The U.N. has declared October 11 as the International Day of the Girl Child. Its mission is “to help galvanize worldwide enthusiasm for goals to better girls’ lives, providing an opportunity for them to show leadership and reach their full potential.”
As an educator, Olympic gymnast, Mom, and former “girl child,” I am excited to see events happening worldwide to encourage the flourishing of girl power and inspire gender-free opportunity for all.
I also wonder: What my responsibility is towards encouraging positive movement forward for girls? In asking myself this, I realized that sharing my own story is one way to inspire action and change.
As a young girl, I had the privilege of exploring activities including swimming, skating, ballet, and gymnastics. Once I discovered the thrill of gymnastics, that was it. I immediately fell in love with all of the flips, kips, and upside down tricks I could learn. I felt empowered—physically and mentally—and at nine-years-old, began training thirty hours a week. Not everyone understood this choice, and at times I felt uncertain and isolated from my peers. With support from my parents, coaches, and friends, I persevered and ultimately represented Canada at the 1984 Olympics. Reaching the highest level in my sport was truly an honour, and an adventure full of ups, downs and upside downs. As a “girl child” of fifteen, I had to sort through feeling fulfilled athletically, while also feeling confused about what to do next. What do you do when you retire at eighteen?
From this intense girlhood experience, I learned that to be really good at something, you have to love it. The passion has to come from within, and it needs constant refueling. You have to work hard, focus intently, overcome obstacles and build support—no one ever succeeds on their own.
In an effort to share these life lessons with others, I have written Kika the Upside Down Girl, the story of a young girl who loves exploring life upside down, despite the pressure she feels to stay right side up. She overcomes obstacles and finds true happiness in a most fliptatstic place—the Gymnastics Emporium!
Drawn from my own gymnastic experiences, my hope is that the story will resonate with girls (and boys!) who are keen to explore the world from their unique vantage point. By embracing a new perspective, youth can truly change the world. If girls are to reach their fullest potential and lead fulfilled lives, they have to see and do things differently. This is not easy for young girls or “older girls” like myself. As a parent, I would like my children to feel confident and secure in who they are, in whatever direction they choose. Knowing how much time, energy, and resources it takes to realize big dreams, I am drawing on all the life lessons I learned in gymnastics to share Kika the Upside Down Girl’s empowering message, so that girls everywhere can dream big and be brave—it’s like training for the Olympics all over again!
If my contribution helps empower girls embrace their passions, seek out support, and turn their world a little upside down, I will feel that my small part has made a difference to the whole, and that is satisfying. Girls deserve the best of us.
So, as the International Day of the Girl Child approaches, what will you do to better girls’ lives?
One thing you can do is visit Kika's Upside Down Campaign and help us empower girls to embrace upside down living!