We tell young children that they can be whatever they want when they grow up. The sky's the limit, they can achieve anything if they just put their mind to it. But it’s not enough to just encourage them, we need to be role models and show them that they can achieve their dreams.

This is where Canmore based not for profit, Fast And Female comes in. This amazing organization is dedicated to empowering girls in sports with the help of hundreds of athlete ambassadors. Together, they’re changing the culture around girls in sport by empowering over 3,000 young women ages 8 to 18 across North America each year. Canmore local, Chandra Crawford, saw the value in having inspirational role models to push her to dream big, even before she became a Canadian Olympic Gold Medalist.
 chandra crawford
Photo Credit: Dave Holland, CSI Calgary

With International Women's Day around the corner, we chatted with Chandra about her experiences.

This year, the theme for International Women’s Day is "Balance for Better". It is a call-to-action for driving gender balance across the world. Can you tell us about any experiences that you've had where you felt like you were treated differently because you are a woman? If so, what happened, how did you feel and what did you do?

I've had both positive and negative situations related to gender, but one of the tougher ones was a phase when the national ski team was male-dominated and just the way the guys spoke about women led me to treat myself differently. There simply weren't enough females present on the road with us to keep the everyday chauvinism in check and after spending so much time hearing conversations that objectify women and the anti-female language of "just joking" homophobia, I found myself in a low-confidence moment in my personal life and began to identify with the self-limiting thoughts that are ever-present in our culture. "I'm not thin enough to be lovable," was a thought that I latched on to and developed bulimia for a year in my late 20s. I was shocked at how my strong foundation of self-esteem and awareness of these body image issues (I'd already been leading Fast and Female for 7 years at that point) could actually crumble under the extreme stress and pressure of that time. I finally started seeing some great psychologists, taking antidepressants and reading some basic Buddhism books to start observing and challenging those thoughts in order to stop comparing myself and get my life back.

Whether it's mothers, colleagues or friends, women can be incredibly competitive and hard on one another. Have you experienced this? If so how do you handle this?

It is tough. Very tough. What can I say except that I'm working on this in myself and in how I strive to elevate and encourage the team that works for me at Fast and Female. I work on myself constantly by journaling, asking for feedback and trying to gain glimpses of my blind-spots wherever I can and I read a lot of leadership books and listen to organizational behaviour podcasts that always teach me something useful. I love Brene Brown and strive to strike a good balance of vulnerability without just coming to work everyday exclaiming "I am a mess! Halp meeee!"

I also have a powerful competitive streak that I harness for the good of social change and the bigger picture rather than allow it to run wild in petty fiefdoms.

I struggle constantly to evolve a leadership style that tempers my desire for like-ability with my desire to set a direction and keep our team on track towards our biggest goals. It's endlessly fascinating trying to be the most effective leader for our mission that I can possibly be!

I was very fortunate to have sport psychologists teaching my teammates and I from the time we were early teenagers how to have what psychologist Cal Botterill called, "positive rivalry" and he repeated to us a story of the power of this mindset over and over. The story goes like this: Susan Auch and Catriona LeMay Doan were rival speedskaters on the Canadian team. In order to get the best out of each other, it was decided they should train together, even though coach Derrick Auch was Susan's brother. Catriona had to trust she would be treated fairly and Susan had to share her most important resource. The entire team around them worked to keep the environment positive and high-performing by monitoring and ensuring the two athletes needs were met. And what happened when they toed the line in Nagano at the 1998 Olympics? Susan took off with the fastest 100-metre opener in speed skating history and Catriona responded to come from behind and win the gold medal. This positive, healthy embrace of competition had enabled them to push each other to the top of the world.

run free

With Fast and Female, you create a real sisterhood for the girls. Tell us about the role that community has played in your life.

I am 100% extrovert and I understand why the experts I consult with on Fast and Female programming urge me to emphasize social belonging as the number one most important thing we must focus on to keep girls in sports - community is everything. At Fast and Female one of our core values is "Be yourself. You are enough."

An important message we have delivered over the years is the great case for being your full self because no matter what you do not everyone will like you so you might as well be your full crazy self and the people who like you for you will be there.

One beautiful inadvertent benefit of Fast and Female has been the connecting of our athlete ambassadors with each other. The community created at the event is only as strong as each individual connection between an athlete ambassador and an impressionable girl or young woman and we strive to make those moments really count. The Olympic community and Fast and Female community are just two of the places I have found great relationships that mean a lot to me.

How important is it for women to lift each other up and what does that mean to you? Any examples?

There is something about the genuine support of other women that is so powerful and captivating.

