By Sarah Moore
It was just a one hour class at Breathing Space Yoga Studio in Sydney, but for Anne O'Neill, it meant a whole lot more. Hosted by I AM Mending the Gap (I AM), proceeds from the event went to KidSport Nova Scotia and made it possible to put two girls in sports this year, one in gymnastics and the other in soccer.
O'Neill is the founder of I AM, a platform that educates and increases awareness around gender inequality in sport. Playing tennis growing up in Cape Breton and coaching the sport for the past nine years, she noticed girls were always outnumbered by boys on the court and she wanted that to change.
To achieve that, I AM was founded 2019. This year they hosted the yoga event in June and an event in September at SPINCO Halifax to support KidSport Nova Scotia.
"I wanted to give back to my hometown and being on the other side as a coach I knew of the magic, I guess you could say, that KidSport has created for kids, so I knew that they could take the vision that I wanted and take it one step further," says O'Neill. "It's not just supporting KidSport, but it's supporting that new generation of athletes."
Addressing financial barriers to sport is particularly important, both on an individual level and at a systematic level, as girls' programming tends to be severely underfunded in comparison to boys'.
"I want everyone to have the same opportunities that I had growing up," says O'Neill. "I think it's important that everyone gets to experience something so magical such as sports because the benefits from them don't stay on the playing field."
As a tennis player, being the only one standing on the court a lot of the time taught her how to be independent. As a coach, she learned other life skills—how to work as a team and how to implement leadership.
"It's done a lot for me and I hope other people get to share that journey."
Like O'Neill, sport has been foundational in Taye Landry's life and identity, and that's why she wants to make sure all girls have the same opportunities. The owner of SPINCO Halifax, Landry was happy to provide the space for I AM's KidSport Nova Scotia event at the end of September because promoting gender equality completely aligns with her own views.
"Especially women, I think sometimes [sport] can be taken away from us when we grow up. I think it should always be injected into our communities and into our lives because it is such a foundational thing," Landry says. "It really helps us build our power because so much of the time in society we can be silenced and I think that building confidence in an athletic way really translates into how you show up in the world."
Although Landry played sports growing up, she really became passionate about athletics a few years ago. Living in Los Angeles and working in the fashion industry, she was grateful but felt empty and struggled to find purpose. Then, she started hiking and running, and found a spin studio.
It was extremely challenging at first, but then "it became such a therapeutic thing for me," she says. "I realized that my mind would try to tell me things: that I can't do it or that I'm not enough or that I don't have what it takes. But in that room [a spin class] you can overcome it and keep pushing forward, then you can do that in your everyday life [...] What you learn on the bike about yourself and about pushing past that limit that we set on ourselves, you can also do that in real life."
Two and a half years ago, she partnered with SPINCO to open the Halifax location.
Because it was such a catalyst for change in her life, Landry believes sport should be accessible to everyone, regardless of their financial circumstances.
"To think that a little girl would miss out on all that opportunity and all those life lessons and just the empowerment of sport altogether, it truly does break my heart," she says. "Helping KidSport [is] definitely something that I truly believe in that has that ability to change someone's whole entire life."
Above all, addressing gender equality in sport is a community effort, as the audiences at the yoga and spin classes this year demonstrated.
"It's everyone who's coming to these events who are really doing great things," says O'Neill. "Without people and that community that we built around I AM of working together to solve the problem of gender inequality, it wouldn't be a thing."