Friday, May 28, 2010

Without Words: You Will Be Too

“The most common way people give up their Power, is by thinking they don’t have any.” -Alyce Walker

The Road can make a body weary. I’ve been traveling…a lot. The joy, the smiles, the happiness, the depth of what we are doing has a way of working their way deeply into my cells…particularly when the body IS weary. The physical-ness of me becomes less of a barrier and I feel more transparent. I become more emotional.
I am in Kalamazoo as I write to you. I drove in from Ann Arbor yesterday, after an incredibly moving event with Danielle Plunkett-Johnson and her team. Follow that with Sandy Barry-Loken and her amazing team holding their annual volunteer recognition event last night here in Kalamazoo.

I spent over an hour yesterday preparing my speech. I don’t often require much prep time, but yesterday I pulled together some new “material” to share with our Kalamazoo “family”.

I never got around to sharing it.

I didn’t need to. Anna (on the right in photo above) and Jessie(on the left) said it all.

Jessie is a fourteen year old graduate of the program. Her mom was a faithful coach for six years…and Jessie was on her mom’s GOTR teams over each of those six years. She is now in 9th grade.

Jessie confidently walked to the stage, took to the podium and proceeded to read, with passion like none other, a poem she had written that won a literary award here in Kalamazoo.

Before you read it…seriously…I want you to settle in. Take a few deep breaths, because you will be left breathless when you are through:

By Jessie Fales, Kalamazoo, MI

Judge a girl by the mounds on her chest,
by the curve of her spine,
by the silk of her skin,
by her hair’s shine.
Stare at her hips,
gawk at her thighs,
act as though she’s only a feast for your eyes.
Let your gaze travel over every inch of her body,
and then, when you finally like what you see,
call her beautiful.
And if this is how you determine beauty, then you are a fool.
Because beauty is not found in the vessel,
but it is found in what that vessel contains.
The most beautiful shell in the world could break,
and then you would have nothing.
But if you would look at an ordinary oyster,
you would find in her the most beautiful pearl,
a treasure that you’ve always ignored.
Beauty can be found everywhere, if only you take the time to look.
It is in she who finds a reason to laugh, when life gives her a thousand reasons to cry.
It is in the girl who can rise from the depths of despair.
It is in she who dances in the rain.
It is in the girl who speaks her mind.
It is in she who goes against the grain.
It is everywhere.
And if you choose to ignore all of this beauty,
and focus on that which only meets your eyes,
then you are a fool.
A fool who will never know what beauty truly is.

I was a goner at the word gawk in line six. The words of this powerful woman-girl hit me deeply in my solar plexus. I found myself nearly thrown to my knees with their impact. THIS is where it starts. THIS is the Girl Box…gone, obliterated, eliminated, SHATTERED!

Anna is next. She walks to the stage after a heartfelt series of words from her mancoach, Paul. (Yes…I said MANcoach!)

She reads her words, bravely to 200 plus women and here they are:
When I started GOTR, I felt like the bi-polar girl who was chubby, hideous, unwanted. I’d walk in school with my head down, belly sticking out, eyes clenched shut, lips tight… so scared and felt so hated I didn’t know what to do. I felt the world was after me and wanted to klomple me, smack me down because I was so hideous.

Everybody starts out scared. I thought I could never run. My heart ached but my team cheered me on. I learned that your team was there for you. And I was able to finish the 5K. I said “me, I thought I could never do that”

Second year, who knew… new school, coaches, team. The kids were nice to me. What a relief. Coaches Paul and Steph and assistant Jen rocked! They gave me the nick name, Anna the Brave, for being able to run and everything.
The last year I was more fearless. I could go into school with my head up, smiling, waving to my buddies.

Then I became assistant coach to Paul. I got depressed, but GOTR kept me brave… kept me going. When I was coaching, I was running and cheering girls like older kids were for me. I wanted to be that kid. I wanted to help them feel that somebody may like you just because you’re you. I wanted those girls to turn brave, fearless.

If I didn’t do GOTR, I couldn’t have faced some scary treatment for bi-polar and depression. I learned how to boost my self esteem and like who I am; and I did the 5K 4 times… Oh Yeah! I also learned how to face bullies (it’s like getting IVs… and I get a lot of these).

Seriously, I don’t know how to explain it.

And then she was done.

Now it’s my turn. I slowly walked to the stage. And was, for the first time in what has become a career that involves public speaking, literally left without words. They had already been said. They had already been shared. They had already been…I just stood there and cried, like a baby…completely moved by the bravery, the real-ness, the POWER each of these girls had claimed as their own and then had the courage to share with me, us, the world.

As I write to you this morning, I recognize, that with each passing year, I am more able to see with eyes wide open, the impact our efforts are having in the world. Fourteen years we’ve been at this and YES! The Girl Box, the imaginary space we, as adults might have bought into, believed and felt confined by, no longer exists for Jessie and Anna and the thousands and thousands of girls our program reaches. The cultural, systemic and individual change I dreamed of back in my early 30’s is truly occurring and Girls on the Run is playing a significant role in that change.

