The mound of food in the centre of Kelsey McQueen’s garage symbolizes much more than a donation to the local food bank for the girls in her Fit + Fierce class. It’s good food given with nutrition in mind because Fit + Fierce is all about the mind, wellness and fitness. After several months of training, these youths are starting to get the concept.
“We talk about good things and bad things in our lives. It makes us stronger because we can deal with things,” said Sophie Tamano, 13.
Some 70 girls come to the once-a-month sessions of Fit + Fierce, where there is presently a waiting list to be part of the group. The classes are divided into age group categories with elementary girls one week and junior high and senior high girls spaced out over the remaining weeks. The goal is to help these youths learn to be proud and strong young women at the same time as they get fit.
They were asked to donate healthy choices for the food bank and at last week’s 10- to 12-year-old session the girls sat in a circle around the food and discussed its value.
Each month McQueen takes the donated food to the food bank and has it weighed. So far, collectively, all the classes have collected 431 pounds of food. Their goal is to keep bringing in cans and boxes of pasta until May. By then they hope to have collected several more pounds of food, but no matter how much it is, they will carry that weight in their arms and on their strong young backs to see how capable they have become thanks to their own healthy lifestyle.
“In May the girls from all the classes will walk together to the food bank carrying weights that will be equivalent to all the food collected to that date,” said McQueen.
McQueen started Fit + Fierce five years ago with partner Danielle Reed. They teach the girls to value their own worth as these young people struggle to try to fit into the social jungle that school can sometimes seem.
“I realized that girls that age need positive self-identity. They have so many big pressures as they try to navigate through the years and at the same time they have so many issues about body image. We try to help them learn to be true to themselves,” McQueen said.
In the circle the girls talk about how their month went since the last class they had before Christmas. There are photos of a new gift of a baby hedgehog and they bring out the expected “oohs” and “aahs” from the girls but there are tears too as some youths explain they had issues with friendships that didn’t measure up and with health too.
“We found that one of the most important parts of Fit + Fierce is that the girls share feelings. There is sadness sometimes. And we need Kleenex. The girls have learned this is a safe place to talk,” McQueen said.
McQueen said that over the past five years she noticed how the girls in the program have grown.
“I’ve heard stories from the girls including issues with boys asking them to post photos of themselves online. The girls came to the circle and told these stories but they had gained self-esteem. They were able to say, ‘This happened last week but I stuck to my guns. I didn’t want to be part of that.’ ”
When one girl at last Thursday’s session talked about cyber bullying there was communal discussion about possible solutions. When one girl talked about a concussion she got over the holidays and another talked about health issues that made her sad, there were hugs from other girls in the circle.
The hugging and chit-chat soon ended as the girls began a serious workout that challenged them. After all, they had the motivation of having to get stronger so they can walk and carry all that food next spring. They talked about posture and about exercising in a way that was fun and that would make them feel fit without getting muscle injuries.
“I want exercise to be part of their lives – for their entire life – so it has to be fun,” McQueen said.
And it was fun. The girls took turns trying to be fastest at a game that saw the loser get a squirt of whipped cream in the face. They tried different weights and exercised their backs and after all that, they ate.
“We always finish with a healthy snack. Today it’s muffins,” McQueen said.
“We always do something different and we learn workouts to do at home. We make friends,” said Hanna Macdonald, 10.