Then four years ago, after an eye-opening experience with the bathroom scale, I participated in the Starlight Run with some friends. That night had nothing to do with shame; it was all about celebration. The streets were lined with families cheering on the runners and walkers. We were the entertainment before the parade and we were loved, no matter how fast or slow we were. That night I started to learn that running could be fun, and even better that runners were a community of crazy, kind, happy, supportive, and hopeful people. I wanted to be part of that community so I participated in many more races over the next four years.
So how does Girls on the Run fit into this story? I learned about GOTR through signs at the Holiday Half Marathon and 5K. I was a student and full-time employee at that point and didn’t have a lot of extra time but thought, “I’m sure I can spare one afternoon and one night to help.” That spring I was back at the Starlight Run, walking with a young girl who had tears in her eyes most of the event because of a sore muscle in her side. We made it into the finishing arena just before the pacer car. And then she bounded over to her mom, gushing about how she had just finished a 5K, and how much fun it had been, and how she wanted to sign up again next year. This sweet girl forgot all about the pain in her side once we made it over that finish line and was rejoicing with her teammates in their victory.
After two seasons of coaching a GOTR team at Harrison Park, I was back in school this year and back to volunteering as a Running Buddy (because seriously, anyone can spare one afternoon and one night to help). This year I was partnered with Lisa and I am a better person for having met her. We spent the practice run talking about books, television shows, music, family, and school. She kept looking for her friends among hundreds of runners and cheered every time she spotted one. At the Starlight Run, our goal was simple: “To do everything!” That meant running, skipping, walking, high-fiving spectators, singing, waving to friends, getting our picture taken, popping bubbles, and cheering on teammates. Oh, and quoting Despicable Me because our tutus were “so fluffy!!!” Lisa never doubted that we would cross the finish line and didn’t care one bit where we were in the pack of runners. She wanted to soak up every single moment of the experience and share as much joy with those around us as possible. While I was her Running Buddy, I became a proud older sister who could see what a beautiful woman Lisa would be one day.
Girls on the Run welcomes girls, and their Buddies, into a community that is crazy, kind, happy, supportive, and hopeful. The coaches encourage the girls to be true to who they are, and to enjoy who that person is. This program is exactly what running should be about and I would encourage every parent to sign their daughter up, every woman to be a buddy, and every man to find a way to fundraise or otherwise support our next generation of female leaders and athletes.