Keeping Girls in the Game

Fast and Female program makes sure that the athletes of today will become the leaders of tomorrow

Sports were Jackie Fuga’s safe space as a teenager. When her brother, David, passed away, participating in sports kept her healthy and engaged socially. “I leaned into sport in my time of tragedy and grief, because it was the one place I didn’t feel like I had to be sad. I was given permission to just be,” Fuga says.

Selecting Fast and Female to receive a $4,515 grant from the David Fuga Memorial Fund at Edmonton Community Foundation was an easy choice for Fuga.

Fast and Female is a national charity founded in 2005 with a mission to empower girls through sport, physical activity and education.

“Their core values aligned with the David Fuga Fund core values of keeping adolescents in sports, but also personally and professionally, it just really resonated,” Fuga explains.

Not only were sports and physical fitness her passion as a teenager, they’ve become her career. Fuga is a physical education teacher who has seen first hand how sports make a difference in girl’s lives — and how frequently they quit sports. Girls drop out of sports at a much higher rate than boys — one in three girls by age 16, versus one in 19 boys. Keeping girls involved is valuable not only for their physical health, but their whole being, including mental health and even future career success.

“There’s a stat from Ernst & Young Global that 94 per cent of C-suite women executives were involved in sport and physical activity in their upbringing. It’s not just about being the best athlete but a holistic approach to your health and your personal development that will help you in your career as well,” Gabriela Estrada, Fast and Female’s executive director, says.

Estrada played sports as a girl, and went on to coach soccer and run fitness programs as an adult. But, she noticed the sports sector didn’t cater to women and girls, especially girls from different ethnic, religious or class backgrounds. Inspired to make a difference in the field, she began volunteering with Fast and Female before joining the staff.

The organization empowers girls and women by pairing physical education with evidence-based curriculum covering topics from leadership to consent. Their in-person and online workshops, in partnership with local sports leagues, schools and other programs, offer a non-judgmental, safe space for girls to engage in sports. The programs also connect participants to REAL (relatable, empowered, active leaders) role models who range from athletes and coaches to kinesthesiology students and firefighters.

“There are great organizations out there that are community hubs, that know the youth in the community. We want to come in and partner with them and be the experts on girls in sport and physical activity, and elevate those female role models,” says Estrada.

This Edmonton Community Foundation grant will enable Fast and Female to run more of their programs in Edmonton, where Estrada says there’s already a huge amount of interest and engagement in the program.

For both Fuga and Estrada, sport is a lifelong passion. Enabling Fast and Female to expand their work in Edmonton means more girls will have the opportunity to have their lives enriched by sports.

“Can you imagine if all teenage girls were told, you can do whatever you want. You can do hard things and you’ve got a support network behind you. Just think of the different trajectory females would have growing up with that empowerment behind them,” Fuga says.

This story comes from the Spring 2024 Edition of Legacy in Action. Read the full issue.