This Saturday, I have the distinct pleasure of serving as a “Running Buddy” for a young girl participating in the Girls on the Run Fall 5k.
If you’re not familiar with Girls on the Run, it’s a nonprofit organization that utilizes running as a means of building pride, accomplishment, self-esteem, teamwork, and social awareness in elementary and middle school-aged girls. Each program meets twice a week to integrate running activities with discussions about who they are, what challenges they face, and strategies on how to successfully navigate those challenges as individuals and communities. This 5k is the culmination of a 10-week program hosted at many schools throughout Chicago, and regardless of whether my girl’s reality is gang wars or Gold Coast, my job is to celebrate her accomplishments with the pride and love with which all children thrive and blossom.
Specifically, my role will be to run alongside a young girl, encouraging her progress, laughing with her, supporting her, walking when needed, and keeping her positive and pointed towards the finish line. I don’t take this role lightly; I firmly believe in celebrating victories, and providing one girl with a positive running experience can mean helping her to foster a lifelong, healthy outlet for her frustrations, fears, or joy. Her coach throughout the season has done the heavy lifting, but my small contribution can help to put an exclamation point on things.
“One of the first words I would use to describe the race is empowering. Whenever we passed another Girl on the Run, we would give them strengthening words, such as, “Keep up the good work!” or “You can do it, keep going!” I remember that when I was slowing down, a Girl on the Run that I have never seen before ran past me shouting, “Keep going, superstar!” That simple phrase strengthened me so much, that I began to pick up my pace and run. The girl empowered me because Girls on the Run are all taught the same thing – show kindness towards others.” – Sophia D., remembering her time in GOTR four years ago as a 3rd grader
Serving as a Running Buddy is something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time. As a woman, I know firsthand how powerful the sense of accomplishment and strength can be, how hard it can be to feel comfortable in your own skin. As a human, I know how important it is to be able to process your feelings, and to carve out a space for yourself that is large enough to breath. As much as I love the solitude of a training cycle – independently pushing myself mentally and physically – I also know how important it is to feel supported and celebrated.
On Saturday, my girl will likely be wrapped up in the excitement of the event: there is face painting and music and friends and family. I’m not so naive as to think this girl will necessarily fully understand the significance of what she’s about to do. I hope that one day, she writes a college essay, blogpost, or autobiography about her participation in programs such as this, and how that participation shaped her trajectory, provided solace at a tender age, or created bonds that still hold strong. But Saturday?
On Saturday, she’s a child… and children deserve to run free.
FYI: Girls on the Run is a national program, with chapters in almost every state. If you’re interested in learning more about your local group, click here!