Tuesday, September 29, 2009

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”

C.S. Lewis

Lately, I’ve been overwhelmed by my circle of friends. If you are reading this, I would consider you in that circle.

I feel as if Girls on the Run is at a tipping point…the word of us is far and wide these days. On airplanes, in the grocery store, in a restaurant, I catch site of our logo and my breath is simply, taken away. Several months ago I was driving to Jacksonville, Florida. Somewhere along I-95 a car with Georgia tags drove by me with a Girls on the Run bumper sticker on the back.

Of course, I sped up to see who was at the wheel. Do I know her? Where is she from? What’s her story…like I’d somehow be able to figure that out going 70 miles per hour down the highway…the wonder of it all.

It is quite surreal for me to see that logo crop up all over the place. There is this immediate connection I feel to whoever has proudly emblazoned that across his/her chest. While we don’t personally know each other, we know each other. We’ve experienced the same words, the same philosophy, touched the same authentic and real space we’ve come to know as the Girls on the Run experience.

This connection falls not only within our ranks, but outside of them as well. Enter stage left, Bev Lassiter. Bev is a Charlottean. She and I have walked around in similar spots for years, but never officially met. Two years ago she called the office.

“I’ve got an idea,” she was almost whispering. “I can’t share it with everyone just yet, but I’d like to sit down with you and see what you think.”

Of course, I was intrigued.

A couple of weeks later, Bev walks in for a visit at our office.

Bev is one of those “sistas” who can sport the pink, lily print and the matching hand bag, like my diva daughter Helen. Bev is petite, put-together and definitely (please note bold AND italics on that definitely!) a sparkplug.

“I’m President-Elect of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs of NC and every President gets to pick her ‘Special Project.’ I want Girls on the Run to be mine.”
Not sure yet, what this meant exactly, I was intrigued.

“This means that over 6000 of our club members from across the state will be raising money for your North Carolina Girls on the Run councils. We hope to raise over $50,000 for you to distribute to those councils.”

After a moment (or many) of catching my breath and figuring out what to do with what this almost-stranger had shared with me, I started to cry.

“Bev, I don’t know how to thank you.”

“Well,” she said, “Let’s start by figuring out how we make it all happen.”

Here’s how their efforts surprised me at their annual GFWNC conference in Wrightsville Beach, NC:

(Nice expression mm? That’s Ellen Patterson on the left, me with the funny face, Bev with the glasses, wearing a wonderful Lilly dress underneath that huge cardboard check and Georgann Sapp, the rockstar responsible for organizing the junior members of the organization around this campaign!)

We are currently rounding out our first year with their efforts. Ellen Patterson, her go-to colleague has organized the campaign with the help of Georgann Sapp. The creation of shoe bags, pearl necklaces and quilts, along with fundraisers (“Women on the Walk” is one example), pennies from pockets and women just asking have raised over $30,000.

Twenty-something’s and eighty-something’s have come together around tables in communities from all across the state to support our girls. Hours of conversation, planning, crocheting, sewing, dreaming, being will bring our program to thousands of girls across North Carolina who might not otherwise have the experience. I gratefully acknowledge all of their hard work, but also wonder what they might be receiving in return. What conversations have transpired, while nimble fingers have needle-pointed pillows, or baked cookies? What laughter has been shared as they’ve told stories of their own youth? What tears have welled up when reminiscing old times, lost loves and the fears and joys of growing older?

The circles of our influence are never fully known. But I know that when I see our logo, I havean emotional response that is deep, heartfelt and real. I know that the power of this program is felt whether we are delivering it, funding it, cheering for it, participating in it, working for it, writing about it, reading about it or simply observing the logo.

Not only are our girls realizing their greatest potential but so too are all those to whom even just the word of our program reaches.

I received this email today.

Hi Molly,

I just couldn't contain my excitement and had to send a picture of the very FIRST group of Louisiana Girls on the Run!

I'm not sure why I've been reduced to tears all day...but in my gut, I know.

