Today is one of those days that I looked forward to sitting down and writing a blog post. That’s because, instead of the normal Sometimes Healthy Tips that I provide on Monday’s posts, this morning I’m going to recap the Girls on the Run Hudson Valley 5K, which took place yesterday.
Here’s a picture of my team’s big smiling faces after they all crossed the finish line!
More on the days’ activities later, but first, I just wanted to explain why the organization of Girls on the Run means so much to me. I’ve volunteered and worked with plenty of non-profits throughout my life (including Make-a-Wish Foundation), but none have ever hit so close to home as Girls on the Run. I’ve alluded a few times to why I feel so passionately about Girls on the Run, but I’ve never shared the full story…so here goes.
This is a picture of me as a 10-year-old, just a bit older than most of the girls on my current Girls on the Run team.
I know. I know. I am kind of adorable. Sure, I had buck teeth, weird bangs and giant glasses as a young child, but at that age, it didn’t matter what I did: I would always be cute. However, as time passed and middle school beckoned, the cuteness developed into awkwardness. I will spare you the pictures, but just trust me on this one, okay.
By my freshman year of high school, I was an 85-pound gangly brunette with arms so skinny that sometimes it looked like they were going to fall off. The glasses were gone, but the big front teeth and the tiny, slumped shoulders remained. No matter what I tried, I could not gain any weight, and while it’s always nice to feel thin now, back then, it just didn’t look right.
Naturally, the awkward looks brought a lack of confidence, which I made up for with plenty of friends and by being involved in practically every single activity listed in the yearbook. But, I did get teased every now and then for my teeth and being too skinny, and for a sensitive person, well, that kind of teasing sticks with ya! I will never forget being at a football game and noticing some boys from the opposing team staring at me. Finally, my friends and I asked them what was going on, and they informed me that I looked like that “weird girl that won the National Spelling Bee.” Let’s just say the cute guys weren’t exactly knocking at my door.
Anyway, don’t feel sorry for me, seriously. I had a more-than-ideal childhood, but we all know the wounds of adolescence stick with us for years to come. Sigh. My sophomore year, I gained a few pounds, and even though I needed the lb’s, the weight-gain made me nervous. Off to the gym I went!
I don’t remember who took me on my first run, or why I loved it so much. But all I remember is that once I started running, I literally couldn’t stop. My gym had a tiny little track in which 12 miles around equaled a mile. I was like a hamster on that track, running upwards of 60 to 70 times around. I’m sure that no one there thought I was crazy.
At the time I didn’t realize it, but my confidence just naturally improved through realizing I could conquer more and more miles. Athletic and coordinated, I was not. Sure I was mediocre at some sports, but running…running was all about the power of my mind. Athletic skill was a distant second.
One day, late in sophomore year, as we were all gathering at a baseball game in the spring, one of my friends pointed to my legs and proclaimed, “Oh my gosh Jamie, look at your calf! You’ve got some MUSCLE!” After that muscles came many more, and as my body became stronger, my confidence soared. Since then, running has been the most important tool in my life. Pushing myself to run more and more miles, through marathons, half-marathons and countless other races, has helped me to believe in myself in a way that nothing else can.
Whenever I have a problem, I work it out in my head through a long run, developing a better solution with each mile. If I choose to train hard, I can even be a speedy little devil too, but that part has never been as important to me. Just knowing I can lace up those shoes and pound the pavement for as long as I want is all that I need.
I know what you’re thinking: This is supposed to be a post about Girls on the Run, and all she is doing is rambling about herself.
Well, here’s the point ya’ll. When I was 9-years-old, the age of most of the girls on my team, I was hating running, along with the rest of my friends. I would do anything to get out of the gym class where we had to
run walk the mile. “This is SO boring,” I thought to myself. I only wish that a program like Girls on the Run had existed to point me towards running at an earlier age.
This after-school program makes running FUN and EDUCATIONAL by mixing training with important life lessons and games. During our 10 weeks, the girls learned about everything from “the power of positive thinking” to how to eat healthy and how to help someone who is being bullied. At an age where perhaps they are too young to enjoy running by themselves, these girls get to run with their friends. We provide them with tangible goals, such as lap counter bracelets, so that they can truly see the results of the efforts.
