her (juvenile justice) program, but she came back for the Girls with Sole program,” Ferro says. “Nobody ever goes back to where they did their juvee time.”