PGiM in the South Philly Review

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Philly Girls in Motion making more memories

A Point Breeze school’s attendees are strengthening their bodies and minds through a thriving nonprofit.

By Joseph Myers
Add Comment Add Comment|Comments: 0 |Posted Oct. 16, 2014

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Members of CrossFit PHL are helping their eager charges to gain greater senses of the benefits of exercise. The girls will continue to receive instruction throughout the school year.

Photo by Rob Torney

Racing across the gymnasium floor at St. Thomas Aquinas Mission School, 18th and Morris streets, Monday with all the joy one would wish for an 8-year-old to know, Sonia Bautista appeared the picture of confidence and commitment. Along with 11 other enrollees at the Point Breeze institution, she gleefully spent 75 minutes taking tutelage from instructors at CrossFit PHL, one of the partners whom Philly Girls in Motion has enlisted to assist young females’ physical and mental maturation.

“I feel much better about myself,” Sonia, of Second and Morris streets, said of the nearly three-week-old program. “I love playing games and the coaches are nice, too.”

If the Pennsport resident had not elected to join the three-times-a-week initiative, she confessed she most likely would be choosing sleep over exercise once home from school. To the delight of Philly Girls in Motion founder Beth Devine, the girl and her peers have chosen to champion personal responsibility one exercise session and nutrition lesson at a time.

“Their progress has been phenomenal,” the Havertown dweller said of the registrants, who initiated their fitness crusade Sept. 29. “They’re very diligent and they’re making great connections with the adults and one another.”

Devine began the program at the request of St. Thomas Aquinas principal Vincent Mazzio, a friend of 20 years, who wanted his site to move from being a basketball-only entity. As the runner, swimmer and triathlete has enjoyed a thriving presence in South Philly through interactions with the Edward O’Malley Athletic Association, 144 Moore St.; Guerin Recreation Center, 2201 S. 16th St.; and Ss. Neumann-Goretti High School, 1736 S. 10th St., she transformed the idea into a full-fledged wonder that counts CrossFit PHL, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Villanova University’s MacDonald Center for Obesity Prevention and Education as colleagues in countering depression and sedentary lifestyles.

“So many women, for whatever reasons, often find themselves saying ‘I can’t’ when it comes to getting in and staying in shape,” Joe Renzi, a coach at CrossFit PHL, 1414 S. Darien St., said. “We all believe we can help them to say ‘I can,’ and we realize that it’s really important to work to instill that in females no matter their age. These girls have listened to every instruction, and they’re determined to believe in themselves.”

The Girard Estate inhabitant came to the attention of Devine through a friend and called on three colleagues Monday for his third installment of increased heart rates and uplifted spirits. With a daughter of his own, Renzi regards his role as not only an immediate assistant but also as a potentially long-term influence whose message of self-belief can prove to have a domino effect.

“They’re seeing strong women in action, and that can be beneficial,” he said. “At their ages, there are many chances to doubt themselves. That’s where we love to step in and be positive influences. What’s better than that?”

The partnership is helping the Catholic school to live up to its all-inclusive identity, already apparent in its multi-cultural enrollment figures, by involving girls from every grade. Most attend for all three days, with Tuesdays centering on lacrosse and Wednesdays involving group exercises such as dance, Pilates, yoga and Zumba.

“For other programs, we’ve had the registrants set goals,” Devine said. “For this, though, we just wanted to make it about movement.”

As if on cue, Sonia and the others, right after showing their brawn by performing perfect pushups, engaged in chases that led to abundant laughter. Thoroughly enjoying their enjoyment, Devine frequently nodded and encouraged their efforts, endeavors that have always mattered to Kayla Hillian.

“I love to exercise,” the 12-year-old sixth-grader said. “I used to take dance class, so I like having this chance to be active.”

The resident of the 2200 block of McClellan Street appreciates the care that their elders display in addressing the connections between physical preparation and mental stimulation.

“I think feeling good physically and mentally go hand in hand,” Renzi, whose successful portfolio includes strength and conditioning aid for the Neumann-Goretti baseball team, which in the spring captured its fourth Catholic League title since 2009, said. “These girls are getting that knowledge.”

Kayla is especially riveted because of the opportunities. With her history of fitness, which includes time at the Christian Street YMCA, 1724 Christian St., she knows that each exercise, while giving her stamina and strength, also encourages wise decisions in other facets of her life. As she prepares for adolescence, she and the overseers know that perpetual positivity can prove a difficult weight to lift confidently but when one establishes a routine, nothing can halt growth.

“Everyone is supportive,” Kayla, who with the others could come to take up volleyball in the winter, said. “I like being with them as much as I like being with my friends.”

“We all need access to great choices,” Devine added. “We’re glad to be that portal for these girls and many others.”

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