It’s the little moments that Ashley Wiles is most proud of.
The founder of Sole Girls uses creative running games to empower local tween girls and help them lead healthy lives, and recently expanded her program offerings to serve their male counterparts through Sole 4 Boys. Over the years she’s come to realize the positive benefits of helping to forge one-to-one connections between community members.
“One of our topics, we do talk about anxiety. When somebody says to me, ‘Wow, I didn’t know that other people also have anxiety - I’m not crazy,’ that’s the best feeling in the world because I know that that’s going to make a huge difference. Knowing you’re normal and knowing you’re OK and that other people also have that, it’s just about connection and I think that’s kind of the human experience. The more connected we get with all our social devices and striving to be successful, everything, we often forget to just stop and be ourselves. So it’s the little moments like that where I kind of remember that every single person is really important and I think that those moments of connection are so special,” she says.
Drawing on her personal experiences as a runner and a coach, the North Vancouver resident launched Sole Girls on the North Shore three years ago.
“Our mission (is) to empower girls through fun, physical activity and positive mental health,” says Wiles.
Mentorship is a key component of programming and she seeks to connect her charges with mentors, those “who have been through the body image, the mean girls, the friendships, the anxiety, the things that we go through growing up, and make it an easier process.”
Wiles chose running as her medium based on its positive impact on her own life.
“Running has just been such a huge piece of my life. … When I am feeling vulnerable or stressed or I don’t really know what to do, running has always been there for me. It’s been a community creator, so a space where people can come together and just run and just be themselves and do whatever they have to do and find their happy pace,” she says.
In addition, she likes that running is a non-competitive activity.
“Kids, ages eight to 12, they’re kind of getting into this phase where things do start to get very competitive if you look at most sports. What we see is kids, and particularly girls, are dropping out because they either don’t want to be competitive or they aren’t excelling in that sport. Instead of continuing on at a level where they feel comfortable with, they completely drop out and feel discouraged. So running is a space where it’s not just about running, it’s about connection and community,” she says.
In addition to Wiles’ ongoing Sole Girls community and school-based programs offered in a variety of Lower Mainland locations in addition to North and West Vancouver, she’s currently inviting families to register for next weekend’s Sole Awesome five-kilometre fun run.
“It’s a different kind of fun run so it’s not just about running because our program is not just about running either, it’s also about the social and emotional connection. And sometimes running just isn’t that fun, so we’ve created a fun run that is actually really fun,” she says.
The course will include different activities at every kilometre, including high-five and three-legged race stations. Sole Awesome will be held Sunday, May 29 at Burnaby’s Deer Lake Park and Wiles is anticipating 400 participants to attend, including the members of approximately 60 families from the North Shore.
Proceeds from the Sole Awesome fun run will support Sole Girls and Sole 4 Boys scholarships so more children can participate. While her programs are fee-for-service, Wiles describes her organizations as social enterprises and offers scholarships to those who couldn’t otherwise afford the cost of participation.
“Our goal is really to create a more inclusive, awesome community and one of those things is really understanding that there is financial need out there,” she says.
Wiles is continuing to expand her offerings and is pleased to now serve boys ages eight to 11 through Sole 4 Boys.
She’s currently gearing up for summer camp season and hopes to have one boys camp as well as a number of new age groups for girls, including four to six, six to eight, eight to 12 and 11 to 15.
Training coaches to become involved in the organizations is another strong focus at present and Wiles has an upcoming session for interested community members coming up in June.
She’s also excited about a new Junior Leadership program for girls, ages 11-15, that incorporates hiking into the mix.
For her efforts, Wiles has recently earned two new feathers in her cap. One saw her receive an Outstanding Supporter of Youth Award as part of the City of North Vancouver annual Youth Awards program earlier this month.
In addition, she was chosen as one of 13 people from more than 1,000 nominations from across North America, and is the only Canadian in the running for a Brooks Inspiring Coach Award, according to Sole Girls.
Finalists will be officially announced in early June and community members will be encouraged to vote for their favourite coach. The winner of the 2016 Brooks Inspiring Coach will be announced June 24.
“I’m really, really excited and honoured to be recognized as an inspiring coach because there are so many inspiring people out there and to be one of 13 out of thousands of nominations is pretty amazing,” says Wiles.
Info: solegirls.org and sole4boys.com.
Sole Awesome five-kilometre fun run presented by Sole Girls and Sole 4 Boys, Sunday, May 29 at 9 a.m. at Burnaby’s Deer Lake Park. Registration deadline: Monday, May 23 ($35), visit soleawesome.ca.