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.