This spring marked five seasons of Girls on the Run (GOTR) coaching for me. GOTR is a 10-week program focused on self-esteem and empowerment for young girls. I’ve always worked with the third through fifth grade age group. I really like it for many reasons—it’s good to give back to the community in which one lives, it’s fun to be part of a program that encourages little chicks, I’ve met some great women through coaching who have become my friends, and the kids can be absolutely hilarious. Granted, there can be challenges, but it’s way more fun and inspiring.
The girls are funny and wise and confused all at once. It’s brilliant. They have no filters and an abundance of sincerity, even when their words surprise. When I was sitting with a girl waiting for her ride last week, she looked at me with the upmost seriousness and said, “My sister has her learner’s permit and it’s absolutely terrifying.”
If GOTR coaches were polled on their favorite aspect of the season, my guess is that most would say the 5K. It’s a community run, so some girls have family members who run with them. Other girls pair up with a friend and the coaches run with the girls to make sure no one gets left behind or struggles.
Every GOTR 5K I have taken part in has been different—one year it was a race with some girls who wanted to challenge themselves and one year a game called “Crabby Princesses” ensued in which we spoke in terrible British accents and ordered each other around saying things like, “I can’t possibly drink this tea, I said 2.5 sugars, not 2!” It made 3.1 miles go fast…
My usual strategy, though, is to take off with the pack of girls I know and see how they are doing. This year, I was at a school with several parents who wanted to run with their daughters, which is awesome. Plus, it lets me look for stragglers who look like they could use a friend.
I found her about a mile in this year, an adorable little girl with curly hair. She was walking pretty fast. Her name was written on the race bib pinned to her back, so I said hello and asked her if she wanted to run with me.
“Sure!” she said and off we went.
She told me how she was finished first at the practice 5K at her school, so she was surprised she had a side ache. So we talked about how it’s easy to get too excited at the beginning of the race and take off too quickly.
“Yeah, that’s what I did,” she said and grinned.
When I asked if any of her family was able to come to the run, she started rattling off a whole list of people who were there, including her dad and brothers. Sure enough, we heard folks cheering for her shortly thereafter.
She beamed when her dad called her name.
And as we continued on the grass path, one foot in front of the other, she told me why her mom couldn’t be there.
She talked about an accident and something broken in her neck. She said when she went to see her, her mom had staples in her head and she was afraid to hug her because she didn’t want to hurt her more.
“That must have been really scary,” I said.
“Yeah, it was,” she replied.
She told me that her mom was moved from a room with lots of machines to less machines so she was getting better. She said she would be able to come home in three weeks.
“My dad was in the ICU with all the machines earlier this year and I thought it was scary, too,” I told her.
“Yeah, ICU, that’s the room with all the machines.”
She ran strong right to the last step and looked proud when she got her medal.
There were thousands of people there that morning, who knows the collective weight of pain with which they were dealing. Thinking about that is almost unbearable, but my conversation with that little girl reminded me that everyone is dealing with something. And some of it is really heavy. It was one of those throw your problems in a pile and I’ll gladly take mine back out moments. But, at least for a morning, she was a star who hit her goal, surrounded by family and friends, with a shiny GOTR medal to show for it.