Girls’ Bras nonprofit helps support young runners in need

A teenage girl ran a quarter mile around the track before her sternum started to heave and her pulse raced, a feeling she had never felt before. Heart pounding, she called her teachers for help for fear of having a heart attack.

“At least one girl passes us by every year during the one-mile running module, because her heart is beating so fast and she doesn’t know what it is. Not all of our students know what an elevated heart rate is and have never felt it before,” says Carrie Wagner, executive director of Denver-based Girls Athletic Leadership Schools (GALS), a middle and high school preparatory school. which makes physical movement a central part of the curriculum. (There is also a GALS High School in Los Angeles County, California.)

“After calling an ambulance for the first incident six years ago when a student thought she had a heart event, we now know to teach girls how healthy it is to feel your heart pump more blood when you move your body,” Wagner said. The runner’s world.

Countless mature young girls in communities nationwide are not exposed to sports in their daily lives, which includes safety education and performance equipment.

One of the biggest deficits for growing girls nationwide, ages 8 to 18, is having access to a sports bra, a trend Wagner sees at GALS. This means that many mature women do not have access to proper sports equipment that secures and protects their breasts as they begin to participate in school sports and develop their breasts.

Bras for Girls, which recently became an official nonprofit that accepts donations and new partnerships, is working to change that fact. The organization cemented its nonprofit status earlier this year, having operated as an in-house giving program for Oiselle, a women-led clothing company, since 2017.

“Sports bras help give girls and young women the confidence to run because they help normalize body changes. Part of being a healthy athlete is letting your body develop normally. Second, wearing the right gear helps you feel comfortable while you exercise,” says Sarah Lesko, executive director of Bras for Girls, former varsity runner and cross-country captain at the University. of Yale. Lesko also worked as a cross country and track coach in college for nearly a decade.

To date, more than 19,000 new sports bras have been donated to middle and high school girls across the country through Bras for Girls (as well as a few international programs), including nearly 1,000 bras sports that have been distributed at GALS in Denver over the past three years.

The Girls Bras Catalyst

Initially, the Bras for Girls concept offered Oiselle a way to channel excess inventory to those in need. Then in 2018, the brand also launched the Get Sporty Bra, a design using internal textile waste to create bras for the donation pool.

Despite the effort, Bras for Girls was “grossly underprepared for the unmet need and enthusiasm for the program,” says Lesko, who helped lead the launch in 2017.

As of December 2020, more than 50,000 sports bra applications have been submitted by schools and organizations across the country. To help, Oiselle also launched the In2Sports bra as part of a buy-and-donate initiative to support orders, the following year.

But as demand continued to grow – the organization has received more than 20,000 requests for bras so far this year – Bras for Girls needed to reformat itself and become an independent organization in order to partner with brands of clothes and grow.

How the Girls Bras program works

One Bras for Girls host Lauren Kobylarz, director of the Students Run Philly Style program, a running mentorship program that partners with nearly 60 schools across Philadelphia, 80% of whom are youth of color, helps distribute bras to the girls in her organization.

Students Run Philly Style signed on to the Bras for Girls program in December 2020 and has since given out over 900 sports bras to their female participants, many of whom were previously unaware that sports bras are supposed to be tight-fitting .

Luckily, the Bras for Girls program teaches girls how to measure themselves by their bra size. And students have the opportunity to try on different sizes before ordering their own sports bra. (The In2Sports bra also offers an extended size from XS to 3X.)

“I told the girls, ‘The sports bra is supposed to be tight and compressive, so it can provide support. It was an enlightening moment for our students,’ Kobylarz says. She added, “For some of it’s their first sports bra for our girls, which changes how they view their own abilities and confidence to get out and do something new like run a long-distance race.”

“When you have a bigger body and you’re an athlete, it’s hard to find sports bras that work. We had a young lady who said, “They won’t have a sports bra that fits because my breasts are too big.” When the bra with a larger cup size and band size suited her, she laughed and beamed all day. It was heartwarming to see her included like all of her teammates,” said cross country coach Brandi Swortz, who works with Bras for Girls at Hudtloff Middle School in Washington.

In the field, the Girls’ Bras workshop also distributes an educational leaflet on breast growth, including information on how breasts can vary in shape and size, the basics of a bra, how to a bra should fit and how to test a bra, says Lesko, who is also a board-certified family physician.

“If girls don’t have the right chest support, they can’t move as much because their breasts, regardless of size, hurt when they run. Or girls cross their arms over their chests and they get embarrassed,” Wagner says. “The majority of our students don’t have a special sports bra, maybe don’t know that a special bra is needed for training, and a regular bra doesn’t have enough support for most people.”

Eva Carney, executive director and founder of the Kwek Society, which works to end menstrual poverty for Native American students and others in need across the country, adds that students without sports bras are walking sagging or wearing loose clothing because they feel exposed without a sports bra.

Since 2018, the Kwek Society has worked with Bras for Girls to donate nearly 1,500 sports bras to their partner schools and organizations, which primarily serve Indigenous populations nationwide, from Red Cloud Indian School in South Dakota at the Navajo Preparatory School in New Mexico and the Indian Municipal School in Maine.

“A good, well-fitting sports bra is a dream and a luxury, even if you’re not an active runner or weightlifter, because it fits you, gives you confidence, and makes you feel like you can actively participate in your daily life,” Carney says.

Providing well-constructed underwear also helps teach girls confidence in their daily lives. Carney says, “We have a lot of students in the Navajo Nation, and a lot of them are shy. Having a sports bra that protects and covers the breasts fits the idea of ​​not being shy about being out in the world with a developing body.

Lack of breast support is a global problem

Supporting the Bras for Girls initiative, a study based on a 2016 University of Portsmouth survey found that 46% of girls are affected by breasts in their participation in sports and exercise.

The UK-based researchers, several of whom lead the ongoing Breast Health Research Group at the University of Portsmouth, also found that more than half of girls did not wear sports bras during pregnancy. exercise and that 38% of girls were extremely concerned about breast bounce. , which emerged as a main problem.

As thousands of US-based stories about the critical need for sports bras and breast education have been made visible through Bras for Girls, the nonprofit has partnered at Cornell University through the Adolescent Transitions Lab to carry out a study on the effects of breast development education and donated equipment. A pilot questionnaire was recently completed, and the first full survey of 2,000 participants will be completed in fall 2022.

“We want to understand how education and equipment affect girls’ attitudes and beliefs towards sport,” Lesko explains.

If you want to get involved with Bras for Girls, you can donate money or new sports bras (if you work with a brand or retailer), or connect with participating organizations.

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