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Health Hero Challenge: Help change a girl’s life in 15 seconds, here’s how

Caitlin Thompson, who is the lead for the Philadelphia Little Bellas, has been nominated to become Be Well Philly's 2019 Health Hero

The Be Well Philly Health Hero Challenge is an annual search for the people who are doing the work in the Philadelphia region to make their communities healthier. Hundreds of nominations flow into the Be Well Philly offices each year and it’s up to the editorial staff to narrow down the candidates to the top 10 semifinalists. This year’s semifinalists were asked to identify a cause near and dear to them that they are fighting for every day. Little Bellas’ Philadelphia program lead, Caitlin Thompson, was selected as a finalist for her work – not only for bringing Little Bellas to Philly, but also for making sure that all girls have the same opportunity to join Little Bellas.

We’re asking you to show your support for Caitlin by voting once a day, every day, until voting ends on Oct. 1. It'll take you 15 seconds, promise. The three finalists in this year’s Health Hero Challenge will receive donations of up to $15,000 for their charities. Caitlin has chosen Little Bellas as her cause.

While on maternity leave with her infant daughter, Caitlin Thompson decided that she wanted to create a program in the Philadelphia area. She got to work right away on the application process. Caitlin had only started mountain biking in college and – perhaps like many of you reading this – she instantly experienced the challenges and frustrations of navigating sinewy singletrack littered with obstacles that seemed intent on harm.

Sort of sounds like a metaphor for life, doesn’t it?

Tina learned how to ride a bike with Little Bellas

But here’s the thing, when we’re surrounded by order and predictable outcomes, then success gets measured by certain criteria and assumptions. But life doesn’t work that way and thankfully, neither does mountain biking, which is about as disorderly, disruptive, and unpredictable as a sport can be. Little Bellas has seized mountain biking as the tool to build confidence and make failure shameless for thousands of young women throughout the past 12 years.

Remember that day when the scary rock became less scary? The rock didn’t change.

“Our Little Bellas don't bring a lot of trail riding experience to the program,” Caitlin said. “It’s usually their first time on singletrack so we make sure that the girls understand some basic riding skills, like getting started pedaling and braking, before they head off into the woods.”

Parents say that it can be hard to find the right activities for girls. This is even more true in an urban area like Philadelphia, which has an abundance of green space but where the trails are often unknown, even to the residents of the nearby neighborhood. Caitlin has made it her mission to make Little Bellas accessible to all girls in the Philly region by raising extra funds and by organizing transportation of the bikes for girls who would otherwise be discouraged by these two barriers to participation.

“We aim to get more girls on bikes with scholarships and loaner bikes,” Caitlin explained. “We also partner with programs in the city like Neighborhood Bikeworks and the Bicycle Coalition Youth Cycling programs to give the girls even more opportunities to ride bikes. We've helped families buy bikes at a low cost with the help of partners because we want all of our girls to have access to this sport and to the freedom it gives you to explore the trails of the parks of Philly.”

Thanks in part to Caitlin’s and others’ actions, the Philadelphia region is home to not just one, but three Little Bellas programs – one of which was started by a mentor in Caitlin’s program.

We applaud Caitlin’s efforts as well as the work of all the pioneering women who have created Little Bellas programs in their own communities across the United States. There truly is strength in numbers, please be counted by voting for Caitlin from now until Oct. 1, thanks!

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