Girls on the Run

Mental Preparation

Posted on October 10, 2015. Filed under: Girls on the Run | Tags: , , , , , |

“I didn’t think I was prepared for Girls on the Run,” she said.

I looked down at the top of her head bobbing along beside me.  Between us bobbed her friend, who I thought at first was her sister.  Same round face, round glasses, mouse-colored hair.  They waited for each other to finish the activity after each lap so that they could run together.  On my other side jogged a girl with a bouncing ponytail.  All three, first-timers. Third-graders, maybe fourth.

We were half way through our 40-minute workout, the longest the girls had run.  Pace yourself, the coaches said.  Listen to your body, do what’s right for you.  The not-quite-autumn Texas sun beat down mercilessly on the shadeless field, where cones marked out our homemade track.

“This is a great place to run,” I said earlier as we ran through a patch of dirt and stones, kicking dust up past our shins.  The girls looked at me quizzically, looked down at the dirt.  “It’s soft,” I explained, trying to keep with the spirit of the lesson: an attitude of gratitude.  “Better for your joints than pavement.”

possibe & ableBetter for slowing down, I thought.  I have learned the skill of slow running, learned to pace myself with the girls.  It’s not as simple as it might seem, slowing down.  My trick is to bounce rather than run, the first verse of “The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers” playing an endless loop in my head.

What did you think you needed to prepare? I meant to ask the girl.

“My brother didn’t think I could do it,” she said before I could ask.  Her friend nodded vigorously. The girl with the ponytail leaned out to look around me sympathetically.

What does he think now? I started to ask, but thought better of it.

“What do you think?” I asked instead.

She grinned. “I ask him to run with me now,” she said, picking up her pace. “But he won’t.”

I nodded. She stooped at the final turn to pick up her water.

“That’s ok,” she said as she took a long drink. “I can do this. And I’ll do it again next time.”

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Intentionality

Posted on February 27, 2015. Filed under: Girls on the Run | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

“A speck of glitter is an accident,” said the woman across the conference table. “A blotch of it is intentional.”

I thought of the splotch of glitter glue stuck to my home office floor, a reminder of the previous owners, and the fruitless hours spent attempting to pry it off.  The box our first Girls on the Run team decorated as a collection bin for used shoes and running clothes, the finger paint and feathers, sparkly ink and glue, and the stretch of glitter it left behind in the back seat of my car. How for months anything unlucky enough to sit there emerged shimmering. My briefcase, papers, and books. My dogs. The seats of passengers’ pants.

There was nothing intentional in that.

This word keeps cropping up, intentional.  Particularly there, at the Girls on the Run annual conference in San Diego this January, where conversation ranged from strategic planning to tutus, from volunteer management and retention to glitter. All of it important, deliberate. Every moment weighted with an unusual mixture of gravity and joy.  orange glitter

Girls on the Run is our business. Our passion. Our vision for the way we would like the world to be, the value we place on ourselves and in each other.

We strive to be intentional in our decision-making.  The core value I notice the most throughout the conference. One I will repeat seven times during trainings back in San Antonio over the two weeks that follow.

Intentional. The word materializes in the books I read, the radio programs I listen to while driving from sites to meetings to my office.  It’s punctuated in conversations with the people I meet, and even in the sermons I hear.

Do I live an intentional life? Do my decisions, actions, words reflect a thoughtfulness and care?  So many hours and days that feel like the splotch of glitter glue dripped randomly, accidentally on my office floor when my plan called for a more measured and permanent line, situated elsewhere.

I’ve never been one for glitter. Avoid it at all costs. Although I’ve always liked to look at sparkly things. The sun ricocheting off the tips of waves like diamonds scattering across glass. Stars like rhinestones piercing the blackest sky. The shimmer of raindrops tumbling down my windows.

If the sea could be my skirt and the sky my mantle, if I could wear raindrops like jewels dangling from my ears, I wouldn’t mind the shimmer at all. But a patch of glitter smeared on a cheek, stretched across the back of my pants, stuck eternally to my office floor, these are the kinds of things I’ve railed against.

