You know…sometimes it is surreal to see the growth Girls on the Run has undergone. Admittedly, not all of it has been easy. I used to dream about actually having a button…akin to the one humorously portrayed in an ad for a national office warehouse franchise…that when you hit the button, it says in a rather nonchalant voice, “That was easy.”
I do know that what rests beneath the surface of our infrastructure, curriculum, non-profit businesses and strategic plans is something that is forever and always…the deep connection that comes when love, acceptance, compassion and empathy are woven deeply into the fabric of our work, our efforts, all of the external “stuff.”
I’ve been in a rather contemplative mood lately, thinking about the early days. I worked for a catering company at night so I could deliver and fine tune the program during the day, as well as be a mother to my then-newborn son Hank.
Hank is 17 and getting ready to launch from high school. I look at him…the man he has become. Strong, tall, self-aware and beautiful just as he is.
I see this program in much the same way. It has grown up right along side my boy…strong, reaching so many, beautiful and real.
Today I came across an old brochure from 1998. Afraid at that time to share the full backstory to Girls on the Run, this is what I wrote. The power of it, even now, sends chills across my spine. To see where we are today…and to have not known then the demands, challenges, joys and push this program would make on my life, my kids’ lives, my connection with you, all of us and it, the children we serve, the giving volunteers, our communities…the emotional and spiritual growth I would personally have as a result of its growth.
And so I write to you now, our coaches, our volunteers, staff and communities with gratitude as my guide and love as my anchor. Girls on the Run…the essence of it…of her…is present now and always because of you…your efforts, your energy, your love for our girls.
(From the 1998 brochure.)
In 1976, I bought my first pair of running shoes. I was fifteen, and like most girls that age, trying to figure out who I was inside a changing body. I desperately wanted to fit in with the popular crowd, but I couldn’t fit into the box it placed over my spirit. The box told me things I knew in my heart weren’t true: That the way I behaved and looked was more important than who I was inside. That being a woman meant being quiet and submissive. That having a boyfriend meant having to mold my body and actions to meet prescribed cultural standards. But I stepped in anyway. The years I spent trying to mold my thoughts, body, lifestyle and being into what the box required were extremely painful.
So I ran. I’d put on my running shoes and head for the woods, the streets, wherever my feet would take me. I felt strong. Beautiful. Powerful.
July 7th, 1993 – I remember it well. I put on my running shoes and went for a sunset run. I am not sure during what point of the run the box disappeared, but like a glass womb, it shattered around me and pushed me out, born to an entirely new freedom. It was a moment of personal awakening.
A year later, I began to write the Girls on the Run curriculum. The concept, however, was born long before. It was born in 8th grade when a boy in my class told me that I looked like a boy. It was born when a young woman, weighing 85 pounds and starving herself, told me she needed to lose weight to be beautiful. It was born when a pregnant thirteen-year-old and I took a long walk in the woods.
Girls on the Run is a lot more than a running program. It will, I believe, lead to an entire generation of girls living peacefully and happily outside of the Girl Box.
In the year 2030, I’ll be 70. My daughter will be 32. If I have anything to say about it, she will never have to climb out of the Girl Box. Girls on the Run will shatter these constraints, like the spirit did for me that July night and help her and other girls feel comfortable simply being themselves.