Girls on the Run

We made it!  My 3rd through 5th graders finished their Girls on the Run season (my first as a coach) and completed their 5K this morning!  We were faced with numerous challenges throughout the season with cliques, a multitude of excuses to avoid running, language barriers with parents and even the girls at times, 30 mph winds during practice (as well as occasional rain and hail), school commitments, after school detention, varying motivation levels, and other occurrences in the lives of 10-year-olds.  But despite the obstacles I was also blessed and overjoyed to see bright, beautiful girls come out of their shells throughout the season, meaningful friendships formed between several of the girls, bonds between girls and coaches and we got to know each other, and some really kick-butt runners too.  These girls never ceased to surprise me, and the other coaches and I were ecstatic that all of the girls who showed up for the race were able to cross the finish line.

Girls on the Run is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to healthy lifestyle education.  It is a curriculum-based program with a lesson for each session (Standing Up for Myself, Peer Pressure, Cooperation, Community, etc.), and running is incorporated into each lesson.  The program is geared toward lower income schools, and I believe that it is so beneficial for these girls to have positive role models.  Some girls are eager and excited about the running portion and achieve a mile or two at each practice, while others struggle to run a half lap.  What amazes me is how much these girls actually get out of each lesson and their ability to recall what they learned the previous week.  They are so good at role playing and coming up with meaningful examples in their lives.  

Pre-race "Happy Hair" styling is a must!

One of my co-coaches and her running buddy.

Stretching out before the race!

A few particular girls stood out to me this season.  There was one very mature and intelligent 5th grader (we'll call her "Anne") who really grasped the concept of pacing herself, setting goals, and applying discipline to her running.  I was amazed to see this level of leadership in a not-even-11-year-old.  One of my favorite girls ("Marguerite"), also a 5th grader, came to practice every day with a smile on her face, eager to get to know her teammates and the coaches.  She is so intelligent and constantly reaches out to the less social girls, and this morning she placed 1st for our team in the 5K!  My biggest challenge of the season was a reserved 4th grader ("Laurita"), who throughout the season struggled to relate to her teammates or progress with her fitness level.  Self esteem is an obstacle for her and I had the impression that she lacked motivation.  However, two days ago she was heartbroken and devastated about potentially having to miss the 5K, and I realized how much GOTR means to her and how much she truly was gaining from the program.  She amazed all of the coaches this morning when she showed up for the race.  She continued to need encouragement to run, but she impressed me with comments like "Only one more mile? I can do it. I can do it."  She pushed herself to catch up with other girls in the back of the pack and set goals for herself.  It was such an exciting moment for her when she crossed the finish line with a smile on her face (in less than an hour as well!).

And we're off!

My running buddy!

Post-race snack table.

At times I have struggled with whether or not the girls gain anything meaningful from the program and if they can take what they have learned and apply it to their (often difficult) lives.  But I need to remind myself that we are simply planting a seed by introducing important concepts and setting a positive influence.  If enough positive seeds are planted in these girls' lives over the years to override the negative pressures they will face, then we can allow their plants to grow.


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