Yesterday I stood under a tree on the playground at one of our new sites, shifting my weight from foot to foot attempting to keep warm. Trying to quiet the stretch of thoughts in my head—phone calls to make, emails to send, reports due and plans undone—and focus instead on the girls as they ran around the field behind the school.  They shouted out answers to the lesson about what it means to be healthy, their hair flying behind them, ponytails whipping in the wind.

I watched their feet and bodies at first. Was the ground too uneven? Would they fall? Was it too cold to be out here running under a sky all windswept and gray? But I trust the coaches and their judgment. They’ve been doing this for three weeks, more. They know their school, their girls. Their abilities.

So I watched the girls’ faces instead.  Eyes sparkling with the thrill of movement, lips curling in joy as they rounded the bright orange cones stuck haphazardly in the grass, their voices carried away with the wind and their forms a dazzling light against the gray and windswept sky.

Surely there is something intentional in that.

 

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Running Buddies

Posted on October 3, 2014. Filed under: Girls on the Run | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

I recognized a face or two as they came into the gym, smiling, twisting their hair into ponytails up and away from their necks to escape the stifling, pungent air. Ninety-plus degrees and the air conditioner down. I stood against the far wall trying not to move, not to exert too much energy or breathe too deeply.

Such awesome girls, the head coach had told me. Never seen anything like it. They’re so innocent and sweet.

A new season of Girls on the Run, three weeks in. Many sites still in the process of bonding, coaching teams as well as girls. It can be chaotic, challenging. I dropped by this site to deliver shoes and had asked in advance if I could stay, just a bit, just long enough to help me remember why it is I do this.

I sat cross-legged on the floor next to the tower of empty boxes, away from the circle of girls. My salmon colored t-shirt appeared to have sprung stripes where rivulets of sweat had trickled down and settled during the flurry of shoe trying-on that preceded the lesson.

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The girls hadn’t seemed to notice either the sweat or the pressing heat. They hurried to change clothes, find and fill their water bottles, grab a granola bar, and form their circle, eager to get started. A lesson in negative vs positive self-talk, the same lesson our coaches had practiced in training. The adults had related, nodding in agreement as the lesson uncovered the ways in which we tear ourselves down, dismantle our uniqueness and achievements as quickly and easily as dismantling a Lincoln log house, and then separate ourselves into oneness.

In the very places the adults had nodded and their bodies slumped, the girls sat upright looking puzzled, oblivious as to what the coach was talking about. I chuckled, amused but mostly relieved. They hadn’t yet started that conversation with themselves.

C’mon, a coach waved me in as the girls stood up, moved on to their warm-up. You’re here. You might as well join us.

Join? I hadn’t been a joiner. But how could I say no in the face of this? High knees. More sweating. Yet the girl on the far side of the circle smiled broadly as if she had just been crowned princess instead of standing here in this gym, hiking up her knees, excited to go outside and run circles around the small dirt playground.

At last we filed out the door and I inhaled the fresh air and warm breeze. I hung back as the team walked out to the shade. Several girls held hands, vied to hold the coaches’, leaned in sideways touching bangs as they talked.

Most hadn’t known each other when they started, yet here they were sticking together like buns in a pan, oblivious to each other’s imperfections, or their own.

You all ready to run? the coach asked as she resumed the lesson. A twitter rippled through the team.

Oh! Oh! A hand flew up from the center. Can we have a running buddy? As if on cue, each girl turned to her neighbor, and they hugged.

The coach caught my eye and smiled. Never seen anything like it.

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Wednesday Night Coffee

Posted on September 12, 2014. Filed under: Girls on the Run | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

But why don’t you tell me a little about you, I say and raise my cup to my lips to silence myself.

Only 6:30 and a long day already, fourteen hours and still more to do. Fueled by caffeine, I have been talking since she sat down, conveying the usual information about volunteer opportunities, the usual story about Girls on the Run, barely pausing for a breath much less a response.

She sits post straight across from me, deportment suggesting a tightly made bed, sheets taut, covers smoothed, corners tucked in hospital-style, and listens politely. When I say tell me about you her eyes shift right, seek the corner, some point on which to focus other than me. She speaks quietly but directly, measuring words, and I am once again astonished by the honesty, the trust a complete stranger has in me.

