7 May 2011: Strong Girls

I have been involved in a great local program here in Lawrence called Strong Girls, helping spread the word on healthy activity for young girls. Following is an article from the LJ World newspaper here in Lawrence along with some photos. I didn't think I was smiling that much....it was cold and windy so it was possibly more of a grimace!

Local triathlete generous

By Tom Keegan

May 3, 2011

She competes in races that require her to swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 miles, then run 13.1 miles. The obvious question: Why is Pip Taylor always smiling?

Because she loves what she does for a living (professional triathlete), loves where she lives (half the year in her native Australia, half the year in Lawrence, escapes winter twice), and on this particular day, loved being surrounded by young girls.

One of the top talents scheduled to compete in Ironman 70.3 Kansas on June 12, Taylor was the celebrity guest at the “Strong Girls Try-Athlon” last Wednesday on the field just east of the Robinson Center.

What is Strong Girls? Glad you asked. Mary Fry, associate professor in Health, Sport and Exercise Science at Kansas University, and Liz Dobbins, adjunct professor in the department, are two years into what Fry called “a research and service project.” (It’s a lot more fun than it sounds.)

Every Wednesday, all semester, girls from two local elementary schools have been transported to KU by bus for a few hours of exercise that had them pointing to last week’s Try-Athlon that didn’t require the girls from third, fourth, fifth and sixth grade to swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 miles and run 13.1 miles.

All the smiles in the Strong Girls group picture on kustronggirls.org proves the project — supported by KU student volunteers, grants and local donations — has been a big success.

The last thing Taylor said when she left last week’s Try-Athlon to resume training was, “I’ll be back next week.” Wednesday is the final gathering of the semester.

Taylor has been living in Lawrence, a half-year at a time, for three years now and she’s already giving back to the community.

“I love Lawrence,” Taylor said. “For me, it works out really well in terms of facilities and where and how I get to train. But the biggest factor for me is the people, how welcoming and helpful they are. It makes it a second home.”

She mentioned another positive aspect of Lawrence.

“I love downtown,” she said. “It’s really pretty. Lots of history. A lot of energy. That was another thing that drew me to the town in the first place.”

Dobbins drew her friend Taylor to Strong Girls. The project demonstrates that at a grass-roots level, when both sides aren’t driven by financial concerns, town-gown projects benefit everybody. Without a research project and all the KU student volunteers, Strong Girls would get weaker watching video games and TV. No elementary-school students, no research subjects.

“One of our research findings from the spring is the girls feel better about themselves, about being physically active,” Fry said. “They also adopted what we call a task orientation. That’s when you define success based on your effort and improvement. That’s exciting. That’s what you need in life, feeling good about giving your best effort.”

’Atta-girls for genuinely trying their hardest and getting better took the place of trophies.