Photo: Chris Thorn
Ashley Wiles – Sole Girls
Ashley Wiles has spent time in dark places. She suffered from depression, body image issues and wasn’t sure how to lift away the blinds.
Eventually, the memories of running with her grandpa when she was 5 helped her see some light. Running and runners soon formed her tribe and Wiles hasn’t looked back. She took the lessons learned and sought a way to pass on her wisdom.
Wiles, 30, is the Vancouver soul behind Sole Girls, an inspirational and motivational program for girls aged 8-12. Sole Girls is based around a goal of running a 5K in nine weeks. The girls get there with some run training and a whole bunch of positive reinforcement about what they can accomplish in life.
“I’m in the business of changing lives, giving kids the tools to think about physical activity differently,” she says. “So it’s more fun than work. I don’t use terms like workout. It’s movement and fun.”
More than 500 girls from in and around Vancouver have gone through the program.
Wiles says active girls are more confident, but more than 60 per cent of girls between the ages of 12 and 19 are inactive. It’s an age range that also sees self-confidence plummet in girls as they cope with anxieties and angst from poor self-image, eating issues and coping with bullying, mean girls and frenemies.
Photo: Chris Thorn
Ashley Wiles, community leader and social entrepreneur, raises self-esteem in girls.
Sole Girls connects the tweens with high school and university age mentors to help build their self-confidence.
Running is not even about running; for me it’s about mental health.
“We all deal with anxiety on one scale or another,” she says. “Running is not even about running; for me it’s about mental health. Running is the most easily accessible, most underutilized tool we have to build positive mental health.
“I have seen 8 year-olds pinching their stomachs saying they are fat. How do we change that?”
Wiles, a two-time Ironman Canada finisher, believes that running builds confidence, community and concentration, “You just need to take that first step. Just 5 minutes, might turn into 10, into 20. There are no rules, but those first few steps will make you feel better and might actually change your life.”
Colleague Kathleen Lane says Wiles is reshaping how we think about physical activity and mental health while changing perceptions about our bodies. “What Ashley’s doing is incredible and more people need to know her story. There are ways to learn tools to cope and reach your potential as a person,” says Lane. “The farther we can reach out, the better.”
Sole Girls has grown from Wiles’ solo venture to include a team of coaches, a leadership program for girls and women from 14-35, and Sole For Boys. She also stages Full Awesome – a 5K fun run – and has started speaking outside Canada on the links between physical and mental health.
“We run as a social enterprise – it’s a business, but it’s about how we help build community,” says Wiles. “We’re giving kids tools now so when they get to be 25 and they don’t like their body – they remember they had a mentor when they were young and they have a connection between them and a bigger community.”
“What motivates me? The biggest thing is my community, showing up for them because they show up for me. Together we are so much stronger.”