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I watch her face as she talks, still taut, no wrinkle to underscore the furrows of her life, like we’re taught to smooth away pain, tuck it under cover, hide it underneath so no one sees.  But for a moment a ripple like wind kissing water passes over her eyes, which widen almost imperceptibly, the only inflection to underscore the agony in broken relationships, loneliness, death of which she speaks.

Why running? I ask, although I too know the answer, but I listen for the epiphany, the connection, her need to say it.

Because it’s not self destruction, it’s another way, a safe way, a path toward community, she says. It feels like what happiness should be.   

She wriggles excitedly in her chair as she says happiness and I think of the girl another coach told me about only an hour earlier, the girl who walked out of math class bursting with joy and said, Math makes me so happy. I love it so much I just have to do it.  I had laughed when I heard this, thought how odd, to get such joy from math, and then, yes but it is the same with me and running, and how odd that must be to some.

She has stopped speaking and once again sits post straight across from me, waiting. Do I gloss over her admission of pain, her declaration of happiness, step back into my own reserve, my own tightly-made bed?

Another sip of coffee as I consider the balance of safety and risk, the imperative of which I have been speaking for weeks of open hearts and connection. One more sip and I venture in. Running saved my life, I say and speak to her of divorce and sickness and death. If only it had been shown me when I was young…

But what do you want? I ask suddenly, surprising myself, as I have not asked anyone so directly before. Why volunteer? What is it you expect to find here?

For the first time she looks me square in the eye. Myself, she says. My way back to me.

 

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Open Heart

Posted on August 22, 2014. Filed under: Girls on the Run | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Lead with an open heart and assume positive intent.

One core value of Girls on the Run. It’s what all staff and volunteers are supposed to do. As council director, it’s what I’m supposed to do. Although “do” is not exactly the right word. It’s what we’re to model, to live. To be.

The second part is not so hard. I’ve always tried to find the best in people, see through their eyes, run in their shoes.

It’s this first part, the open heart, that I find a little bit tricky. I suspect the allusion has more to do with poetry than medicine, more with Robert Burns’s or H.D.’s red roses than with scalpels.   red-rose-side

As a kid, I thought open-heart surgery meant that doctors actually cut into a heart, lay it open, poke around. Of course, that’s not really what they do.

It’s worse, almost, more violent. The slicing of skin, splaying open of flesh, prying of ribs with tools that appear better suited to construction or cars in an effort to reach the heart, hold it gently in hand to mend.

Surely that’s not what Girls on the Run has in mind.

What I think they mean, rather, is that we are to give of ourselves–not simply our time or money, our skills or talents, but our humanity. Our love for people as they are, where they are. To be vulnerable, compassionate, real.

Such an easy proposition when you consider the people that are drawn to this program. Amazing people. With amazing hearts.

Such a difficult proposition when you consider how often they come and go. How quickly the demands of life, of family or career, misfortune or opportunity eclipse a passionate heart. No sooner, sometimes, do you allow an amazing person in and they disappear, called away on some sort of adventure.

The second part, then, is not so hard. To see through their eyes, run in their shoes. Do a jig of excitement with them for their gain, sit quietly in sorrow with them for their loss. And when they go, you consider again this first part, the open heart, that’s still a little bit tricky, so that closing the heart seems less risky, less violent. A safer way to lead.

Last week, four of us gathered outside at a local pub in the sweltering August heat to plan our next coach training. Three hardly know each other. Maybe they have some things in common, some experience or history yet untapped. Initially, what draws us together is our passion for what we do, creating an environment where girls can be themselves, can feel safely strong and confident.

Before long, an animated discussion broke out. I sat as quietly as I could and observed. What I saw in each expression, heard in their words and silences was some facet of me, some part of their personality, some joy or fear or quirk that we share, and I knew that this was what really drew us together. Something deeper that we would only find if we were willing lay it open.

And as I looked around the table, a sense of peace embraced me and my heart bloomed.

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