Nicole Shaia: Empowering Adolescent Girls To Stay Engaged in Sports and Fitness
Welcome back! Spiffy here, your interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs working to make this world more equitable. Today I’m super excited to speak with Nicole Shaia, the founder and Chief Creator of Awesome at Tharros, who is working on UN SDG 5: Gender Equality. Are you ready?
Spiffy: It’s wonderful to meet you, Nicole. I’m curious about the challenges that Tharros is addressing. What can you tell me?
Nicole: Thanks for having me on, Spiffy! Did you know that teenage girls drop out of sports two times more often than boys? Today, at least 1 in 3 girls will drop out of their sport by their late teenage years. When girls drop out, they miss out on the academic, health, social, and economic opportunities that sport provides. Standard sports programs have “pay to play” models that are expensive and competitive. Girls also face other barriers like lack of access to girls’ sports programs and a lack of female role models who encourage their participation. Tharros is on a mission to empower more girls to stay engaged in sports and fitness.
Spiffy: What motivated you to do it?
Nicole: I was inspired to start Tharros from my own personal journey with sports. I recently returned to playing sports over 15 years after I dropped out when I was around 14 years old. I struggled with confidence issues and financial constraints. When I returned to playing soccer, I wanted to help girls who might have been in my position. I was surprised to learn that my story was not unique—and beyond the statistics I mentioned above, 40% of teenage girls don’t play sports at all. When I discovered this, it became clear to me that I needed to be part of changing the future outlook for the next generation of girls.
Spiffy: That’s inspiring! Can you elaborate on how you and Tharros are working towards a more equitable world?
Nicole: Tharros is working towards a more equitable world by empowering adolescent girls to stay engaged in sports and fitness and develop their own athletic identity. We aim to help girls be more courageous in developing their athletic identity so that they can overcome barriers throughout their sports journey. We do this by uniting women and girls to share connective stories about their experiences in sports and have real conversations about barriers, while providing a supportive community where girls can show up as they are to explore their passions and live out their true identity.
Spiffy: Is there a recent Tharros milestone or initiative that you want to share, along with the impact it makes on your community?
Nicole: We just launched a Courage Chat series to unite women, girls, and equity allies through connective storytelling and conversation. Each monthly chat features a positive role model with experience in sports and fitness. During the chat, we share stories from our personal journeys with sports and offer guidance, advice, and support. The impact of the Courage Chat series helps to elevate the stories of real women and empowers women to be courageous and confident in sharing their stories while also giving girls access to mentors and role models who showcase the mindset and behaviors that will help them to expand their vision of what is possible. Seeing is believing!
Spiffy: It is indeed! Please share an experience when you faced failure and didn't give up. What did you learn from it?
Nicole: It is important to accept that failure is part of the process. There are so many moments when you face rejection. I have not always received the funding opportunities I hoped for and do not always get to partner with the people I hoped to work with. These are great learning opportunities to become better. I have learned through this process to get clearer about the work I am doing and how to pitch it to people that align with my vision. Instead of seeing failure as a stopping point, think of failure as a necessary part of the process.
Spiffy: What is something you've unexpectedly learned from someone recently?
Nicole: Always make time for play. I learned this from my puppy Gus, who will always ask for play time and take you up on the chance to play. He could be exhausted and if you mention the word ‘outside’ or ‘ball’ he’s in! When you are solving hard problems and starting a new venture, it can be really hard to make time to have fun but it is important and has countless positive benefits including relieving stress and improving brain function. Finding time to play and have fun is critical to the creative process and just as important as any other part of your business. Be more like Gus, and always be in for play time!
Spiffy: Good advice to live by, thank you Gus! Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience before I let you go, Nicole?
Nicole: I always like to share the meaning of Tharros, which means courage in Greek. I am first-generation American and my culture is very much a part of who I am. I wanted the name of the organization to be meaningful and I knew that courage would be a strong part of my ethos and the work we do at Tharros. Stay true to who you are and you can never go wrong.
Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Nicole—it’s been an honor!
Nicole Shaia is a social entrepreneur, innovator, and advisor who is passionate about uniting women and girls to accelerate change in gender equity and sports opportunities for girls. She is the Founder & Chief Creator of Awesome at Tharros, a nonprofit that empowers girls to stay engaged in sports and fitness. (First published on the Ladderworks website on March 28, 2022.)© 2022 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Anushree Nande. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Corner here.