I was working AT WINK TV as a reporter when I first met Jill Wheeler. I met her on April 15, 2013, the day of The Boston Marathon bombings. After receiving news of the bombings, my assignment with WINK TV was to find local Naples runners who were in Boston for the marathon and interview them. Through the president of Gulf Coast Runners, I was introduced to Jill and that day, among with millions of others, my life changed. After several interviews, I googled Wellfit Institute. I had never heard of the concept that Jill offered and was intrigued. I tried out her Paddleboard Yoga classes and slowly began to see a friendship forming. A few months later, Jill called and asked if I wanted to have lunch at Food & Thought (I never turn down a lunch offer at Food & Thought). She approached me with this idea of taking at risk teen girls from Lee and Collier County and teaching them, through a curriculum, about health, wellness, fitness, empowerment and leadership, but it was the moment that she said the program would culminate with a mountain trek and trip to Machu Picchu that I got goosebumps. I said, yes, of course I will do a story, BUT I want to be involved. How can I be involved? I’m sure I’m not alone in the struggle to find something that one is passionate about and that will pay the bills. Some people are fortunate enough to find that right out of college and others spend their entire lives working just to pay the bills. I am fortunate enough that I have the choice to do what I’m passionate about and for the first time since graduating the University of Miami I have found that. Since January, I have put in many late nights. I am fortunate that my wonderful boss Nannette Staropoli at MARKIT Group (THANK YOU!!) allowed me to take time out of work twice a week to fulfill my commitment to my Wellfit Girls.

Over the last five months, I questioned if these 11 teenage girls really understood this incredible opportunity. There would be days that I would show up and they would just have these blank faces. We would be running around the Bath & Tennis Club and I would see girls walking. It was hard to watch at times. I so badly wanted to just shake them and say do you get it? But each time I would hold myself back and realize that this was a journey, and a long one at that. All I can say is that this program worked. I can’t say enough about Jill. From day one I knew that this was something special. I am beyond thankful to those of you who believed in what we were doing before you saw the results, but I can promise you that your money was well spent. See, my role over the past five months has been a combination. I like to say I am Jill’s right arm AND her left leg (I keep her balanced). I have spent time coordinating the schedule for the film crew and have tried to get as much media coverage as possible, but my primary goal was fundraising. I can’t tell you how many people have said, that must be easy in Naples… there’s so much money there. Let me tell you, it’s not. It’s tough to get people to accept something new and to take a chance on a program that hasn’t proven it will be sustainable over the years. I am so grateful for those that have supported. American Airlines donated 1 million miles. This donation alone should represent just how great this program is.While fundraising and PR have been my priority, I also had the pleasure of joining the girls for their workouts and group meetings over the past five months and I’m happy to report that every single one of these girls was impacted by this program in a positive way. IT WORKED! I can’t say who made it or go into details (watch the movie!!) but IT WORKED! It took this incredible journey to Peru to see the results, but it was the five months leading up to this incredible journey that made it complete. When we reached the bottom on our final day, one of the girls said, “I finally know what I’m good at.” It gave me goosebumps that day and it gives me goosebumps now. These girls were immersed in a completely different culture. Some of our girls come from extremely poor backgrounds, but they saw girls their age living in far worse conditions, with much less, yet they were so happy. Our girls came home appreciating what they have so much more. They realize they can make a difference in other people’s lives, with or without money. They can donate their time and have an impact. That is what this program is truly all about. They realize they can now go on and do anything they put their mind to. They can climb high in all areas of life. After the trip we sat down at the airport in Lima and we “debriefed” the trip. Each and every single girl got it. They appreciated this opportunity, they understood that their lives were forever changed and they are now home stronger leaders and ready to make our community a better place.

So, what is next? We are now, more than ever, committed to completing this film and continuing this project. How amazing would it be to launch the documentary at home at the Naples International Film Festival in November and show the world that, “when sleeping women wake, mountains will move.”

If you have thought about donating, but forgot or thought it was too late, it is not. We will do this trip again and are already working with Peaks Foundation on that.

This first trip was a learning experience and the results were incredible. It will only get better from here on out. My hope is that this turns into an annual trip and deep down I truly believe that it will not only grow here locally, but nationally. It is a life changing experience and one I only wish existed when I was a teenage girl. That last day at the airport we went around the table and everyone said the moment during this experience that they felt empowered. I felt empowered at that moment because I realized all the hard work paid off and that I played a role in bettering the lives of these amazing 11 girls.

Help support future expeditions so more girls in our community can participate in this incredible, once in a lifetime journey.

By: Colby Robertson, Wellfit Girls Challenge Project Coordinator