Girls on the Run Practice 5K
I have had the wonderful opportunity to volunteer with the Girls of the Run Program for the past ten weeks. I first learned of the program when my niece participated in it a few years ago. I wasn't a runner then but that was one of my introductions to organized running and training.
GOTR was started the inspirational Molly Barker as a tool to empower and educate young girls about confidence, fitness and strength. It's essentially a empowerment program with a running problem. You can learn more about Girls on the Run http://www.girlsontherun.org/. and I'll write more about what the past twelve weeks have meant later.
The culminating event for GOTR is a community 5K. As part of the training, we conducted on "Practice 5K" this past Saturday. It was truly amazing.
Coach Anne is our fearless leader and the absolute epitome of what a girl on the run is. She's always energetic, positive and strong. She's coached this program for years and makes it seem effortless. She wanted the Practice 5K to be as authentic to a real 5K race as possible. She asked for parents to donate food and beverages and had individual 'finisher medals' made for the girls. She also found a giant blow up spider to use as the 'finish line' and got one of the parents to donate his time and equipment for real DJ music.
Coaches and girls were encouraged, though no required, to wear running-friendly costumes. For some reason, the term "runaway bride" popped into my head for this event. For my running-friendly costume, I found a white sundress (I think it's the one I graduated high school in...ten years ago...), a cheap novelty veil, and a pair of sneakers. Get it? I even wore a blue sports bra for the something blue. :-) I thought it was funny but definitely felt out of place. I got many questionable stares as I was buying 2 boxes of Joe and 100 Munckins at Dunkin Donut's. What, doesn't everyone run in a white eyelet sundress overtop a UA turtleneck, black shorts and sneakers at 8:30 am on a Saturday? Coach Jenny found a pair of butterfly wings and a headband for a "Queen Butterfly Fairy" and Coach Anne simply added a headband, rose-colored glasses, and pigtails for a "Hippie". Much better and more appropriate.
The girls and parents arrived early and were ready to run. Everyone loved the giant spider and creative lap board. Our track is 1/3 of a mile and the girls would need to complete 9 laps. The music was pumping as the girls lined up at the "start line." With an enthusiastic pep talk from Coach Anne, they were off!
I was tasked with handing out lap counter bracelets, snapping photos, cheering, and sibling herding. A lot of the little sisters and brothers wanted to run too. I don't know if they were all so caught up in the moment, wanted to stay warm or just wanted a prize.
"Coach Lindsey! Can we run too?" asks two exact mini replicas of their older sisters
"YES! Absolutely. Go run, kids!! It's so great you want to run too."
"Can we have a bracelet if we run?"
"Can we have a bracelet if we don't run?"
I think it was the prize. Speaking of the bracelets, why is the color so important? I couldn't just hand a pink one to Olivia, she wanted green. And Sophie already had three blue ones and wanted a purple. And Isabel had a purple and wanted a pink next. It was a like a logic puzzle.
The girls did so well! They ran under the spider with giant smiles on their faces. As the laps started to pile up, we had to prepare for the finish line excitement! Coach Anne wanted each girl to get the opportunity to break the tape and each parent to get a photo of it. I added 'tape holder' to my list of tasks and it was getting hectic! I was cheering and dancing and holding crete paper and snapping photos and handing out bracelets while Coach Bridgette was keeping count of each girls laps and updating us on the leaders. Allie's on 8! Sarah's on 9! Margaret is on 9! Here they come! It got crazy but was so fun! I don't know how many times I screamed "You're amazing!" "GREAT JOB!" "ONLY X MORE LAPS!" "KEEP GOING!" "GOOOOOO!"
Each girl got her break the tape photo even if it meant a few tries. Coach Jenny handed out the handmade finisher medals. Parents seemed to be having a good time and several dads were put to use 'holding down the spider' as it kept getting blown around.
As each of the 20 beautiful girls finish, they would gather by the spider and cheer for the others. Maiwah was our final finisher and had no interest in the photo or medal, she headed right for the snack table. I couldn't believe that 20 girls had just run 3 miles! We're usually trying to negotiate them to run just to that tree, now run to the next tree, and now the next tree and that morning they knocked out 9 laps!
The coaches gathered the girls in a circle to 'process the lesson.' I was already so proud and impressed by these girls that I had to hold myself back from hugging each and every one. As their parents looked on and Coach Anne started to tell them all how proud they should be, "Just the Way You Are" by Bruno Mars started to play. I'm not sure if Coach Anne had that planned or not but there was no more perfect moment for it to play. The theme of GOTR is teaching confidence, self esteem and to respect ourselves just the way we are. Coach Anne said that song makes her think of all the GOTR every time she hears it. "And when you smile/the whole world stops and stares for a while/because you're amazing/just the way you are..."
And, I may have shed a tear on that. And I may be mildly obsessed with that song now. I may still get teary eyed when I hear it and it may be my ring tone right now.
The entire morning was incredible! I hope that the girls do understand that running 3 miles is something that not many people ever do and they did it at ages 8, 9 and 10. I hope they realize that they're all beautiful, intelligent, silly, adorable and kind girls and won't fall into those 'girl box' traps. I hope they felt good about themselves for doing something that was fun, positive and healthy. After the parents left, we lingered behind cleaning and dancing. It was IMPOSSIBLE to not be happy and feel lucky to be alive.