The girls aren’t just learning to run – they’re learning why running is important, along with a million other important lessons. And you can just see their self-confidence increasing with each extra lap that they run.
Since this program was started by an ambitious mother in the Hudson Valley in Fall 2013, it has grown from 20 to 180 girls in 12 schools. I cannot tell you the number of times my girls’ parents have complimented the program and how it has helped their children.
Yesterday’s 5K was a culmination of a season of hard work and dedication by each of the girls on my team. They ran in the Cornwall Lions Fall Harvest 5K, a scenic race in the gorgeous Hudson River town of Cornwall. Next year, there will be a special race solely for Girls on the Run, but since it’s still new, we participate in other races.
However, with 180 girls + 180 running buddies and volunteers, Girls on the Run and our bright orange t-shirts made up a majority of the race.
I arrived at 7:00 before all the girls got there, in order to set up their race bibs for easy pick-up.
By around 7:15, the designated Girls on the Run area was buzzing with parents and children, excitedly pinning their race bibs, getting their temporary GOTR tattoos, and tying pretty pink ribbon in their hair.
I may be a nightmare as an actual parent, because I must have stopped my freezing little girls about 20 times to pose for pictures as they got ready.
After countless pictures and a couple of pep talks, race time was finally upon us! As we lined up at the starting line, the look of excitement on each of the girl’s faces literally melted my heart. I was the running buddy for a sweet girl named Odasia. Odasia is famous on our team for her big smile and her shy, yet friendly demeanor. As she tried to take off running, I emphasized the importance of pacing, so that we could finish strong. I told her that I knew a secret after running in so many races, and the secret was if we started off a little slower, we could run the whole three miles!
I think she believed me.
We were soon joined by another girl from our team, Destiny. She had left her Running Buddy in the dust and wanted to know if she could tag along with us. For the remainder of the race, I encouraged the girls to run/walk, allowing them to pick each point that we ran to.
Before we knew it, we had reached the end, and I watched in amazement as both girls sprinted through the finish line, energized by all of the cheering and shouting around them.
After the race, I saw nothing but bright smiles on the girls’ faces.
They each wore their medals and held their certificates with pride. You could literally see their confidence improving before your very eyes as they realized that they had accomplished such a big goal.
I was a pretty proud coach as well. These girls have amazed me with their intelligence, camaraderie and resilience over the past 10 weeks. I can’t remember that far back, but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t half as smart at them when I was their age!
But then again, Girls on the Run didn’t exist back then…
I almost feel a bit selfish, because I think I got as much as a reward from being a coach in this program as the girls did from participating. But then, I receive cards like this, and it reminds me that, just maybe, I have impacted their lives in a special way.
Nearly every girl plans on running in the spring, and they’ve all promised me that they’ll keep running for the rest of their lives. I can’t put into words the joy that I feel knowing that they have such a valuable tool for self-confidence and general life management.
Along with their medals, I gave the girls a little something to remember the season. It’s a poem that I believe I’ve mentioned on the blog before, and a poem that has guided me throughout many of the bumps in the road of this crazy thing we call life.
Some of them took the medal and barely looked at the print-out that I handed them. But, some stood there reading every single word, and I can only hope that the words will stick with them. The poem symbolizes what Girls on the Run is all about: It’s not about finishing first, but rather, getting up every morning with a renewed determination to be better than yesterday. And it’s about that empowering feeling of knowing you have truly given it your all.
Of all the things I have done in the past 10 years, I don’t think any of them have meant as much as being a coach for Girls on the Run. The skimpy little high school freshman would have never imagined that I would be teaching girls strength and empowerment through running. But, I’m pretty sure she’d be very proud of me!
If you are interested in starting Girls on the Run in your community, please feel free to email me at [email protected], and I can point you in the right direction. From working with the director of our Hudson Valley chapter on public relations, I can tell you that it’s A LOT of work…but just look at the shining results.
I’m fairly certain that none of these girls will be left behind