So there you have it. I’m done. The words have all been said. Now I just want to feel, embrace and be content with the silence, the wonder, the awesome Power within and that which we have come to know as Girls on the Run. When have you been left "without words." Tell me about it at

Friday, May 14, 2010

Batman Bill Wears Pink

So...just so you know...Batman Bill has brought an entirely new audience to If you don't know who Batman Bill is, read the blog entry just ahead of this one. He is fast becoming a Girls on the Run Legend.

I think THIS picture says it all! (Please note, that not only is the man sporting a pink shirt, but pink hair as well.)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Batman Bill

“A child’s hand in yours…what tenderness it arouses, what power it conjures. You are instantly the very touchstone of wisdom and strength.”
Marjorie Holmes

Today’s Blog Entry is going to be extraordinary…extraordinarily different. Different because I’m not going to write it. I’m going to use the words of someone who recently wrote to me about the impact the program has had on HIM. Yes…I did say HIM. I’m finding, seeing and feeling the impact this program is having on the men of this world, more and more every day. It’s such a beautiful, beautiful thing to see how many men have shown up, laced up their shoes and run, stride for stride, side by side, their little girls in all of the New Balance Girls on the Run 5k’s I’ve attended.

The letters and emails I get from these fabulous guys reinforce that love abounds in the hearts and minds of the men who take the time to tenderly tread that starting line with their daughters!

And so, please take the time to read the beautiful letter that follows. I asked Bill if it would be alright for me to share this and his response…”ABSOLUTELY!”
So here goes. Bill…you have NO idea how much your “man-influence” not only impacts the girls you directly serve, but all of us connected to Girls on the Run.
Rock on there, Mister.

“Dearest Molly,

My name is Bill or my coaching name the girls gave me is "Batman Bill". I am an assistant coach at Reidenbaugh elementary in the Lancaster, PA chapter. First I want to say, Carrie Johnson and Jennifer West are amazing directors and have made it so easy for us to focus on the girls and not the nitty gritty stuff. We are one week away from our 5K and there is a buzz of excitement around these parts.

I just wanted to share with you my experience from a "Mancoach's" point of view.

I got involved when I was looking for races to run, as I am training for the Athens Classic Marathon that is the 2500th anniversary of the birth of the marathon, It will actually be running on the original road from the town of Marathon to Athens, how cool is that?

I am not a runner, at least I wasn't when I decided to run a marathon. I literally started running the first week of December. So I am online one night in the winter and am looking up 5K races to sign up for to get some races under my belt and I see GOTR 5K. What’s this? So I read all about you and the program and was amazed.

I have three kids an 11 year old daughter, a 6 year old son and a 4 year old daughter. I was so impressed with the work that you are doing. I had to know if there was one in my daughter’s school. I emailed Jen and asked if my painting business could be a sponsor for the race and if they had a team at Reidenbaugh. I also wanted to know if there was any way I could volunteer as I believed that this was a worthy cause. Her response was yes, and yes, and she went on to say if I wanted to be a positive male role model, it would greatly be appreciated.

Wow! As you know it is tough to carve out two afternoons a week when you are in a contracting business, but worth every extra hour I had to tack on to other days to make up for the time.

It has been such a privilege to work with all these beautiful women. In today’s world, Dads are working long hours, or if they coach, it's a sport, soccer, T-ball, etc. but running? And it's not really coaching. It is encouraging, teaching, challenging, reflecting, being a role model, conversing. I think this job is way more fulfilling and harder as we tackle life's issues in these little lady’s lives. I think it is a tougher job than just coaching a sport. You have to be transparent and be completely real and not so tough, at least as a "Mancoach.”

It has taught me to be more compassionate and to understand my daughter more. Our relationship has grown exponentially. This has just been an amazing experience.

Last week we ran our practice 5K in the rain, all girls present completed it, the last girl to come in had many of her teammates run out and cheer her on as she came in. I started to tear up, but quickly hid it as I haven't completely climbed out of my "Boy Box.” I kid, but it truly changed me.

ME being the "fun Dad" and an energetic Adult ADD-er, I somehow introduced the Banana cheer earlier on in the season. So at the end of the 5K practice run, with many parents standing around, the girls begged me to lead the Banana cheer! I have to say it was not easy as a guy to do the Banana cheer let alone in front of parents, but it was very freeing.

That is one thing about GOTR. It is freeing. It helps these girls untie the chords that hold them in that box and allows them to stretch out their wings and fly.

Thank you so much for your sincerity, transparentness and passion. It truly shows to our girls and their parents all the way from the top.

