Thursday, September 24, 2009

Giving back

The sports we pursue can seem like selfish pursuits, even if they are passions. After all, who else is benefiting if we spend hours running or in the pool or on our bikes? Well, arguably the people around us might, a little, because we're happier more productive people (and maybe we cost less in the healthcare system, so we're less of a burden--assuming we aren't getting injured all the time), but really, if we're honest, it is pretty self-serving.

Except that, for some women, it's also the way they give back. Virginia is a sixth-degree black belt. In her younger years (though she's still young at thirty-five, of course!), she competed extensively in sparring matches. Over time though her focus has shifted to teaching, to passing along her knowledge to others; something she finds very fulfilling. As she says, "nothing in the world can replace the sense of accomplishment that comes from teaching others that they are capable of protecting themselves, no matter how small, young, old, or shy they are."

Mary Beth feels the same way. She's a CPA who worked for years for Arthur Andersen and then McAfee. She started playing soccer when she was two and a half (kicking the ball around at her older brother's games) and she never looked back--basketball, volleyball, soccer, marathons and fitness & figure competitions (which involve some combination of body building, dance, gymnastics, obstacle courses and other demanding physical feats). While working as an accountant, she got her personal training certification, and one year at a continuing education conference in the field her financial brain hooked into her personal training brain and she got the idea to start a fitness community, ALaVie, (primarily, but not exclusively, for women), which offered outdoor boot camps and a network of health and wellness professionals.

Mary Beth hasn't made her millions (yet), and she still has a full-time other job, but she is pursuing her passion. As she points out, many women aren't as lucky as she is, to be able to join a soccer team to get their workouts in. They need some source of team spirit and motivation to get them and keep them in shape. Mary Beth provides that essential "team" ingredient. As she says, "the biggest thing I didn't expect when I started the business was the relationships people build through the programs." She doesn't know it, but she's sort of a sports yenta (matchmaker) for friendships.

Not only is Mary Beth giving back with her business, she goes further still. On a recent Saturday morning she was wondering why she'd committed to do a fundraising boot camp for the Bay Area Women's Sports Initiative (BAWSI--great acronym if you say it out loud as if it were a word--a word that men like to use to describe women with opinions). BAWSI takes college athletes in the Bay Area and has them work in challenged neighbourhoods, creating sports options for girls. They even have a program they've developed for the girls' mothers, who were sitting on the sidelines often times and were thrilled to have their own reasons to move around. When Mary Beth got to the fundraiser she was running, she remembered why she'd given up her Saturday. "There was so much passion, and what we're doing makes a difference in people's lives, which wouldn't happen if I were just pursuing money."

Next week I'm interviewing Molly Barker, the founder of Girls on the Run International, another fabulous organization giving opportunities for girls to flourish, using running as its basic tool. I recently became a Girls on the Run Solemate--which means the half-marathon I'm doing on October 3 is to raise money for the organization. So I'll feel a little less selfish about abandoning my parents during their visit to do the race--plus the t-shirt is pretty darn cute.