Once in a while we get the chance to really touch another person in a very positive way. I’ll always cherish my experience of helping to coach for Girls On The Run (girlsontherun.org). This organization is simply wonderful. It does this magic trick with girls who aren’t necessarily destined to go to the Olympics running. It takes these ordinary girls, prepares them to run a 5K, and sneaks in a bunch of tiny lessons in the training sessions. The girls may not realize it, but they learn a lot more than they sign up to learn. And bonus, they compete in a 5K race at the end of the program! It’s simply wonderful.
When I helped coach, there was a little girl with a ton of running potential. But she was not a part of a bigger group of girls, like many of the other girls that year. So when she came to practice, she ran alone. She made a friend or two but didn’t really bond with them right away. Soon I found her running with me. At first I felt a bit concerned. But after a couple of weeks, I realized that her home life didn’t offer her many opportunities to have one-on-one time with an adult. So for her, it might be special to have me focussing all of my attention on her. I ran with all of the girls, of course. But I will say, I paid special attention to her. Let’s call her Addy.
As the final weeks went by, Addy’s running ability began to shine. She had a natural gait; a relaxed stride; long legs. Running came to her so naturally and easily, that soon she began to really outrun the other girls. But then she’d stop. So I’d catch her. I’d ask her what’s up? And then she started to smart talk. It took me by surprise.
Another week went by and I couldn’t figure out what was going on. I tried to hang near her and the other girls to figure it out, but nothing made sense. All of a sudden, this little girl who I thought I was really “reaching” was lashing out at me! Whaddup with that?
The second day of that next week, I caught the end of a conversation with Addy and another girl about a few things unrelated to running and I heard the kernal of truth: Addy wasn’t doing well in school. She was struggling. Her parents weren’t always their on time to pick her up. And the kids were teasing her. It made me absolutely crazy.
So, I started running with Addy again, but stayed with her longer. She made a few wise cracks, but I pretended to miss them. The other girls didn’t like how I focussed so much time with her. I still ran with everyone, but I purposefully tried to focus on Addy. And they could tell. I started to think hard about how I spoke to all of the girls to make sure they didn’t get angry with Addy. But I also wanted to keep Addy running. I wanted her to pass all of those other girls.
I stuck with Addy during some critical laps where she wanted to walk. I walked with her. She would regain her breath and I’d suggest we pass one of the girls in sight. And so we did. I laughed when she said that it wasn’t helping her to stop so much. I knew she was right, but didn’t expect her to figure that out!
With race day, one week away, the girls ran the whole distance. Addy told me she was certain that she wouldn’t make it. I told her I knew she wouldn’t make it if she kept thinking like that. And then I looked at her and reminded how hard she had worked. That this distance is actually the same distance that she ran the prior week. And that she was strong enough to make it. We smiled at each other. And she took off.
A couple of times I joined her to see if we could pass some of the other girls. She took off and left me in her dust! It was simply amazing to me. And yes, she beat that little tribe.
We never spoke about the details of the teasing or her home life or about any specific issues she felt she needed help in addressing. So I cannot say that our running together created a whole new chapter in her life.
But I can tell you that Addy gave me a huge hug at then end of the race. She said, with tears, that she really was going to miss me. And I said I’d miss her too. But I said, that both of us became stronger together and that I’d always remember that! And we laughed.
Girls On The Run Rocks! If you have a girl, or know one, check it out. She might just become a little stronger because of you!
May your next run be a good one.