And, I suspect that this picture tells the tale. A vision of these girls has been in my mind since I first clicked on the white state of Louisiana on the GOTR website and realized that there was a chance to change it to a glorious shade of purplish pink. These girls have occupied my mind during all of my runs. And when I listen to what has been my inspiration song for years - 'Unwritten', they are the part of the song that goes..."reaching for something in the distance...so close you can almost taste it - release your inhibitions...feel the rain on your skin"

Last night, my 10 year old bundle of sweetness named Cary cried deep tears that I'm not used to seeing. She confided in me that she had been playing four-square at school with the boys. In her words, she was "queen" and she was winning. And then...it happened...one of those defining moments. She tripped and fell over a boy, Matt. And everyone laughed. And my little girl - who LOVES this game and has always had fun playing with the boys - told me she never wanted to play again. My oldest daughter and I both tried to console her but something was different in her soul.

And the only thing...THE ONLY THING...that gave me hope at that moment and silenced my heart was knowing that next week - she would be part of Girls on the Run.

I begin coaching next week - my daughter and a group of girls - and then another photo of joyful 'girl' perfection will exist. What will lie beneath the photo??? So many beautiful hearts just waiting for your lessons...

So...a heartfelt thank you. I have never in my life felt more connected to a purpose...so excited for a beginning and so sure of an outcome!


So to Cary, Heidi, Bev and Ellen, I thank you back. To all of you for putting yourselves out there everyday for our girls and each other, I offer you my gratitude.

Who are you grateful to be working with? Tell me about her or him at molly@girlsontherun.org.

To learn more about the General Federation of Women’s Clubs through North Carolina, please visit their website at www.gfwcnc.org. If you’d like to learn more about their organization at the national level please visit www.gfwc.org.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Talk About a Revolution...

Matt Harding

Sometime you should ask my daughter Helen to imitate me. It really is one of the funniest things you'll ever see.

She pulls her hair back into a ponytail, rolls up her sleeves and begins this whole routine..."Come on girls...You can do it! Good job...GOOD JOB...Keep going. That's it, Believe in yourself. Never doubt. If you smile you can run stronger. Celebrate the day. Celebrate your body. Celebrate yourself" And then she starts jumping up and down and running in place, dancing and basically looking like a complete and total maniac.

"Helen, is that really what I look like at Girls on the Run?"

"At Girls on the Run? Mom, you look like that MOST of the time," she will respond. "Only more!"

So, I'll admit it. I'm a complete and total goofball when I get around kids. This goofball spirit that manages to lie dormant at most other times of the day just erupts and completely takes over my being..

"Hey sista. What's up? How ya been? Whas crakalackin?" I'll hold out my hand (for a return high-five slap) to just about any third grade girl, anywhere, anytime. Doesn't matter whether she's actually done Girls on the Run or whether I know her...because I want to know her. I WANT TO PLAY!

Over the years, I've learned that being playful isn't something that just happens...we have to make it happen. There is this voice from inside the "Girl Box" that tells girls that it isn't sophisticated or grown-up to play, act silly or be a goofball. You can see it happen around fifth grade. The willingness to just break out into a disco, anytime--anywhere, simply disappears and girls become inhibited and overly concerned with what other people think. They just lose that fun, silly, playful spirit.

Whose fault is that? Is it theirs? I think NOT! I think it is OURS. Heck, if adults were playful, silly and uninhibited more girls would see it, want it and never lose it!

So I ask you...no, I'm telling you...no, I'm demanding you to try this small experiment with me. Seriously...I'm NOT joking. (Even though I have a huge smile on my face, I'm NOT joking!)

I think we need to incite a "Dance Revolution!"

To prepare yourself for our global revolution, you have to watch this video. Come on now. WATCH IT! Take a look and then come back.


On THIS MONDAY...September 21st at 4:00 EDT I want you to break out into whatever level of dance you can muster up. If you are a Volume 10, I want to see an all out full body disco or runnin' man. If you are a Volume 1, I want to see, at least an attempted disco or booty shake. For all of you in between, let it rip. In the words of the King of Pop himself, "Show me what you can do."

If you are so inclined, ask the people around you to join you. "Come on. This is fun. Join me." I have absolutely NO doubt that the retiree standing behind the grocery check-out line would love to disco. She's probably not discoed since she was twelve years old and YOU...yes YOU...will be her liberator.

I have no doubt that the guy fixing the broken pipe under your kitchen sink has NEVER danced while on the job. I'm quite sure there is some kind of rule against that, but ask him anyway. "Come on buddy. Put down that wrench and DANCE!"

