When I was choosing sports I would pursue, as a child, it was a guessing game. I’d try something out (field hockey camps, lacrosse clinics, pitching clinics for Softball, basketball camps, etc.) and see what happened. Some flopped and others were great. But, it was a guessing game.
Running was an option. There was a middle school track problem but my only exposure was during gym class…the grueling mile where I was judged based on my time, while trying to not look foolish running in front of my friends. It was humiliating and based on that feeling, I never pursued running until I became an adult. I saw it as a sport where people could see your failures on an individual basis against those who had the gift of speed. Why would I make running, or, heaven-forbid, signing up for the track team part of my routine?
Since then, running has become something I do for myself alone. I do it because of the feeling of accomplishment I get when I finish. But, I have to admit, my first 5k I was terrified…I didn’t want to be last…I didn’t want to be the “slow” one. I didn’t understand the individual sense of accomplishment and pride that just finishing could bring. It took a long time to get over it.
A few months ago, a friend of mine called and asked if I would be her sixth-grade daughter’s running buddy for “Girls on the Run.” It involved running a 5k in December and her daughter was looking to hit a new PR. I said sure. I didn’t think much more of it, but was excited to sign up and be a support.
Yesterday I had my first introduction to the program. I was informed we’d be doing a practice 5K to prepare the girls for the upcoming race (December 14, the Jingle Bell 5K in Harrisburg). Running buddies were asked to show up and run to get a feel for running together. So, at 3 o’clock I showed up at the school. I was amazed!
20 girls were participating in the program. They left the school together, stretched together and got ready to go. Talking to other parents and the program coordinator at this particular school, I learned that Girls on the Run is more than a race. It’s a 12-week program where the girls run together, learn about self-confidence, encourage one another, take on volunteer projects and more. It teaches them that running is about so much more than a time…in fact, until yesterday the girls were not timed during their runs. That’s not what it’s about.
The practice race started and it was great. While my little speedster partner did take 2nd and set a new personal best (can’t wait to join her for the actual race!), it was so much more than that. She was confident, she encouraged the other runners (who did the same) and the girls smiled as they did what they could do. It was FUN, which is exactly what running should be, it wasn’t about worrying about the time or about how the others felt about them. It was about encouragement and accomplishment.
The girls stayed around to cheer on every last runner and every single time was celebrated…they finished and were successful in something they’ve been working 12 weeks for. Talk about pride!
I wish I would have had access to a program like this when I was their age. I think it would have changed how I saw myself and the things I set out to achieve. This program shows an important factor: that anyone can run, and that running translates into other challenges in life; it teaches young runners how to face them head on and come out on top, what an amazing message.
Interested in learning more about Girls on the Run or starting a chapter in your local elementary or middle school? Check out the site today!