Women's Empowerment

#GirlPower

GOTR_FirstDay

A few weeks ago, I shared a bit of my experience as a coach with Girls on the Run. At the time, we had just completed our practice 5k and the girls had just grappled with their first experience of facing a goal – and the associated fear of not achieving it – head-on. As they expressed why they were nervous for the 5k, they brought up all those “what if’s” that every athlete has faced at one point or another during races and hard training days – what if I’m not as fast as I hoped to be? What if I underperform? What if I don’t achieve the goal I’ve set for that workout/race? I told them what I always tell myself in these situations – you’ve done the work, so now you have to trust that training, turn off your head, put one foot in front of the other, and just do it! Oh, how much easier it is to tell others to do this than to do it yourself! However, they did just that, and they did a fabulous job, with everyone completing 3.1 miles in under 45 minutes.

GOTR_BusPic

So, three weeks later, when my 14 girls, their running buddies and I found ourselves at the starting line of the official Girls on the Run Spring 5k in Grant Park, I had no doubt that all of the girls would CRUSH! The weather was perfect - slightly chilly, but sunny - and the excitement in the air was palpable as the girls warmed up by dancing to the tunes playing over the speakers (our crew obviously took warm-up to the next level – jumping jacks, high knees, butt kicks, and dynamic stretching…. followed by dancing!).

 Lining up at the start.

The 3.1-mile race flew by thanks to all the enthusiastic cheer squads along the way, and the girls I ran with were passing people left and right! Seeing their proud smiles as they sprinted across the finish line and collected their congratulatory medals was incredible, and hearing each girl’s jittery account of the race as she posed for post-race pictures brought back memories of my early running races and the excitement of accomplishing something completely new!

 My girls sport their 5k finisher medals.

As I’ve mentioned, Girls on the Run strives to inspire and empower girls through running. I believe it did just that with my girls based on our last session, when we went around and shared something we learned over the spring and something that each of us loved about ourselves. I couldn’t help but smile and feel I had touched the girls in some way as they went around and shared that they loved their “ability to run a 5k,” their “sportiness,” their “trustworthiness,” and even their “singing voice <lalalalaaaa>” It was heartwarming to see previously shy little girls pipe up to share what they had learned about pacing, how to prepare for a race and work towards a goal, how to eat healthfully, how to stand up for themselves and to not gossip.

 My running buddies and me!
 We did it!

While I feel I left an imprint on the girls, they have also left their mark on me. They snapped me out of the business school bubble that can be so all-consuming and kept me grounded during a stressful quarter. They helped me reconnect with the pure, simple joys of running and being healthy. Seeing them face their fears and embrace the challenge of completing something that they previously couldn’t even fathom was inspiration that I will carry with me forever. I can’t wait to work with my next Girls on the Run crew, but this first group of girls will forever hold a special place in my heart!

 

CONGRATS TO ALL THE SPRING 2014 GIRLS ON THE RUN!!

Montage of Spring 2014 Girls on the Run 5k at Grant Park.

P.S. Thanks to all the parents and my personal Sherpa, Ad, who have supported the girls throughout the Spring and came out to support us on race day!

Girls on the Run (is so much fun!)

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.

LaurelSchool_Motto

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.

GOTR_Logo

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.

 

 Fall 2014 GOTR Volunteers getting ready for the race

Fall 2014 GOTR Volunteers getting ready for the race

 Girls vie for the perfect starting position before the Fall GOTR 5k

Girls vie for the perfect starting position before the Fall GOTR 5k

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.

 My GOTR crew running their practice 5k....

My GOTR crew running their practice 5k....

 ...Hello camera!

...Hello camera!

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!