Caped in all the colours of the rainbow, more than 500 students from 26 schools in Northern Ontario brought "girl power" to Kivi Park Tuesday morning for a day of fitness and fun at Sudbury's fifth annual FitSpirit Celebration.
FitSpirit is a national initiative to encourage young girls between the ages of 12 and 17 to rediscover the joy of sport and remain physically active throughout their teenage years.
Since 2007, FitSpirit has partnered with schools and community organizations, offering personalized programs according to the priorities and challenges of that particular group.
Every spring, participants are invited to the FitSpirit Celebration of their region to commemorate the end of the program, and engage in one final test of their physical ability. In addition to a number of activities and games, students are asked to participate in either a 5k or 10k walk/run, based on their fitness goals.
Sudbury has hosted the event on behalf of Northern Ontario for the past five years, under the leadership of northern co-ordinator for FitSpirit and Girls Run Sudbury race director, Chantal Dagostino.
Dagostino said she stumbled across the FitSpirit program in the process of researching youth fitness initiatives, and almost immediately recognized "it was a great fit" for what she wanted to bring to Sudbury.
"There's a lot of studies that show as soon as (girls) get into Grade 7 to Grade 12, they stop being physically active," said Dagostino. "This program is helping them to get that joy again - to be physically active, and to just be with girls."
Dagostino was part of a massive expansion by FitSpirit, where the company moved beyond their Toronto headquarters to add Windsor, Ottawa/Gatineau, Greater Montreal, Quebec City, Rimouski, Abitibi-Temiscamingue and Sudbury, as hosts of their annual celebrations. The program has been a great success in Northern Ontario said Dagostino, who has seen a steady increase in participation over the years.
"There is definitely a need for girls to be active," said Dagostino. "I think it makes a lot of difference in their life knowing they support each other; they create great friendships and their self-confidence grows."
"I feel like it's a great way to get out and have new experiences and push myself beyond what I would usually do," said FitSpirit participant Kyra Coutain, from St. Charles College.
This was Coutain's second year participating in the annual event, which she said has encouraged her to pursue fitness in her regular life.
"There's so much energy, so much comfort (from) everyone here," said Coutain. “It makes me feel more welcomed here."
"Usually you just see really fit people do this, and I'm really inactive, so feeling comfortable here has really helped me go beyond FitSpirit."
Find more information on FitSpirit and how to register your school here.