Girls on the Run is so much fun!!
Last Saturday was a BIG day for the 12 girls who've been training since September. They all achieved their goal of finishing their first 5 kilometer run.
I'm proud of them for crossing that finish line—despite, in the words of my run buddy—"My legs hate me! This is so hard!" But I am even more proud to see the way they've congealed as a team. They egged each other on for face paint and hair dye, then clung to each other in a big clump in the final moments before the start. These are girls are discovering the powerful bonds team sports creates among women.
The girls are third, fourth, and fifth graders at an elementary school on the east side of Tacoma. I met them as a volunteer coach for Girls on the Run. For the last 20 weeks, we've taken them through a detailed curriculum meant to empower and educate them about the things that school doesn't teach you: why joy is important and how to activate it; what to look like in selecting a friend; and, my personal favorite, how to address conflict with the formula, "I feel __ when you ___ because __. And what I would like is for you to ___."
And yes, of course we ran laps. Lots and lots of laps, which we counted out with stickers or strips of tule for their tutus so they can measure how they did agains their self-set lap goal for the day.
Girls on the Run doesn't specifically work with high-needs, low-income girls, but this is the group we had in Tacoma. (Huge amounts of gratitude here to Asics for donating free running shoes to each girl on our team!) The two other newbie volunteer coaches and I definitely had our hands full the first few weeks just trying to get the girls to listen! It's easy to get overwhelmed when you've got girls are just sitting, girls on another bathroom break, and girls screaming and yelling over each other.
But then there are these quiet moments where you're just running a lap alongside a girl, and you start to hear about their lives. These are girls who talk about police arrests, stolen cars, and parents who've walked out on them with a nonchalant stoicism. Who spend hours at home on video games. What an environment in which to try and nurture and grow a young woman, but by god were their parents trying their hardest. You could see this directly in how they encouraged their kids and indirectly in the sweetness of each girl, little hearts so full of love and yearning for attention even amid the crazy antics.
"Oh," we realized. "These girls need structure." Shall I tell you the look on their faces when I announced that no more bathroom breaks would be allowed? We started making them do squats in a big circle, all holding hands and counting out the reps in unison. And before giving instructions, we would bring them in close and whisper until everyone was attentive rather than compete on volume.
And, with our strong love for them, we started to earn their trust. We were there consistently, armed with snacks and prepared to coach. We showed them we were equal partners for their goals and successes. We held their hands and stroked their hair and made them stand up in front of the group and speak clearly when they had something to say.
On the day of the 5K, each girl was paired with an adult run buddy. Some of the moms came with their friends, getting in their steps. One dad had live Facebook feed of his daughter going the whole time. I was especially impressed that two teachers and both the principal and vice principal from our school were there, the vice principal with "BLIX" painted on her face and serving as a run buddy for one of our girls.
It helped me appreciate how much support these girls do have, from their caretakers and from the school. And it also made me feel honored to have been entrusted with these kids, for their parents to take a chance on Girls on the Run and on us as coaches.
It was amazing to run with my buddy, her little fox ears headband and a tutu streaming out behind her. We walked a lot, yes, but we also ran and never once did my little buddy say a word about quitting. She also ran anytime we saw people on the course cheering—"so we can just pretend like we've been running this whole time!"
Would you like to see how radiant she looked crossing that finish line?
Tch. She just slays me, she really does.
Saying goodbye two days later was so hard. We celebrated the season with pizza and special awards or each girl. And with one final "banana" energy award and a Girls on the run is so much fun! cheer, the season was over.
I can still feel the way their arms clung to me for hugs, coming back again and again. I volunteered to coach because I was looking for a way to make my new identity as a full-time athlete (as of January this year) also an offering, to share with other young girls what organized athletics can be. But to witness that transformation as it's happening, to see their self-confidence grow and their trust for each other solidify—I mean it's just wow, so amazing. I feel torn about whether I will coach again as the time commitment is enormous. But these girls need strong women role models and mentors in their lives—as we all do—and the acceptance that I will be just another adult in their lives who's here and then gone kills me. But still. This is what I have to give and what a privilege to have been able to give it.
Good luck, my loves, and keep on running!!
*Thank you to Sparkson Photography for the final three photos I used in this post. See many more in their online gallery here!