Girls learn to be strong in body, mind through fitness club

Members and leaders of the South Rowan YMCA Girls Fitness Club gather for a group photograph before heading out on a hike at the Lake Corriher Wilderness Area in Landis. The club meets once a week during the fall season and gets to experience fitness-related activities like dance, hiking, racquetball, swimming and nutrition. The South Rowan YMCA agreed to create the club at the request of Taylor Darby, front left, and Rianna Cress, front right, both 9-year-old members who had no trouble finding girls to join.
Members and leaders of the South Rowan YMCA Girls Fitness Club gather for a group photograph before heading out on a hike at the Lake Corriher Wilderness Area in Landis. The club meets once a week during the fall season and gets to experience fitness-related activities like dance, hiking, racquetball, swimming and nutrition. The South Rowan YMCA agreed to create the club at the request of Taylor Darby, front left, and Rianna Cress, front right, both 9-year-old members who had no trouble finding girls to join.

They had been best friends for years.

Rianna Cress and Taylor Darby had been exercising together and doing all the things that best friends do when they had an idea, one born of their concerns about having enough confidence to hold their own as middle school approached.


“We wanted to do different activities, to find our way and learn to be strong and courageous,” Taylor said.

Rianna and Taylor enlisted the help of their mothers, Dacia Cress and Katrina Darby, who thought that the YMCA might be the perfect platform for a program offering young girls the chance to develop inner strength while experiencing different fitness activities.

“We thought that a variety of fitness activities would help the girls find at least one that they liked,” Rianna said. “The club would help us be strong and courageous.”

When the girls approached Jenny Buchanan, fitness director at the J. Fred Corriher YMCA South Branch, about their idea she was impressed. She told the girls to schedule an appointment and come prepared to discuss their further plans for the program.

With much thought and some additional help from their mothers, Rianna and Taylor drew up a workable format and met again with Buchanan.

They proposed the idea of the “Girls Fitness Club” for ages 8 to 13.

“Girls at this age aren’t always the nicest to each other and we wanted to change that,” said Taylor.

Rianna added, “We want to have the girls get healthy and be able to say ‘I believe in myself.’”

Buchanan knew that Rianna and Taylor were well prepared when they met.

“Their mothers were in the room, but the girls knew what they wanted and did a great job presenting it to me,” she said. “I felt this would work for our Y.

“Middle school girls can sometimes be negative and this program would offer them some skills and help them learn to support each other.”

Buchanan also felt that the program was a good fit for the YMCA.

“We strive to serve the community while building Christian principles,” she said. “The Girls Fitness Club would address their spirit, mind and body. We could cultivate good leaders.”

A format was developed to challenge each girl to set goals and track them through an activity log and a passport used to check off activities.

They decided to have each series of the Girls Fitness Club last eight weeks, enough time that leaders could use a different fitness weekly activity.

So far, the girls have experienced running, dancing and hiking.

The girls also have also discussed a “Word of the Week,” with the focus on understanding the word and how they can use it to build inner strength. Confidence was last week’s word. Devotions are a part of every meeting.

Now in the fourth week, the Girls Fitness Club has been a resounding hit.

“These girls will sometimes struggle to find a niche,” Leader Katrina Darby said. “They have a chance here to see what activities they like and don’t like.

“It just gives me chills to see how well these girls interact with each other.”

Darby said the girls only had a week to sign up, but 36 girls came to the first meeting.

“We still have that many participating,” she said.

Even though the club is focused on girls, parent Charlie Schleyer has joined in the activities and helps to motivate the participants.

“I have a 7-year-old daughter, Ava, and she keeps me motivated and busy,” he said. “I asked Ava if it would embarrass her if I helped out and she said no.

“I am impressed with the program because it is good to see kids out here with positive options rather than some of the others that they are presented with. When I see girls like this, I know our country has some hope for the future.”

Anna Grace Blackledg is in the club and her younger sister Sophia often tags along even though she isn’t quite old enough to be an official member.

“The leaders here are great role models and through them, I think the girls will learn to be role models for others,” their mother Lori Blackledg said. “ As a regular runner, I want them to be healthy too and take care of their bodies. It is always good for the girls to hear this from someone other than mom and dad.”

Leader Dacia Cress said the club meets for an hour and 15 minutes each week.

“It is hard to bottle their energy while here, but we know that we have an opportunity to instill strong values,” she said. “I am pleasantly surprised with the response.”

Future plans call for a celebration and recognition ceremony at the end of the current eight week series.

The next series is set to begin on January 9 and leaders expect some of the same girls and others who didn’t get the chance to participate this time around to be on hand again as the program grows.

“We try to empower the girls and teach them to be strong within themselves,” Cress said. “They will learn respect and good habits.”

Her daughter, Rianna, chimed in, “I’m getting healthy and I love that I can do it with other girls just like me.”

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