Most Canadians remember Chandra Crawford for her very successful skiing career, including a gold medal in cross-country skiing at the 2006 Turin Games and seven World Cup medals.
Since her retirement from competitive skiing,
the energetic 31-year-old has channelled much of her infectious
enthusiasm into her own charitable initiative, Fast and Female. Founded in 2005, the organization’s goal is to support, inspire and empower girls ages 9 to 19 to stick to sports and a healthy lifestyle.
Chandra spoke with Chimp about what inspired her to start Fast and Female, the need to counteract stereotypes, and the importance of providing female role models in sports.
It says on your website that your bio can be sung to the theme song of Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Is that true?
CC: Yes, absolutely. I mean it goes like this, right? (starts singing) “In Southern Canmore, born-and-raised, at the Nordic Center is where I spent most of my days. Skiing, music, and relaxin’ all cool and doing French Immersion up in the school. When a couple of girls who were really good inspired me to ski fast outside of my neighborhood.”
That’s all I have. (laughs)
You had a very impressive career in cross country skiing. Did you have any role models that set you up for your success?
CC: I had really good role models that set my life up on a good path. My parents are wonderful people with an adventurous spirit and they thought I can do anything. I did a lot of music, languages, dance, drama and mountain sports throughout my school year and just had a very colourful, opportunity-filled life. I remember running out of the door on my bike with half a bagel in my hand, my mum shouting after me ‘Are you sure you’re not doing too much?’ and I’d be just ‘No. I’m great. Goodbye.’
Another great role model is Sara Runner. She’s just so positive, always smiling. When she came back from the Salt Lake Olympics and said I highly recommend that experience, I was just thinking “If Sarah Runner tells me to do something, I’m gonna do it.” She’s also one of the founding members of Fast and Female.
What inspired you to Start Fast and Female?
CC: I think when I was babysitting and keeping an eye on my younger sister, I realized that a lot of young girls are having a hard time finding good role models in sports, and that makes them believe that there’s no room for girls in sports.
Sports is for everyone: you, me, grandparents, kids, men, women. And the values sports teaches us are for everyone.
It’s about mental and physical well being, leadership, feeling confident and strong, taking feedback well, teamwork, and bouncing back from failure. Sports gives us those experiences that are really important in real life.
What does Fast and Female try to accomplish?
CC: Fast and Female is all over North America and we’re always on tour. So there’s probably an event near you, but if we’re not in your community, anyone can just email us and we set something up.
We offer a lot of different programming and events to empower girls to be involved in sports and stay involved. We want them to build up their confidence, to buff up their inner gold.
It’s amazing to see female athletes talk to hundreds of girls at one of our events and talk about their sport and there are ice dancers and wrestlers, and athletes who ride horses, or throw things. They stand up and talk about their sport and it shows those young girls that there isn’t one narrow definition of what it means to be a girl. They can have their own identity and we can make girls feel welcome and safe to be whoever they want to be.
In that sense, Fast and Female really counterbalances all the propaganda out there on how girls are supposed to look like and what they are supposed to do. At Fast and Female, we go all the way to change that culture around girls.
By age 14, girls are two times as likely to have dropped out of sports. Why do you think that is?
CC: The reasons why girls drop out are quite solvable, and at Fast and Female we explore that quite a bit. Frankly, I’m a little bit obsessed with that (laughs).
The three main reasons seem to be a lack of social belonging, mentorship and health. Fast and Female targets all three of these areas and we’re very aware that we need to do something to improve these areas by changing sports culture.
Girls have nine percent more gray matter for connection. That means, if girls run into conflict, their pain centre activates. And we’re also very physically strong and that makes us prone to overtrain.
Girls really need social belonging. We want approval and friendship from the other girls and praise from our coaches.
Coaches often think it’s touchy feely to talk about these things, but it’s actually really important. So, in our seminars, we also bring parents, coaches and sport psychologists together and we encourage them to ask certain questions when working with girls’ teams: Do they have friends? Are they happy? Are they connected? Are they talking to each other?
It’s really about having more fun in sports and creating more female lead athletes. And it’s not that hard to do.
You mentioned earlier, the kind of “propaganda” that dictates how girls have to look and act. How has that affected you personally?
CC: I was really lucky to be very well supported, so I always had that extra energy, but there was a point later in my career, where I went through a rough patch in my life and in my late twenties I was bulimic for a year.
It felt like I was losing control over my life and it was just so incredibly pervasive. And at the same time it just showed me how deeply certain ideas about women are ingrained in us.
So, it really became apparent to me how important it is to counteract those standard perceptions to give girls, women and families a better starting point.
If you had one piece of advice to give to young female athletes, what would that be?
CC: The one thing I would say that applies in general and in sports is that we have to redefine success for ourselves in terms of overcoming obstacles and excuses, so that whatever the outcome: you can be happy with your life. I can live with disappointment, but not with regret. I can get over failure, but not regret.
At my last Olympics in Sochi, for example, I came in 44th. I was just swishing away, ponytail flying behind me. I did everything I could to get over the finish line and in the end I really succeeded for myself.
When I rode the gondola down from the mountain after the race and it was slowly sinking down, I was at total peace and had absolutely no regrets. It was a very special moment, and it shows how powerful it is to value intrinsic over extrinsic motivation.
Support for Fast and Female on Chimp
When running enthusiasts Sarah, Heather, Sophie, and Kyla decided to sign up for Vancouver’s BMO Marathon, they knew it would take a lot of hard training and stamina to make it over the finish line. “We were part of the same running group and decided to train together to pump each other up,” says Kyla. “We gave ourselves a name, LesFab4, and then we thought if we’re doing all this running anyways, why don’t we do something for a good cause at the same time?”
Together, they decided on a cause — empowering women in sports — and started raising money for Fast and Female. Within three months and with the help of friends and family, they raised almost $1,400.
“The LesFab4’s fundraiser means a lot to me,” says Chandra and adds that the money will help seven girls to take part in one of Fast and Female’s workshops with average costs for logistics, food and transportation amounting to $200 per participant.
“I’m also really happy for LesFab4 for doing such meaningful work. I’m happy they get to experience that special feeling of doing something for the love of it. That’s the best compensation you can possibly get. It’s so rewarding.”
Are you thinking about starting your own fundraiser? Chimp provides you with a fundraising page completely free of charge. You can personalize your page, rally your community and make a real difference for a cause you care about. If you have any questions email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-877-531-0580.
Photo Credit: Matt Leidecker