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New fitness studio aims to build self-confidence in girls

Published on

Cathy Dobson

When Aarika Fortier moved back to Sarnia last year, she became convinced young girls in the community needed more opportunities to be active and build self-confidence.

“It’s not easy growing up. It can get vicious, especially with the Internet,” said the married mom of two girls, ages 3 and 5.

Aarika Fortier

“I think we have to learn to uplift each other and just have fun.”

Fortier said she knows firsthand how anxiety can develop in childhood. Growing up in Corunna, she struggled with worry and panic attacks that got progressively worse.

Years of therapy taught her coping skills and the deep connection between physical and mental health, she said.

She began playing competitive soccer and running half marathons. And when Fortier returned to Sarnia after years in Toronto she started coaching Sarnia Spirit girls’ soccer.

“That’s when I saw that the girls needed more, something that isn’t competitive, that will make them feel really good about themselves,” she said.

“I truly believe that keeping our youth active can help with today’s mental health issues.”

So, with a business plan in hand and a husband willing to do renovations, Fortier leased space for her own Sarnia fitness studio for girls.

Active Girls Fitness opened March 20 at 850 Colborne Rd. in the Northgate Plaza.

Two 10-week classes for junior girls aged 8 – 11 and two for senior girls aged 12 -16 filled up the first week. Registration has started for an eight-week Running Circle program that begins April 22 and involves training and participation in an 8-km run/walk called Ride Don’t Hide for the Canadian Mental Health Association

The plan is to add more classes and possibly an outdoor camp this summer.

Fortier, whose background is in business and marketing, said finding her clientele was relatively easy.  “I just reached out to different groups of girls in the area, brought eight of them on board as ambassadors, and spread the word.”

One wall of the new fitness studio is covered in mirrors where friendly reminders like “I am kind” and “I am important” are written in freehand.

The first 40 minutes of each class features games, fun exercise routines and other activities. The last 20 minutes is devoted to discussions about self-esteem and self-image.

“We talk about what makes them happy about themselves and I tell them to think about those positive qualities when they go out and meet people or have other anxious moments,” said Fortier.

“We also set goals every week, with the girls doing something kind for someone or smiling at someone or complimenting them.”

For now, Active Girls Fitness is a part-time occupation for Fortier. By day, she is a sales consultant for hair care products.

As the studio gets busier, she wants to involve high school students who can earn volunteer hours by helping to mentor some of the girls.

A 10-week program is priced at $180. No more than 12 per class. Registration for all programs is online at  Fortier can be reached at 416-902-5895 or [email protected].


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