Okay, so he will think you are completely crazy. He may even talk about it for the rest of the afternoon...heck the rest of his life...but who cares?

If you can...forward this blog to anyone and everyone you know. Maybe if we are lucky it will make it to the floor of Congress, an international tennis tournament or even a celebrity-attended music awards show.

We need to add a little play to this universe. A little goofball. A little FUN!

MARK YOUR CALENDARS FOR Monday, September 21st for 4:00. Go ahead. Do it! And then around 5:00 (or 4:01 depending on how it went) I expect a report, from each and every one of you that rose up to this challenge and for one minute, on September 21st, 2009 at 4:00 EDT, stepped out of whatever boxes that restrain and confine you, to dance...to remind the world that being playful and child-like (rather than childish) is a pretty amazing way to be. (I'll be snapping photos...so be prepared to see those on Monday evening!)

Seriously (or playfully), post your comment here and show your allegiance to the belief that if we all just took one minute (or a few) and danced...danced like no one was looking...there might be a lot less finger-pointing, name-calling, shouting at, hearsay and bullying and a lot more attention to the things that really matter, like laughter,compassion and the power that comes when we dance with each other.

Monday, September 14, 2009

An Open Letter to Miley Cyrus

“The struggles I'm facing.
The chances I'm taking.
Sometimes might knock me down but
No I'm not breaking.” (Miley Cyrus Song)

September 14, 2009

Dear Miley:

My name is Molly Barker. I am the founder of Girls on the Run International and also the mother to a ten-year old girl. You’ve become such a part of our life; I thought I might make the relationship official. You know—think of you as the person you are rather than the pop star icon, Disney mogul and multi-millionaire the world typically sees. I mean, after all, I hear your voice the moment my daughter awakens. So come on in, pull up a chair and take a seat. I’m a huge fan and oddly enough, trying to get past all that fame “stuff.”

We’ve listened to you for years, but as of late your music has taken front and center in our morning ritual. Your voice, like mist on a crisp fall morning, floats from beneath my daughter’s bedroom door. She sings along. Her slippers like broom bristles drift across her dusty floor. The boy of her dreams holding her, they dance. He is special, this one--you know--the one in math class who sits three rows up and two rows over?

You are just sixteen. I can’t imagine what your life is like, everyone wanting a piece of you. The agents, the paparazzi, the media--navigating the waters between childhood and growing up are hard enough, but to have the entire world watching, the entire world judging, you must be a very brave and self-assured young woman.

I remember being sixteen, wanting to grow up so fast, the anger and frustration of it all. Sometimes it hurt so much I would scream, shout and want to run away. At sixteen, there is so much to feel; the joy of first love, the wished for first kiss and the sorrow of first loss. It was all just so MUCH, at sixteen, somewhere between wanting desperately to be grown-up and wishing for the simplicity of youth.

My daughter dances while you sing. She is poised there on the edge of adolescence and you in the middle of it. She talks about you like you are family, nonchalantly mentions the latest news of your life as if you had told her yourself. You are often the topic in carpool, her girlfriends chatter away. Their descriptions of you are positive, respectful and genuine.

As they talk, I marvel at how you have stayed the course in spite of the crazy world in which you live. How you stand tall amidst the”should and ought to” people telling you how to dress, act and be something and someone you are not. I admire how you have stayed true to yourself, your ideals and your beliefs.

But I also know that these decisions to honor, embrace and celebrate who you are don’t come about without a lot of fear, anger and self-doubt. Not because I know you…but because I was sixteen once.

And so, the mother in me wants to rise up and cry out to you. Please, PLEASE don’t cave in. For the sake of my daughter and the millions more who eat, drink and breathe you, please, PLEASE, stay true to the role model you have become. There are millions and millions of girls watching, listening and observing your every move. Your power is infinite in the influence you have on so many. Stay strong, stay real, stay Miley.

But the girl in me--the woman in me--the founder of Girls on the Run knows that you will have to realize your power in your own time and in your own language and that part of growing up to become a strong, healthy woman means learning from your mistakes, missteps and miscalculations. Often times this means taking risks, stepping out and testing the waters! I remember being sixteen and how difficult it was, in my simple, un-famous life, trying to be strong, stand up and remain alive, real and myself while exploring the unchartered waters of boys, adulthood and my future.

