The organizers of the first International Women’s Day forum in Cochrane are hailing it as a success after more than 230 women from around the region gathered to celebrate strength, solidarity and sisterhood.
“I’m so thrilled to see so many of you here,” Cochrane Public Library executive director Jeri Maitland told the crowd on Saturday. “We are here to celebrate women and all the wonderful and fantastic things that we do.”
The library hosted the half-day event at The Links of GlenEagles, where women seated at round tables listened to speakers like athlete Crystal Phillips, who shared her story about rising to the top of her sport of speed skating before being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis just as she was named to the 2010 Canadian Olympic team.
Phillips has since founded the Branch Out Neurological Foundation to raise money for research into different facets of the degenerative disease.
Filmmaker Kate MacKenzie also addressed the room and described her experiences working with Cochranite Martin Parnell on a documentary about a secret marathon that took place last year in Afghanistan.
MacKenzie accompanied Parnell and a small group of elite runners who took to the hills of Bamiyan to help about 60 women sweat their way through the gruelling 42-kilometre Afghanistan Marathon, where they often face ridicule and abuse on the streets as they train.
“For me, I can go out and go for a run. I believe every single person deserves to have that freedom,” said MacKenzie, adding she and Parnell are humbled by the patronage – both emotional and financial – the people of Cochrane have shown the project so far.
“I’m so proud of the town,” she said. “We have had so much support from the people from Cochrane. It’s a little town with a ton of heart.”
Finally, 11-year-old Cochrane girl Belle Levisky took to the podium to speak about a charity she founded – 7 Fins Forever – that helps raise awareness about the well-being of sharks. The sharp-toothed fish are a critical element in an ocean’s ecosystem, yet are being abused and killed in parts of the world for their fins to be used in soup.
“She practised and practised and practised,” Maitland said.
Maitland added she has received positive responses from those who attended the afternoon, and she hopes the library can continue do put on these types of uplifting events in the future.
“People said they were inspired, that they got something from the day,” she said. “This is the kind of thing we want to do for the community.”