As a young college woman, I am constantly on the run: a grocery run, a coffee run, even the occasional Chipotle run (honestly, the best kind of run). Sometimes I also squeeze in an actual run.
I began running after ending a serious, long-term relationship—my eleven-year courtship with gymnastics. Excluding the time I spent forcing my friends to watch me tumble during recess, I practiced five days every week, four hours every day. Like any real relationship, gymnastics and I had both good and bad days (I’m looking at you, balance beam!). However, after a serious elbow injury, gymnastics and I had to break up. I then found myself with twenty extra hours in my week. So I got a hot rebound that became more than a rebound: running.
Running helped me feel strong again. Running reminded me that I control my own body. So, when my sister told me about an organization that helped young girls discover this same love for running, I immediately knew I wanted to participate. This is how I found myself, this past August, applying to be a Girls on the Run coach in Columbia.
Girls on the Run is a non-profit that “inspires girls to be joyful, healthy and confident” through practices that “creatively integrate running.” At elementary and middle schools across America, GOTR teams spend a semester training for a 5k race, all while fostering self-confidence and self-awareness. But the organization hesitates to label itself a running program. From the get-go, coaches tell girls that they can run, jog, skip, hop, walk, or cartwheel—so long as they move forward.
Now, as a GOTR coach, I see first-hand the amazing conduits Girls on the Run provides for girls to develop positive relationships with exercise and with other girls. My team consists of an adorable group of third through fifth graders whom I am happy to call some of my best friends. And, despite the organized chaos that is working with a group so young, we have relatively little trouble keeping our girls engaged.
During one of our first practices, we asked our girls to sit in a circle (a feat we are still working on) and close their eyes. Even amidst ant-hills, wasp nests, and the infamous Columbia heat, the girls remained quiet and attentive.
“Does anyone know what a visualization is?” my fellow coach, another USC student, asked.
“Like, when you imagine something in your mind?” a girl responded. We nodded in encouragement.
“Exactly! Now, I want you to visualize a socket on top of your head. Kind of like a computer outlet,” I instructed. Anyone familiar with the Girls on the Run curricula will immediately recognize the “Positive Cord” lesson in the Coaches’ Book (aka The Holy Grail). This lesson teaches the girls that everyone has two cords they can “plug into”: the negative cord and the Girls on the Run cord.
The negative cord—an icky one, filled with questionable sludge and muck—sends the brain destructive messages like “you aren’t smart enough” or “you aren’t popular enough.” Throughout this lesson, I greeted these negative thoughts like old friends. At twenty years old, I have spent more than enough time plugged into the negative cord. My heart broke, though, when I realized that my team also immediately recognized this cord. Even in the peak of childhood and playfulness, we, as girls, try to convince ourselves that we are not “enough” of something.
“Now, reach up and unplug that yucky cord. I want you to throw it away!” Cue dramatic throwing motions around the circle—and LOTS of giggling. “We’re going to plug into a new cord: the Girls on the Run cord!”
“This cord—a pretty one, filled with glitter and color and sunshine—helps the inner light within you all shine brightly,” we explained. “You can always choose which cord you plug into. And it’s important to remember that you cannot plug into the Girls on the Run cord all the time. But choosing to be a Girl on the Run means choosing to be positive and healthy in your intentions!”
So, a very important lesson Girls on the Run teaches? The power of choice. As women, we can choose whether or not we treat our bodies with respect, whether or not we support other women (and men!), and whether or not we “plug into our positive cord.” We even have the power to choose whether we run, jog, skip, hop, walk, or cartwheel through life.
And I am happy to announce that I choose to be a Girl on the Run!