Just know that in those darkest moments, those most vulnerable moments, those moments when it’s hard to breathe and the next right step is difficult to see, I encourage you, as I encourage my own daughter and all the girls in Girls on the Run, to explore, evolve and question your way to adulthood; to go your way, in your own time and at your own pace and know that the strength you will find, will be your own.

Keep pushin’ on.

Molly B.

What element of YOU, did you hide as a child/teenager that has re-revealed itself in your adulthood. Let me know at molly@girlsontherun.org.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Girls on the Run Solemates

I’ve been a runner all of my life.

I started running with my Mom when I was thirteen and discovered the sanctuary it provides. My mom started running in her early 50’s…a means of running toward the new woman she had discovered mid-life.

We would set out in the early morning hours, before sunrise. I vividly remember how the sound of our footsteps created the rhythm of our morning. We were in sync, she and I, mother and daughter. No words were exchanged but we spoke in the silent space between us with our footsteps, breathing and effort. Time was suspended and for the two of us there were no expectations. We just….were.

At age 15, I ran my first 3 miles. I was the basketball team manager and during practice one rainy, dreary winter day, I set out focused and determined. I covered three miles on the dirt track at Charlotte Country Day School.

I vividly remember walking back into the gym as practice finished up. The boys noticed me…striped with dirt up the backside of my body, rivulets of water streaming from hair ends, strands of it carelessly tossed about my neck and shoulders. Dirt and grime were trapped on eyebrows, between teeth and behind my ears.

Not a single boy said a word…but their coach did.

“How far’d ya go, Molly?”

“Three miles,” I replied. He shook his head with positive disbelief.

“Amazing,” he sighed.

I felt the most beautiful I had ever felt in my whole life.

Somewhere between 13 and 30, I stopped feeling beautiful. I’m not sure why…I just did. Maybe it was a lifetime of airbrushed images on magazine covers or something I was born with…but whatever IT was I had lost it.

In 1996, I started Girls on the Run, my effort to create a safe space for girls to never lose the “it” in their lives and for women to get “it” back. Whether it is through running, friendships or community service, thousands of girls and women are now able to reclaim the authentic side of beautiful that flows after a really good run, a conversation with a good friend or through helping others.

Girls on the Run is impacting thousands and thousands of girls. Recently I received the following essay from one of our amazing 4th graders, Grace.

The Not-so-Runner Runner

Before I started Girls on the Run, I could hardly run five laps around the school’s field. I had never been a runner like some kids were. I would see kids run around the track and I would say I wish I could do that.

One day when I was at my friend’s house, she started talking about Girls on the Run. I listened eagerly.… but I hesitated to sign up because, well, maybe this just wasn’t the right time. Sometime in the third quarter of the school year, I got a letter saying that there were still more spaces left in Girls on the Run, and that I could sign up. So I did.

It turns out that Girls on the Run was fun. I saw some kids from my grade, and we got to run together, with our coaches encouraging us every step of the way.

On my first day, I ran six laps! Now, for some people that might sound like the easiest thing in the world, but for ME it wasn’t! Soon enough, I was running a mile. (Eight laps around our field is a mile.) My farthest yet has been 12 laps, which is a mile and a half. I’m so proud of myself for being able to run this far. Before Girls on the Run, never, in my wildest dreams, would I have been able to run more than a mile.

I’m kind of upset that I did not sign up earlier. I’m going to keep running and trying to go farther. My goal this year is to be able to run at least half of the Girls on the Run 5k, and walk the other half. Next year I plan to run 4K and walk one.

Girls on the Run has taught me many lessons, but the most important thing it has taught me is to have confidence in myself and to never give up.”

I am firmly convinced that running can absolutely change a person’s life. The act of running is in and of itself nothing remarkable. But what the act of running MEANS to us, is. For some of us it is all about setting goals and achieving them. For other of us, it is building and maintaining authentic friendships. For some, it is the only quiet time in the day when we can focus on ourselves, our breathing and our solitude. Many run for the physical benefits, the natural way our bodies become lean and healthy. Others, to manage the stress of a work week or the challenges of motherhood.