Last fall I was thrilled to be the keynote speaker for a first-ever Women in Wealth event put together by ATB's (a bank in Alberta) 5 female financial advisors. They were so nervous, so excited, and worked so hard to create an amazingly uplifting experience for women and their elation at having done something so far out of their comfort zone was wonderful to be a part of.

The formal and informal mentorship and advice-sharing networks men engage in are several gazillion times more ingrained and robust than female activities in those areas in my experience in the business world. Women are busy. We are doing tons of stuff for tons of people and barely take care of ourselves. I believe that "small things often" a phrase taken from relationship expert John Gottman, is a credo that can be applied to anything we wish to advance. Being intentional and creating space for things that matter... yes.... this is the way forward. One person I truly love a mutually supportive coffee date with about once a year is your incredible leader, Karina, who sprinkles some kind of inspiring/elevating fairy dust on me when I'm around her and really makes me feel great about myself. Perhaps Karina's Elevating Powder could be the next new product?!

fast and femalePhoto Credit: Dave Holland, CSI Calgary

What do you think are the biggest challenges that girls face growing up these days?

The culture we live in!

It's like the air we breathe is still so polluted with gender stereotyping that holds both men and women back by reinforcing the boxes of what femininity and masculinity mean.

I'm serious. There was a study in England where they swapped girl and boy babies clothes and monitored how adults interacted with them differently specifically giving the little girl soft and meek toys and the boys the blocks and toys that teach spatial awareness and risk-taking. It's truly fascinating and fun to debate nature vs nurture elements that play into it all.

In addition to the conditioning young girls receive from the moment they are born, teen girls are experiencing way more anxiety than boys these days.

It’s the girls who suffer more: Why young women face increasing anxiety | Globe And Mail

Having gone way too far into the comparison disaster when I had my eating disorder, I can empathize a bit with what our young people are up against, but to have social media constantly draining our confidence while our brains and identities are still former is just brutal.

I have learned from expert psychologist Tasha Belix who is on the frontlines of teen girl anxiety, depression and self-harm every day that it's absolutely essential that I speak often and positively about my mistakes. Ok, no problem, I make mistakes constantly from spilling food on myself and forgetting important meetings to being insensitive to how hard the Fast and Female staff are working and showing up to casual parties in my most formal dress because I didn't read the invitation... I try to make a habit of talking about my mess-ups over family dinner whenever possible and have also completely changed my story at Fast and Female events from "I won the gold, yay for me, dream big!" *grimace* to "I've struggled a lot and winning my gold medal did nothing to save me from an eating disorder and truly we need to take care to not believe the harmful, stressful thoughts of mind creates out of thin air and instead chose to affirm thoughts consciously and constantly."

It's not as fun talking about all the yucky parts of my life and the mistakes I made...

but I do understand that it's more valuable for our audience and I will do absolutely anything for the girls so I get up there and do it even though I feel pretty yuck reliving it. An important motto at Fast and Female is "For the Girls..." It's everything to us to make a difference in the life of a girl and the constant positive testimonials we get are the lifeblood of our organization and efforts!!

You are an inspiration for and so many others. Who inspires you and why?

I am really inspired by social change that harnesses every single iota of power and uses it for good. I love social enterprise and using the drive of business and capitalism to make a difference for good. It's amazing. Companies are happy to sponsor us and some special ones like Rocky Mountain Soap Co become true partners and a deeply meaningful way and our palpable caring for each other's people after these many years of support enables us to do some fantastic, authentic things for social good. We are deeply grateful for the building up of our fan base that has happened as a result of our run, and last year a video vignette on our organization was a great chance to tell our story to a wider audience. We love the feature soap and even had our team meetings in the beautiful, inspiring and freshly scented Rocky Mountain Soap Co headquarters in Canmore. The financial support Fast and Female receives as a result of the run enables us to design new and better event offerings, inspiring messages for our community and quality experiences for the girls. We are also reliant on unallocated funds like the contribution we receive as the beneficiary of the run for projects like our newly forming research committee, which draws on the expertise of academics across the country who are focused on girls in sports and are willing to advise us on how to make our program more evidence-based and conduct the rigorous evaluation of our program that will enable us to contribute to the global knowledge as to what is and is not working for girls as we collaborate with many for systemic change. But hey, in the meantime? Just give the girls and women in your life some specific, real praise about their work ethic, mojo, creativity... anything that is action-oriented and nothing that is appearance-oriented. It's tough! But so are we!!

womens run
Photo Credit: Jonathan Huyer

In the last 12 years, Fast and Female has inspired over 12,000 girls through their events with the help of 650 athlete Ambassadors. To learn more about Fast & Female and get involved, visit FastAndFemale.com.

Originally published March 06, 2019



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