This past Sunday morning, my fifty students in the spring Girls on the Run program ran a 5K race. The race we attended was an especially family-oriented event, with a kind crowd, full of parents, siblings, friends, and townspeople. As the girls ran through neighborhoods, spectators cheered, posted encouraging signs, and turned on their sprinklers to cool runners. A D.J. played music and over the p.a. system, encouraged each runner, from the first finisher to the last. It was a spirited atmosphere.
A parent enthusiastically asked me, “Are you excited about the race?” I answered that I was, but in truth, this was the 28th race I had done with my various students over fourteen years, and I was not excited, though I was pleased. Still, I tried to cheer for every girl as if it were the first race that I’d attended; they deserved that attention.
The girls in my classes are between the ages of 8 – 12, and so it was quite an accomplishment for each of them to cover the 3.1 miles. A few girls paced themselves well and jogged the entire way, but most of the girls sprinted and then walked in random intervals, depending on how they felt. It was all good. I was happy to see the girls cover the distance and to cross the finish line proudly.
I asked parents or other adults to accompany the girls in the race. My reasons were twofold. One, I wanted every child to have a personal cheerleader during the run. And two, I wanted to be sure that each girl was safe and supervised in the crowded race which had about 1,200 participants. Also, something as simple as a bee sting or a tumble and a scraped knee could completely fluster the young girls. I wanted an adult on hand, just in case….
I usually run with girls who do not have another adult to run with them. However, for this race, there was no need, so I had the opportunity to do my favorite part: run the last .1 mile repeatedly, accompanying each girl up a hill to the finish line. I loved encouraging the girls and jogging or sprinting with them at the hardest part of the distance. At the end of the race, the girls were tired but still beaming with happiness and pride, and I soaked up the positive energy.
Today, we’ll have an ice cream sundae party to wrap up the season. At the festivities, I’ll remind the girls that the program is not just about running, but about setting a goal, working for it, getting the support of parents, teachers and teammates, and reaching that goal. With this strategy, they could do anything they set their minds to. Furthermore, I’ll give each girl a certificate with an award for some quality of character she has. I do not give awards for the “best runner” or “most improved”, but rather I award them for their determination to work hard, their spark of energy and enthusiasm, their thoughtfulness in listening to teammates, and so on. I’ll distribute team pictures, one with serious poses and one with silly poses, and send the kids on their way.
The goal of the program is to help to build the girls’ self-esteem and physical strength, while fostering friendships. After the training, the race and the party, I feel that I’ve reached the goal, my own finish line, and I am content.