Sunday was Rosie Leggott’s seventh year running Hamilton, Ont.’s FAB 5K. Started 11 years ago by Sharon Gallant in Hamilton, Ont. to help girls in lower-income neighbourhoods through running, FAB now serves 250 girls a year by removing the barriers to physical fitness and personal empowerment.
FAB’s motto is “Yes I can. Yes I did,” and Gallant’s desire to help was shaped by her own experience of poverty and instability growing up in Hamilton. “I had to consciously decide that I wanted my life to be different,” says Gallant, for whom family instability, addiction and teen pregnancy were very real. Determined to give her daughter a better life, she managed to build a successful career in the financial world, and started FAB (which stands for fit, active, and beautiful) out of a desire to help other girls become strong women. Gallant had started running at 26, and she knew the positive impact that learning to run could have on other struggling young people.
FAB is a 12-week running program culminating in the annual spring 5K. That first year, there were nine girls in the program. Today there are 250.
“There are significant barriers to participation for these girls,” says Gallant, “Most of them have no support for running either in their family or their community.” FAB is a free program, and also provides bus transportation, shoes, healthy snacks, running shoes, and a journal to keep track of their progress, thanks to a number of generous sponsors and an army of volunteers. “It’s about removing the barriers,” Gallant says.
The youngest in a family of five girls, Rosie Leggott joined the program after seeing a presentation at her middle school, and has participated every year since. A victim of bullying since early childhood, Rosie’s image of herself was very low. But seven years later, she’s getting ready to go to Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont. to study drama and biology. In fact, she was accepted by four different universities. She isn’t the first in her family to try higher education, but she might be the first to finish.
The first year, Rosie found the running very challenging. But she still came back the following year, and every year after that. “For me, running has been a great release of emotions and tension,” she says. “Finishing a race is one of the best feelings ever. I’m not that fast, but there is still this huge payoff–I did it!”
“FAB taught me how to run, and to believe in myself,” Rosie says, “Running taught me how to set goals, to pace myself, to breathe and not clench my hands. It’s the same in any other part of life. It’s about the steps I have to take to get there, as well as about the finish. FAB taught me that if I push myself, people will support me, and I’ll get what I need to be successful.”
For most of the girls in the program, committing to the training and the race are the first personal goals they have ever set. “Rosie embodies the full spectrum of what girls in the program are up against,” says Gallant. “But when the barriers are removed, they blossom.”