Donna Orender, founder and CEO of Generation WOW, addresses the audience. Photo by Abigail Crowe. 

For many girls and women, athletics are a form of liberation. Athletics are a sacred space where instead of focusing on what our bodies look like, we focus on what our bodies can do. Athletics foster sisterhoods that can last a lifetime. Generation WOW is striving to harness the power of athletics to unify and inspire women across the country.

Generation WOW (or GenWOW) is a grassroots organization that empowers girls and young women to break through societal barriers and fearlessly pursue their dreams. Their mission is to “expose girls to the positive and the possible by creating opportunities that help build the future leaders of the world by connecting them to the leaders of today.” Marci Walton, PIL event coordinator, explains that “a big part of Generation WOW’s work is to light a fire within girls, to motivate them to really go after what they want for the future.”

On Thursday September 22, female athletes from around the city gathered to participate in the first ever Generation WOW event in Portland, which was held at Grant High School. Thursday’s event consisted of motivational speakers, conversations about topics from goal setting to body image, and interactive community building activities. The Grant Dance Collective kicked off the event with a powerful hip hop performance to “Move” by Beyoncé, which ignited the room with anticipation. Donna Orender, Founder and CEO of GenerationWOW, then took the stage to speak about the story of the organization and the goals of the event. Orender explained that “GenWOW was started in Jacksonville, Florida by a group of around 100 young women who wanted to connect different generations of women with the purpose of combining the ‘wow’ of girls with the wisdom of women.” She went on to express the importance of sports for the growth and development of girls; “athletics teach us that together we can achieve more,” stated Orender. 

After her introductory speech, Orender introduced a panel of inspirational speakers to discuss how adversity in sports helped prepare them for success later in life. The first speaker, Kate Johnson, former Olympic rower, silver medalist, and current Director of Marketing at Google, discussed the power of goal setting. She encouraged the audience to “Write your goals down in permanent ink, commit fully to them. Own your script.” After sustaining hairline fractures in multiple ribs just months before the Olympics, making the Olympic boat seemed out of the question, but by carefully crafting and executing a meticulous recovery/training plan Johnson managed to secure a spot on the roster. Johnson reflects on how this obstacle shaped her: “About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. The relentless resilience that rowing fostered in me gave me the strength to beat it.” 

Shannon Box, renowned professional soccer player, World Cup champion, and two-time gold medalist, shared her struggle with anorexia. Box explained, “I am a perfectionist, which on one hand motivated me to excel at my sport but on the other hand it fueled my obsession with control, control of my diet.” Eventually she restricted herself to one bagel per day and her weight plummeted, only after her collegiate soccer scholarship was threatened to be revoked, did she acknowledge that she had a problem. She urged the audience to reach out to and confide in a trusted individual; “Let people in and let people help you.” Sophomore Peyton Miles, a varsity cross country runner at Franklin, shares the impact Box’s speech had on her: “Hearing how [Box] overcame her struggles with anorexia gave me hope that the pain is temporary, [the pain] will end.” 

The event came to a close with volunteers from the audience voicing messages to their future selves. “Thank you to the people who said I can’t” and “never give up on your passions” were a couple of the powerful sentiments shared. Senior Marlee Dorn, a varsity soccer player at Franklin, shares her takeaways from the event: “It was amazing to be in a room full of female athletes who all have shared experiences.” Dorn added that hearing the stories of adversity and perseverance from the panel of successful female mentors made her “feel seen.” 

If you are interested in joining or getting involved with Generation WOW, go to 

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