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Program helps female student-athletes to be their ‘Personal Best’

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Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Local high-school students put the weight of their head into their hand during an exercise as they attend an Empowering Girls to be Strong, Smart and Bold thru Athletics conference at Duquesne University's A.J. Palumbo Center, Tuesday, May 10, 2016.
ptrLIVGirlPower1051116
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Amy Scheuneman talks with high school students attending an Empowering Girls to be Strong, Smart and Bold thru Athletics conference at Duquesne University's A.J. Palumbo Center, Tuesday, May 10, 2016.
ptrLIVGirlPower2051116
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Area high-school students use their cellphones during a social- media exercise while attending an Empowering Girls to be Strong, Smart and Bold thru Athletics conference at Duquesne University's A.J. Palumbo Center, Tuesday, May 10, 2016.

Michelle Leibow’s grandmother was a strong, smart and bold lady.

The late Lillian Abell persevered and applied what she learned through sports, raising five children and finding her way in the world to become a successful woman.

She never became a professional athlete but learned the importance of being part of a team and being fit. Her spirit is behind the company Lillian Abell, started by Leibow, who hopes to empower young female athletes to be strong, smart and bold.

Her daylong program, called “Your Personal Best,” gathered 217 students in grades eight through 12 from 25 schools in the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League on May 10 at Duquesne University’s A.J. Palumbo Center, Uptown.

“My grandmother was both strong and feminine,” Leibow said. “She created her own path in life. She was an athlete, but not an Olympic or professional athlete. But she embodied what these girls have, and the possibilities in front of them are endless. We want them to be strong, smart and bold, like my grandmother.”

The program was created in collaboration with coaches, athletic directors and parents, along with sports, nutrition and behavioral experts. The goal is to help young women grow up into healthy, fit, self-motivated, independent and strong leaders.

Leibow hopes this inaugural event will eventually reach a nationwide audience.

Leslie Bonci, sports dietician for more than 50 teams, including the Pirates, Penguins and WNBA, said her motto is “to be fit, fed and be fearless.”

“There is no such thing as being perfect in eating,” Bonci says. “But you can change what you eat and when you eat. As athletes, you need fuel, and if you don’t eat, your body will break down muscle. Respect your own body.”

Aimee Kimball, mental-training consultant for the Steelers, Penguins, as well as high schools, colleges and other professional sports teams, said: “Sports require a certain mindset, and if you control the way you think, you will perform better.”

Mental training is important in sports and in life, Kimball said.

It all starts with preparation, said Sherene Brantley, assistant athletic director at Duquesne. Successful people don’t just wake up successful, she said. She urged attendees to strive for their personal bests and what they can do to get better, without comparing themselves to someone else.

These young women have so many opportunities, says Lynn Jobe, Greensburg Salem athletic director, beginning with Title IX, the landmark federal ruling that prohibits sex discrimination in education.

“It wasn’t always easy,” Jobe said. “It’s about appreciating what they have and about helping others along the way.”

Bethel Park athletic director Amy Scheuneman asked the girls to come up with three words that describe themselves, because those words become your brand, whether on the field or off.

She then asked them to choose three words they think others would use to describe them. They should be the same, but are they?

Scheuneman shared an experience in which she was playing soccer in her high-school years and was given a yellow card, a caution for misconduct. Her mother turned to another mother and said, “My daughter would never do anything to hurt another player.” And the other mother said, “Haven’t you ever seen your daughter play soccer?”

When Scheuneman heard that story, she decided to change her style of play to competitive, but not hurtful.

“I decided to not take my anger out on other people,” she said. “I didn’t want to hear that, but I told myself I would change, and I did.”

Scheuneman also discussed social media and how it can cause an athlete to lose a college scholarship. There is no need to be negative on social media, she said.

“Once you hit send or post it, it’s a tattoo on your profile,” Scheuneman said.

Elayna Nagy, a junior from Seneca Valley who plays softball and is a dancer, said the speakers sharing their experiences made the day worthwhile.

“It is so important for people, especially girls, to be given this kind of information,” said Nicole Fandel, a junior at Greensburg Salem who plays volleyball. “The atmosphere is amazing. And to hear the speakers who are women, I think, makes it all that much more meaningful to us.”

Karina Latsko, a junior at Seneca Valley who plays lacrosse, liked how the day covered a wide range of topics.

“It’s been a very self-motivating experience,” she said. “The women speakers were great. They are all strong women who are amazing role models. They’ve been through what we are going through.”

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at [email protected] or 412-320-7889.

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