Stride fetes 10 years of boosting young girls

ADDISON COUNTY — Winter in Vermont is unique. From the frequent snowstorms to the long days spent on the slopes, people travel from all over New England just to get a taste of the wonder that exists here in Vermont’s simple landscape. Between the Vermont towns of Middlebury and Winooski, however, there lies a special sort of winter magic that exists nowhere else in the state. The magic comes in the form of a bond, created between young girls and young women, a magic rooted in the simple act of playing sports. That magic is Stride.
Founded 10 years ago by Middlebury alum, Leslie Wright, The Stride Foundation is a non-profit organization that aims to enhance and promote female athletes in society. Wright was an avid Middlebury athlete, running for the varsity cross-country team and racing for the Nordic ski team all four years of her college experience. After graduating from Middlebury in ’84, Wright began to realize just how much sports had given her. “Every day my sports experience touches my life somehow. Not a day goes by when I don’t realize some way that I benefited from sports, whether it’s dealing with adversity, challenging myself, or just engaging with friends.” Aware of the value of athletics in her own life, Wright wanted to give back to other girls and women like her, and share how they could benefit from sports too.
In 2001, Wright turned her dreams into reality with the creation of the Stride Foundation. With the goal of supporting underprivileged young female athletes in Vermont, Stride provides girls with opportunities to become engaged in a variety of different sports—from Nordic skiing to downhill skiing and basketball. As Wright comments, “Stride is all about giving women the opportunity to better themselves through sports.” Wright hopes that by instilling this athletic mentality in women at young age, “they will carry these team-building skills with them through the rest of their lives, hopefully becoming leaders of society.” Just as sports gave Wright the self-confidence and willpower to achieve her dreams, she hopes that this program will give these girls the self-esteem needed to reach their potential and be the best they can be.
Starting with just a Middlebury basketball program, Stride has grown over the past decade to now include over 100 young female athletes. With the help of a Middlebury student intern during J-term, Stride runs its 4 winter programs during the months of December through March. The Snow Stars Nordic and Alpine ski programs pair young girls from the towns of Middlebury and Ripton with mentors from Middlebury College. The Snow Stars Alpine girls receive mentoring from the college students in a six-week mentoring program at the Snow Bowl. The Snow Stars Nordic girls meet on Monday afternoons at Rikert Ski Touring center in Breadloaf, where they are taught and mentored by the Middlebury women’s cross country ski team. Stride also organizes two women’s basketball programs known as Sisters in Sport. In the town of Middlebury, the Middlebury College women’s basketball team pairs up with the Middlebury Union Middle School girl’s basketball team about once a week to receive instruction, watch each other’s games and practice together. The same Sisters in Sport program is operated between the St. Michael’s College Women’s basketball team and the Winooski Middle School girl’s team near Burlington.
Stride does not stop there. Over the past several years, Stride has begun to expand its winter program to include an off-season as well. Now, every summer, Stride sponsors an at-risk young girl to participate in a six-week long wilderness canoe camp called Keewaydin on Lake Temagami, Ontario. Not only is this young girl given the chance to become proficient in canoeing, but she also learns leadership skills, teamwork, and builds self-esteem in a supportive environment.
Stride also sponsors several girls, who demonstrate a need, to attend summer basketball camp. This program keeps girls engaged in athletics and thinking about their upcoming basketball season. Though it is still in the works, Stride is also looking to possibly expand in the fall months with a cross-country mentoring program.
As the founder, Wright attributes most of the Stride Foundation’s success to her sponsors. Without the help of the colleges, the middle schools and most of all the donating sponsors, the Stride programs would not have been possible. Many of the participating girls come from disadvantaged backgrounds where they might not have had access to new gear, so “the sponsors are really making a difference in their lives and their futures by outfitting them with the best of the best,” Wright notes. Receiving equipment, gear, and donations from local businesses such as Isis, Ski Haus, Addison Outfitters, Turtle Fur, Kombi, and many others, Stride is able to make a positive impact on each an every girl that comes through one of its programs.
The best part of Stride, however, is not the gear, but the people. “It’s the magic of mentoring,” as Wright calls it. “Valuable lessons are learned on both sides.” The kids see the college students as their ultimate role models, imitating them in every way possible. “I just love seeing how the kids look up to the mentors and how the mentors learn from the kids as well. It’s really fun to watch.”
On March 24, Stride will be hosting its own 10-year anniversary party in the Two Brothers Lounge from 5pm to 7pm. With drink tickets, a raffle with prizes, and even a live band, the night will honor all of Stride’s many accomplishments over the past decade. Please come to support Stride and all the magic it has created for Middlebury and Winooski over the past ten years.  

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