SheLift, a newly launched nonprofit, aims to empower girls with physical disabilities to conquer their own mountains and eliminate the most common insecurities that often come with being “different.” Through various outdoor events, camps and weekend adventures, the organization will bring girls of all ages and body types together to inspire and motivate each other to try things they never thought possible by themselves — boosting their confidence, strength and sense of community in the process.
As if being a girl wasn’t hard enough. We all have our own personal insecurities about how we look, feel and think. Sometimes it seems like everyone else is prettier, more successful, more lovable, more “fill in the blank” than you. And when all you ultimately want to do is fit in, to be “normal,” having a physical disability gives you an additional obstacle you must then also overcome.
“I think the biggest challenge for me growing up was that I thought ‘I’m not good enough. Not good enough to play sports well, to have a boyfriend, or whatever,’” says Sarah Herron, a beautiful 29-year-old who was born without part of her left arm (from the elbow down) as a result of a condition called Amniotic Band Syndrome. It affects anywhere from one in 1,200 to one in 15,000 births. Growing up in the small mountain town of Evergreen, Colo., Sarah was surrounded by supportive friends and family throughout her childhood. She always knew she was different, but it wasn’t until she moved to Los Angeles for college that she became fully aware of her insecurities about it.
“When I was old enough to go to the bars, it was exciting, until I realized all my friends were going home with phone numbers and I wasn’t. Then I would hide my arm behind my jacket or position myself against the bar to kind of hide the fact that I only had one arm, because I thought none of the guys were approaching me because it’s different and too much work for them to deal with someone like me,” she says. “Entering the world and maintaining your individuality can be really confusing, and you can lose yourself really quickly.”
Sarah’s struggle to find love and gain self- confidence as a 20-something was documented both on The Bachelor and twice on Bachelor in Paradise. “A friend nominated me for the show, and I knew it was an opportunity to face my fears of dating and putting myself out there. I thought it might be what I needed,” says Sarah. What she didn’t know at the time was that it was just what others like her needed, as well. After her first TV appearance, Sarah started receiving all kinds of fan mail — from 11-year- it’s different and too much work for them to deal with someone like me,” she says. “Entering the world and maintaining your individuality can be really confusing, and you can lose yourself really quickly.” Sarah’s struggle to find love and gain self- confidence as a 20-something was documented both on The Bachelor and twice on Bachelor in Paradise. “A friend nominated me for the show, and I knew it was an opportunity to face my fears of dating and putting myself out there. I thought it might be what I needed,” says Sarah. What she didn’t know at the time was that it was just what others like her needed, as well.
After her first TV appearance, Sarah started receiving all kinds of fan mail — from 11-year- old girls, college students, moms and dads. “Their perception of that show, in particular, was that you had to be perfect, with the right style and clothes and hair and body to be there. For the first time, they saw someone on The Bachelor who was disabled, who was like them,” she says.
As the Colorado native thoughtfully responded to every note and Tweet, she began to think that perhaps there was more she could do for these girls. She was on a chairlift in Aspen with her dad last spring when it finally hit her. “I saw a guy tackling moguls on a monoski by himself. He fell over and then promptly lifted himself back up again. It was incredible, and in that moment, I had an epiphany: I’ve only been skiing for seven years, and it gives me a sense of confidence that nothing else — going on TV, getting encouragement from friends, etc. — ever could. I want to share this feeling of empowerment with other girls. I’m going to teach disabled girls how to ski, we’re going to call the group SheLift, like ski lift, and it’s going to be amazing.”
Sarah consulted several nonprofits, including First Descents, on how to get her idea up and running. FD Ambassador (and fellow Bachelor alumna) Trista Sutter joined the board as a director.
“Because of my work with FD, I know firsthand how this type of organization can change people’s lives and the kind of community it offers to people who think they’re alone out there,” Trista says. “I know SheLift can give power to young girls living with disabilities, just like FD does for young adults with cancer.”
Fast forward about six months, and Sarah already has her first retreat in the works. The group plans to take five 18- to 25-year-old girls skiing in Aspen this March. They’ll be joined by celebrity mentors and athletes, a personal chef who focuses on wellness, and a handful of other experts.
Colorado-based Icelantic Skis, one of the nonprofit’s official sponsors, will supply participants with gear, ski passes and instructors. It will also donate five percent of all women’s ski sales to the organization. “Not only will SheLift provide a cool, confidence-building experience for these girls, but it will also afford them the natural benefits of being outside, such as lowering stress and learning to focus in the moment and breathe easier,” says Ben Anderson, the company’s founder/owner, who grew up with Sarah and helped teach her how to ski.
While learning to make turns down the mountain will be a big part of this retreat, the main purpose is to bring peers together in a fun, judgment- free environment where they can hang out, be themselves and discuss what they’re all going through. “My whole life, I never knew anyone else with one arm, so I was never able to share secrets about the most basic things, like ‘How do you curl your hair or cut vegetables?’ I think that would’ve helped me a lot,” says Sarah. “The goal is to make these girls not feel different, but rather to make them feel very much included, like they’re not alone, and they can do anything.”