So far as the Azalea T-shirt color this season, when I first heard that color, I thought, “You gotta be kidding me!” I never have and never will wear Pink! You can call it Azalea, but guys don't equate flowers with colors. It's pink and I don't want to wear it.

Well I wore it proudly on our practice 5K and many cars passed by the school as I was running, and I really don't care anymore what people think, because I have a healthier self image from this experience as well. Thanks Molly, I can't say it enough.

Bill Caloviras”

(I just re-read this again and feel myself tearing up…again. Oh my goodness, who would have EVER thought when I started this program, I’d be getting letters like this. Again…gratitude abounds.)

What moved you in Bill’s letter? Please let me know at

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Joy of Being

Those who have not found their true wealth, which is the radiant joy of Being and the deep, unshakable peace that comes with it, are beggars, even if they have great material wealth. They are looking outside for scraps of pleasure or fulfillment, for validation, security, or love, while they have a treasure within that not only includes all those things but is infinitely greater than anything the world can offer.

Eckhart Tolle

Audrey Ashkin is a Girls on the Run coach. I had the opportunity to meet her recently at a site visit, right here in my hometown of Charlotte. Audrey shared with me, what I consider, a fabulous example of why working with girls is just so darn real. So here goes:

Audrey was running next to Katie. Katie is in 3rd grade and is definitely one of the fastest girls in their Girls on the Run group. Audrey, not being as fast-paced as 9 year old Katie, thought to herself, “The only way I am going to keep up with this girl is to get her talking while running at the same time This might actually slow her down a tad.” And so Audrey, being oh so wise and admittedly mildly manipulative asked Katie, "How do you run so fast?" Of course, Audrey was hoping for a long and dramatic soliloquy on the benefits of running, diet and a lengthy list of the extraordinary character traits required to be so self-disciplined. What she got instead was, undoubtedly one of the most brilliant and articulate responses possible.

"I just put one foot in front of the other and go.”

Ahhh…the simplicity of kidspeak. Somewhere around middle school, we begin to take on the stories of the grown-up world and feel this need to complicate things. I know for me, just enjoying running for the sake of running wasn’t enough. I had to start doing, performing, justifying my actions in order to explain myself. I had to compete, win, bring home a trophy, and create stories to prove who I was and why I did what I did. I couldn’t just be fast. Soon, this need to achieve, win and prove myself became evident in everything I did. Instead of being content and at peace with myself, I had to DO things to feel worthy and at peace with myself. I had to justify my existence by performing my way through life rather than being my way in it.

Recently on my flight home from St. Louis (after an extraordinary and uplifting two days with Jill Indovino, her fabulous staff, coaches and girls) I was seated across the aisle from Amanda. Amanda is about 10 months old. For some reason, Amanda enjoyed staring at me. What started off as a simple game of peek-a-boo turned into a full-frontal staring match. For at least ten minutes, the two of us just looked at one another. People around began to notice, but that didn’t distract either one of us from our mission. We were intrigued with the newness of each other. Amanda was (remember my last Word Up) is-ing and joyfully invited me into the “joy of being” with her for the ten minutes we spent staring at one another.

There is a great story about the Buddha. The Buddha was said to give a silent sermon during which he held up a flower and gazed at it. After a while, a monk who was present began to smile. He is said to be the only one who understood the sermon.

Don’t get it? Read on.

You see a child sitting alone in a sandbox at the park. She is crying. Her mother, who is quite young, is laughing and sitting in the lap of a young man on the park bench nearby. What stories do you create in your head about this situation?

How ‘bout this one? A 20-something girl is crying. Tears are flowing down her cheeks. A boy, close in age, is gesturing with his hands. He is pacing back and forth as he talks. What stories do you create in your head about THIS situation?
Let’s try one more. You wake up one morning and for no apparent reason, feel sad, down-in-the-dumps…some would say mildly depressed. What stories do you make up in your head to justify these feelings of sorrow?

What I love about working with girls in our program is their innocent way of just seeing things for what they are. “I feel sad. No need to know why. I just am.” They experience the sadness by noticing it, leaning into it and just being it. They feel no need to explain why, they just are. They see the facts and the real of a situation but don’t feel any need to justify or create stories to explain what they see. They just see it.

As the monk so eloquently saw the flower, beautifully and simply, so goes the view of an 8 year old. I put one foot in front of the other and go.

Lately, I’ve been excited each day to pause, breathe and observe the thoughts, internal-talk and stories I make up to explain a situation. I’m spending more time staring at the familiar, long enough until the story of it slips away. I am then able to see it through infant eyes, as Amanda saw me. She didn’t see Molly Barker, the founder of Girls on the Run, mother of Hank and Helen, woman, or plane-mate. No, she saw me…being. Plain, simple and present.

What stories have you told to explain, rationalize or justify something you saw, felt, did or heard? What happens when you take away the story and just see something/someone for what it/she/he is…I’d love to know.