By Ellen Pill, Columbus Messenger
“Every good thing in my life was related to running or fitness,” said Liz Ferro, founder of Girls With Sole, a national nonprofit organization devoted to changing the lives of girls and young women.
On March 8 Ferro will speak in Wooster at 6 p.m. at the American Red Cross building about her organization, her harrowing personal journey and her book, “Finish Line Feeling.” The memoir chronicles Ferro’s path from being a foster child and a sexual abuse survivor to starting Girls With Sole.
“Fitness is what saved my life,” Ferro said. “I don’t want anyone to feel the ugliness and darkness that sometimes comes from trauma. Fitness can help to mend those things.”
Ferro described her childhood experience. “As a foster child they moved me around between four homes. There was abuse in those homes,” Ferro said. “When my parents adopted me at about age 2, I had all kinds of issues with trust, fear of men, PTSD, emotional disturbances.”
It wasn’t until Ferro had children of her own and saw how loving and open they were that some of the depth of her own trauma was revealed. “I didn’t tell my parents I loved them until I was maybe 6 or 7, and I only told them because I thought I had to. But my parents were really great. They were supportive. They tried to build up my trust.”
Then when Ferro was about 8 years old, the cycle of abuse began again. This time it was a neighbor. When discovered, the situation was kept secret.
“So at 9 years old I had to figure out what to do about all that, and it all went to bad places. But the thing that kept holding me back from hurting myself, that made me feel better and gave me physical and emotional strength, was sports. Things you couldn’t get from anywhere else, I found in fitness.”
Ultimately when she realized that no one else was providing the kind of program she envisioned, Girls With Sole began. “I thought, ‘nobody is doing this, and so many kids need it,’” Ferro said. “I paired up with social service agencies and schools. I go to the girls where they are, usually for an hour or an hour and a half, once per week.”
The programs presented are free. “The first portion of the curriculum,” Ferro said, “centers on fitness: running games, yoga, a wide range. I want the girls to find what makes their soul sing. We try to introduce them to as many physical activities as possible.”
The other portion of the curriculum involves guided activities such as art projects, peer awareness and self-esteem. “A lot of the girls don’t have running gear, so I will get it for them. Even though we aren’t 100 percent focused on running, we bring them to a race. It’s a very tangible goal. It’s special to see them cross that finish line.”
Ferro has crossed finish lines running races in every one of the 50 states in order to raise funds and awareness. On May 20 she will run what may be the most challenging organized marathon in the world: The Great Wall Marathon. The course includes the 5,164 steps of the Great Wall of China. All donations to the campaign will directly support Girls With Sole.
Ferro also will be the featured speaker at the April 27, 2017 Voices for Children annual breakfast held by Wayne County Children’s Services and will speak at the Rotary Club of Wooster on July 24.
The Red Cross building is at 244 W. South St. The event is hosted and sponsored by Wayne County Women’s Network in partnership with Wayne County Children’s Advocacy Center and Quota International of Wooster. A $10 donation is requested with all proceeds going to Girls With Sole. Ferro’s book, “Finish Line Feeling,” will be available for purchase for $20. Reserve copies ahead of time. For reservations call Kathi Bond at 330-466-0973 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Girls With Sole is a nonprofit organization. For more information on Girls With Sole and to donate, visit www.girlswithsole.org, www.gofundme.com/conqueringthewall, Facebook: Girls With Sole and Twitter: @girlswithsoulachieve.