girls on the run

Happy Sunday!!

Today truly has been a happy day for me, as my volunteering project came to a glorious and uplifting end.  Do you remember how one of my New Year’s resolutions was to get more involved in my community?  That resolution was the one that I probably took the most seriously, especially because I was fast approaching my six-months-in-DC mark with very little to show for it.  I spent a good month searching for an organization that spoke to me, because I wanted something where I could build personal connections with people and feel like my past was in some way relevant to the work I’d be doing.  In the waning days of February, I found the perfect group: Girls on the Run.

In a nutshell, Girls on the Run (GOTR) is a 12-week program that strives to build the self-esteem and confidence of underprivileged girls by training for a 5k race at the end of the season.  Twice a week, 12-15 girls get together with two coaches for a lesson, which usually deals with issues common to the 3rd-5th graders every day life (bullying, gossiping, drugs), and some running.

Given my sports background, I knew immediately that this was the organization I wanted to donate my time to.  With such a rigorous swim schedule that started in middle school, I experienced first-hand the undeniably positive effect my sport had on my personality and life choices.  There were times that I was, without a doubt, a “Bad Kid,” but because I cared so much about swimming, I never got into drugs, alcohol, sex, late nights, or any other Bad Decision that was so easily available to girls growing up in a wealthy community.  Because I excelled at something, and realized around my freshman year of high school that I had all but cemented a future for myself in swimming, I was confident, proud of myself, secure in the happiness that swimming gave me.  The doors that swimming opened for me–and even more importantly, the ones that it shut–have molded me into the adult I am today.

Being able to look back at the positive impact swimming had on me made me want to share the gift of sports with other people.  Who better than a group of stunningly beautiful, swagger-iffic 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade divas, all of whom loved nothing more than the hours we spent after school talking and running and just being ourselves.  I HAD to be a part of it all.

I co-coached at the Brookland school up in northeast Washington, and my first day was a traumatic culture shock.  I walked into the after-care room with my Kate Spade bag, my iPhone, my Chanel perfume, my $120 running shoes, and found 15 African-American girls looking me up and down, deciding immediately that I had absolutely zero street cred.  Intimidated unlike I had ever been before, it took all of five minutes before the girls nodded their approval and welcomed me into their hearts with sad smiles and excited eyes.

We practiced twice a week for about an hour, and to be completely honest, it was a pretty big time commitment for me.  To get to the school by 4:45 every day meant I had to leave work by 3:45 at the latest–and I still had to work my standard 8 hours.  I was waking up at 5:30, metroing straight to Brookland after work, walking a mile from the metro to the school, giving 110% positive energy every day for the girls, walking a mile back to the metro, and finally heading back home.  I would be away from my apartment from 6:15am to 7pm every Tuesday and Thursday, which, smiling children or not, got to be pretty grueling at times.

The girls taught me one life lesson after another.  Their naivety and innocence about some subjects (gossiping) was so refreshing, but their surprisingly extensive knowledge of other subjects (drugs) was troubling.  For me, they just opened my eyes to things I had never thought about before–things that the path my life was on would never have given me opportunity to think about otherwise.  After Fran died, and after hearing the speech about living the “dash” between your years, I’ve really taken to heart the motto Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.  Working with these outspoken, spunky, fabulous girls really got me out of my comfort zone, and I feel so privileged and honored to have spent 12 weeks getting to know them and their families.

Today was the culmination of all our days of hard running: the 5k race.  When I think of my lazy self in 4th grade, I would NEVER have voluntarily decided to run 3.1 miles.  PE was without a doubt my least favorite hour of the day, and any physical activity at recess was pushing it.  Hundreds and hundreds of girls turned out for the race this morning, a true testament to the niche that GOTR has found for young girls needing the encouragement and accomplishment that only sports can give.

My work friend Allison came out on a whim, and was blown away by all the love and support the girls got during their race.  She ran with Ciara, a 3rd grader with a permanently sunny attitude and boundless energy.

I ran with my girl Treshawna, who while sometimes had trouble keeping up with everyone in practice, really pushed herself today and had me working to stay with her.  At one point in the race, she looked over at me and confusedly said, “Dang Coach J, you’re SWEATY!”  (While I know she meant well, I am still recovering from the profound embarrassment of sweating through my shorts at the Nats game on Tuesday.)  She was driving such a fast pace that she didn’t seem to realize that 3.1 miles could be hard for the coaches, too!

The girls were ecstatic after finishing.  I was tearing up watching all of them hugging and showing off their medals to their parents.  When I think that today may have been the first time they’ve ever felt such a tremendous sense of accomplishment, I am both sad and thrilled to have been a part of it.  I think most of them thought they weren’t going to finish, and I could see the pride in their eyes that they were able to climb that proverbial mountain.

my girls with their medals

I am slightly depressed now that our season has ended.  We’ve had so many great times together, and I will miss seeing their bright, optimistic faces each week.  I can only hope that my meager two hours a week with them has made some difference somewhere–if it’s even the smallest decision that they either make or choose not to make as they get older, I will know that this season with GOTR has been completely and totally worth it.  I’m over the moon with pride for the girls, and so glad that I have been involved with such a tremendous organization.










One Response

  1. Jen, you have really made me feel good to be a parent.

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