Toyota Everyday Heroes Emphasize Sports And Self-Esteem

Heidi Boynton and Chrissy Lewis-Summers talk about what's next for their organizations, which empower youth, and how being honored as Toyota Everyday Heroes will help them take.

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Building self-esteem, teaching leadership skills and helping young girls become successful adults are the common goals of two women who are using sports as a vehicle to influence thousands of kids in the United States and abroad.

Chrissy Summers, 30, who founded Beyond Sticks, a sports organization that empowers student-athletes to become leaders through sport, and Heidi Boynton, 45, executive director and co-founder of the Mini Mermaid Running Club, whose mission is to help build self-esteem, teach healthy eating and living skills while falling in love with running, were honored this week as the 2015 Toyota Everyday Heroes.

We spoke to them about how the goals and priorities of their organizations, and what has made them so special. Check out the event livestream.

espnW: What does winning mean to you?

Summers: It is first and foremost overwhelming to get the phone call that this was happening to our organization, that this was something. You're asking someone, 'Did I really get the right Lotto numbers?' And it's truly a reflection of the work the organization has put in and the parents and the coaches. And I have some incredible partners that I work with who make it possible. That's what I see it as. It's really a reflection of the community that I founded but has taken on a life of its own with so many other people that have done so many amazing things for the girls in our program.

Boynton: The first thing I thought of was it's an affirmation of the work being done. That it's making an impact and people are hearing that the impact is there. No matter what we do in the world, if there's not the intended impact and that outcome, then we're spinning our wheels. We've been working hard for five and a half years and to have this is incredibly awesome ... and for the work that Mini Mermaids is doing and all the people it takes to do it, it's a huge stamp of 'OK, let's keep going.'

espnW: Why is focusing on girls so important?

Summers: I don't have to really worry about young boys. They're taken care of in the sports atmosphere. And when you look at young girls, we are not given the intrinsic advantages that sports brings you. Boys are taught to go play football or do sports and for girls, it's not a given. So sometimes young girls lose out on those because they think they are only playing to play a really high level and we show that sports can provide something super positive in terms of confidence, overcoming failure, not fearing failure, working as teams. Seeing women as your allies as opposed to adversaries. All of these things are something that is really important for young girls as they transition into young women and then women are exposed to through athletics.

Boynton: When I started this with a friend of mine and wrote the initial curriculum, I knew there was something unique based on my own experience coaching women: That moment of realization, of transformation, of reconciliation between moving your body, and your heart and mind opening up to what's going on inside the internal conversation, is really magical. For us, when we look at programming for the girls, it's so much about offering tools so they know how to navigate those internal conversations. They learn what the difference is between what's external and what's holding us back and moving us forward, and what's internal, and those voices are our own. And we can choose as long as we know we have the power to choose those voices to propel us forward.

espnW: What is building self-esteem such a big part of this process?

Summers: Why is it not important? The thing is, I always think, if you don't have self-esteem and self-confidence, nothing can come afterwards. So it's the foundation. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you don't believe in yourself, no one else will. If you don't think you can do it, you can't. And if you don't have that base of self-esteem that comes from being part of a team or having a coach that believes in you, you can't do all the other stuff. So you need the foundation. Our culture has this back-and-forth with women -- feel good about yourself, feel badly about yourself. But if you have that base that 'I'm OK with who I am,' when you get knocked down or told your body is not right or you're not the right kind of athlete or right kind of leader, if you have that baseline of self-esteem, we teach that there's lots of ways to lead, lots of ways to be powerful, lots of ways to be a good teammate. And you need to find something that works for who you are, and who you are is just fine.

Boynton: For me, self-esteem is more of a label and I don't mean that derogatory at all. But for me, it's more about worth and value. And when we talk about esteem, it means we hold something in high regard. So what if we were able, as young as 7, 8, 9 and 10, when we start to look around and we think our body's not up to the mark, or we aren't smart enough or we aren't fast enough or we aren't rich enough or we aren't funny or beautiful enough, if we could hold ourselves in high enough regard that our worth and value is shown through all of that craziness. So for me, that's what that building process is about -- getting girls to understand that no matter who they are, where they come from, what they have, that they matter and they have worth and value.

espnW: What have you accomplished over the last year that makes you the most proud?

Summers: I think what I continue to be most proud of with our organization is, we talk about playing beyond the game and so we try to not just do it here and there but systematically. So in our camps, we come up with new curriculum every single year in how do we teach grit? How do we teach perseverance? How do we teach not fearing failure? And we run sessions on that, and the fact that we have never become complacent with our curriculum and the way we work, and the way we're always seeking [resources out.] I call it sneaking life skills in the side door. We bring in sports and then we sneak in life skills before they notice. We continue to make that a mission of our company when it's so easy just to be a sports company.

Boynton: Probably hitting 5,000 girls served worldwide. That's pretty awesome. Also we've built in a real depth to the work that we're doing. We're accidentally awesome. I know that sounds funny but there are so many things when it's like 'Whoa, how did that happen?' We didn't know that 75 percent of our coaches would be teachers volunteering their time. We never had that in our mind when we created this thing. I did eight half-marathons in nine days in April, and I ran from Sacramento to Mexico and finished on campuses where we have programming with our girls. So I got to see all of these coaches with their girls running alongside me and hearing from them why this program matters. So I'd say in 2015, it [touched] my heart in the most beautiful ways of keep going, this is hard work. It's not easy doing what we're doing, the way we're doing it. And it's worth it.

espnW: Have there been any noteworthy setbacks along the way?

Summers: Last year we were all teed up to do a program in D.C. with the charter schools and run some programs for low-income and high-risk youth, and we just ran into some issues with the public schools. And that was a big disappointment for me personally because I really believe that sports should be an equal opportunity for all girls and we're really looking forward, hopefully with some of the momentum with this award, to re-open those doors and those conversations and find a partner that's going to work better for us to really try to make a difference in the lives of kids in the D.C., and possibly Baltimore, area.

Boynton: We had this realization last year that we wanted to be really careful about our expansion and made sure we're staying where we began programming and we're not just dropping something and checking it off the list and moving on. We've pulled the reins in a little bit and learning from what worked and didn't work. Mistakes are a big part of our culture and our team, and we embrace them wholeheartedly and say, 'OK, what can we learn and how can we do this differently?' We ask every Monday at our staff meetings 'What's holding you back right now the most, and then we work together and solve that problem.' The big thing for us was realizing we want to be really intentional with every single place we bring our program and make sure that is sustains.

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