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by Abigail Van Buren

Girls Win Self Confidence Through Competitive Sports

DEAR ABBY: My 14-year-old daughter recently won the national gold medal for teen-age girls in the Gold's Gym-sponsored National Sports Aerobic Championship. While she is petite and shy, I watched her become 10 feet tall on stage, demonstrating self-confidence, strength and real beauty.

Besides being proud, I would like to remind other parents that exercise and sports competition can greatly help teen-age girls with their body image. They learn grace and confidence, and become aware that they are much more than their outward physical appearance.

In sports aerobics, for example, the confidence girls gain by mastering the moves and intensity of the competition will carry them forward for a lifetime. So, encourage your daughters to get physical. It makes all the difference in how they feel about themselves. I've seen it with my daughter, and I've seen it with her friends. -- PROUD MOM IN NORTH CAROLINA

DEAR PROUD MOM: You and your daughter are a winning team. The support of a proud and loving parent can help any girl to feel like a champion.

I know from personal experience the wisdom of your praise of exercise and sports. Both can produce many positive rewards, including the confidence, fitness and good physical and mental health you have described.

For girls who are less comfortable with organized or competitive sports than your daughter, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers many helpful tips on its Web site at www.girlpower.gov: "Each day ... do about 30 to 60 minutes of moderate physical activity, like walking or riding a bike. Or, at least three times a week, challenge yourself to 15 to 20 minutes of more intense activities. ... Choose activities that you like to do. If you pick a sport or exercise program that you think is boring in the beginning, you might have a hard time staying with it."

Girl Power! provides a bonanza of sound information to help girls become champions in whatever they choose. They also offer tools for grown-ups who want to help girls make the difficult transition from adolescence as successfully and safely as possible. It's all free, through the Girl Power! Web site -- or call toll-free (800) 729-6686. Ask for Girl Power! and tell them "Dear Abby" sent you.

DEAR ABBY: Before my mother died last year, she revealed to me that "Todd," an old schoolmate of mine, told her that he had to leave the state on the day I married someone else because Texas wasn't big enough to hold his grief.

Todd had never even asked me out on a date. He hung around our house, but I thought he was just a friend of my twin brother.

Abby, please tell all those shy boys out there that if they want something, they should speak up. (I definitely would have married Todd had he only let me know how he felt.) We both would have been much happier. -- REGRETFUL IN SPRINGFIELD, MO.

DEAR REGRETFUL: Maybe so -- maybe not. While there are no guarantees, it does seem sad that a chance at true love was stillborn because one of the parties had low self-esteem. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Dear Abby is written by Pauline Phillips and daughter Jeanne Phillips.

Good advice for everyone -- teens to seniors -- is in "The Anger in All of Us and How to Deal With It." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby, Anger Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600