I went to an all-girls school from pre-school through 12th grade. As such, from the age of four, the idea that girls/women can do anything they set their minds to has been engrained in me. The motto of my school says it all: Dream. Dare. Do.
Growing up among strong women (whether friends, relatives, or teachers/coaches), I took for granted the idea that women could do anything men could. Since leaving Laurel’s walls nine years ago (gasp! I’m so old!), my eyes have been opened to the many cultures (societal, corporate, or otherwise) around the world and even here in the US where women are not able to assert themselves or pursue their dreams. I will never forget reading Half the Sky a couple years ago… I almost took the train right to Reagan National and bought a ticket to Africa! Reading the heartbreaking stories of sex slavery/other forms of oppression that women face around the world as well as the uplifting stories of individuals/organizations taking action to create change was truly inspiring. I realized just how passionate I am about women’s empowerment.
I regret to say that I have not yet bought that ticket to Africa. HOWEVER, I began to think about what I could do to empower women in my own community, as this is not an issue solely found in developing countries. This past fall, I was fortunate enough to discover Girls on the Run.
Girls on the Run was established in 1996 by Molly Barker (a triathlete!) with the goal of providing girls with tools to embrace their individual strengths and successfully navigate life experiences. Since that first season Girls on the Run has grown from one group of 13 girls to serving over 130,000 girls in 200+ cities across North America! The program runs two sessions per year that incorporate running and group discussion of various issues that typically impact young girls and women. Each session culminates in a celebratory 5k, which is an opportunity for everyone participating in GOTR in a region to gather and run together. Because I was injured in the fall and couldn’t participate in the 5k back in November, I volunteered at the starting line. What an amazing experience it was! The pure joy in the air and excitement to just be running, without a care about who would win or how fast they would run it, was so refreshing. Everyone was there to celebrate strong, confident girls as well as running and health. The experience left me hungry to get more involved.
In March, I became the coach of fourteen 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders at Horace Mann School out in Oak Park, IL. Over the past 6 weeks or so, the girls have talked about rumors, gossip, standing up for themselves, and healthy eating, among other topics. They’ve also found their running legs. At our first session, only a couple of the girls had run more than one mile at once. Some had never run at all… and didn’t even have sneakers/running shoes! One of the girls - Victoria - declared, “I don’t run. I don’t like running. And I won’t run.” Leora said, “I only wear dresses! Ever!” This past Thursday, we ran a practice 5k in preparation for the real deal on May 17th. Victoria ran the entire 3.1mi without stopping. Leora… well, she still only ever wears dresses. But she went from never having run before to also running the entire 5k… in under 30 mins! Not too shabby.
As they work toward the 5k, the girls are grappling with setting a goal, working towards it, and dealing with fear we’ve all experienced of coming up short of their goal… and they are now also beginning to experience the satisfaction and pride of achieving a goal that they once thought impossible to reach. Seeing the joy (and relief) on the girls’ faces when they completed the practice 5k was so heartwarming. My time with the girls is undoubtably the highlight of my week, and I can’t wait to see their continued growth leading up to our celebratory GOTR 5k in Grant Park on May 17. Interested in joining us?! Register at: http://www.gotrchicago.org/gotrc5k/2014/central. Anyone can join... even boys! :-)
Hello from the Girls on the Run at Horace Mann School!