I’ve been a runner all of my life.
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I started running with my mom when I was 13 and discovered the sanctuary it provides. My mom started running in her early 50’s…a means of running toward the new woman she had discovered mid-life.
We would set out in the early morning hours, before sunrise. I vividly remember how the sound of our footsteps created the rhythm of our morning. We were in sync, she and I, mother and daughter. No words were exchanged but we spoke in the silent space between us with our footsteps, breathing and effort. Time was suspended and for the two of us, there were no expectations. We just….were.
At age 15, I ran my first 3 miles. I was the basketball team manager and during practice one rainy, dreary winter day, I set out focused and determined. I covered three miles on the dirt track at Charlotte Country Day School.
I vividly remember walking back into the gym as practice finished up. The boys noticed me…striped with dirt up the backside of my body, rivulets of water streaming from hair ends, strands of it carelessly tossed about my neck and shoulders. Dirt and grime were trapped on eyebrows, between teeth and behind my ears.
Not a single boy said a word…but their coach did.
“How far’d ya go, Molly?”
“Three miles,” I replied. He shook his head with positive disbelief.
“Amazing,” he sighed.
I felt the most beautiful I had ever felt in my whole life.
Somewhere between 13 and 30, I stopped feeling beautiful. I’m not sure why…I just did. Maybe it was a lifetime of airbrushed images on magazine covers or something I was born with. But whatever “it” was, I had lost it.
In 1996, I started Girls on the Run, my effort to create a safe space for girls to never lose the “it” in their lives and for women to get “it” back. Whether it is through running, friendship or community service, thousands of girls and women are now able to reclaim the authentic side of beautiful that flows after a really good run, a conversation with a good friend or through helping others. Girls on the Run is a program that encourages preteen girls to develop self-respect and healthy lifestyles through running.
I am firmly convinced that running can absolutely change a person’s life. The act of running is in and of itself nothing remarkable. But what the act of running MEANS to us, is. For some of us it is all about setting goals and achieving them. For other of us, it is building and maintaining authentic friendships. For some, it is the only quiet time in the day when we can focus on ourselves, our breathing and our solitude. Many run for the physical benefits, the natural way our bodies become lean and healthy. Others may run to manage the stress of a work week or the challenges of motherhood.
But for many of us, including the girls in Girls on the Run, running means we ARE good enough, strong enough, brave enough and confident enough to do anything ELSE which we set our minds to do. The joy these days I find in running, is my knowing that Girls on the Run is affecting girls from across North America, and is exactly what I need to reclaim the beautiful little fourth grader I once was and zap her into my 49-year-old body!
When I started Girls on the Run, clearly, my intention was to empower young girls…and yet…I had no idea that one of those young girls was the one I had left behind back in fourth grade when I started trying to morph into what I thought our culture wanted me to be, instead of who I really was!
The women who come into contact with our program walk away with the same type of strength our girls do. And for those folks who are unable to coach at any one of our sites across North America, we've just introduced Girls on the Run SoleMates, a fundraising and FUNraising running program that encourages women and men to train for and compete in an endurance event (such as a marathon or half-marathon) through the friendships we develop and a united mission to help girls. By participating in SoleMates, you help raise money for a local Girls on the Run council of your choice through your running event. (Learn more at www.GirlsontheRunSolemates.org.)
There is so much you can do to help us change the lives of girls...and in the process, do so much to change your own. You will, in the words of one of my little friends, Grace, learn many lessons, but the most important of these would be “to have confidence in myself and to never give up!”
Run on, people. Molly Barker
Founder of Girls on the Run