But for Grace, my little fourth grade friend, running means she IS good enough, strong enough, brave enough and confident enough to do anything ELSE which she sets her mind to do. The joy, these days I find in running is my knowing that Girls on the Run is affecting Grace like this and is exactly what I needed to reclaim the beautiful little fourth grader I once was and zap her into my 48 year old body!

When I started Girls on the Run, clearly, my intention was to empower young girls…and yet…I had no idea that one of those young girls was the one I had left behind back in fourth grade when I started trying to morph into what I thought our culture wanted me to be, instead of who I really was!

The women who come into contact with our program walk away with the same type of strength Grace did. And for those folks who are unable to coach at any one of our sites across North America, we've just introduced Girls on the Run SOLEMATES, a Fundraising and FUNraising running program that encourages women and men, to train for and compete in an endurance event through the friendships we develop and a united mission to help girls. (Check out our new Solemates website at www.girlsontherunsolemates.org.)

There is so much you can do to help us change the lives of girls...and in the process do so much to change your own. You will, in the words of my little friend Grace, learn many lessons, but the most important of these would be “to have confidence in myself and to never give up!”

Run on, people.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Her Beating Heart

“There are many things in life that will catch your eye, but only a few will catch your heart…pursue those.”

Michael Nolan

Thanks to the support and dedication of many people, Girls on the Run now reaches over 50,000 girls, annually, across North America. One of those dedicated people, an attorney who has worked with us over the years, shared a story with me about his now grown-daughter, Amanda. Several years ago when she was just four, the family was seated at the dinner table when the discussion of careers came up. Karl and Pam were sharing with their daughter. “Honey, you can be anything you want to be when you grow up—a mommy, a lawyer like your daddy, an astronaut, a banker, even President of the United States! What do you think you want to be?” Amanda pondered the question. After a few seconds of considering their query, she asked, “Do they still have queens?”

And you know what I would tell her? A resounding, “YES they do!” Maybe not in the traditional sense, but every woman, every girl has within her a queen just poised to emerge.

The key is finding her in there.

Maddie was in third grade. Her hair always stuck up, shiny-blond from too much swimming-pool chlorine and sun. Her little knees were knobby, her small ribs showed through the muscle of her small frame. Maddie was tiny. Even her voice was tiny. Her socks always fell down around her ankles and her shoes were always untied. She wore glasses that were thick like soda pop bottles and she had obvious problems with coordination.

Maddie was in Girls on the Run.

Maddie, born with congenital heart issues as an infant, was a fighter. Every day, she was there at Girls on the Run: sticking-out-hair, falling-down-socks, and the spirit of someone special. But her heart had started misfiring again. She was getting weaker, losing weight, and having problems even walking through the games, so her doctors ordered her to stop and only watch. Tears welled up in her eyes, but no matter what, she was there, to support, encourage and cheer on her friends in Girls on the Run.

Three weeks before the culminating Girls on the Run 5k run/walk in which all of the girls in her hometown were participating, her doctors scheduled another surgery. The doctors opened up the body that housed that strong-girl spirit, held her beating heart in their hands, corrected the weakness there, and ever so gently placed her life back into her body.

And three weeks after her heart had been cut open, exposed and vulnerable, Maddie, with permission from her doctors, ran in that Girls on the Run 5k with hundreds of runners. She crossed that finish line in sixty-three minutes, arm in arm with all fourteen of her Girls on the Run teammates…the teammates she had never abandoned and who now wouldn’t dream of abandoning her.

She was crying.

She had done it.

They were together again.

On that day, Maddie’s spirit soared for all of her friends to see. Thousands of men and women watched that little soldier cross the finish line. The kings and queens hiding inside peered out—permission, if just for a little while to step into the sunshine, along with Maddie and her Girls on the Run friends. Each person there was given a moment to celebrate the potential that rests within --this moment wrapped in hope.

And as I write this early morning and remember Maddie, I take time to celebrate the strength of my own body…find gratitude in its power…I consider the many ways that I can nourish, embrace and care for the gift of this body and the queen who is housed within.

What action will you take today to nourish, care for and honor your strong, powerful and healthy body? Let me know at molly@girlsontherun.org or comment here.