This past December, I stood in the middle of an open field, early in the morning, clutching a borrowed umbrella as rain poured down.
I was cold, alone, and a little sleepy, but 30 minutes later, I was surrounded by elementary school-age girls in tutus, wearing jingle bells and covered in face paint. I’m a volunteer coach with Girls on the Run of the Triangle, and despite the rain, our team was ready for the end-of-season 5K race.
Girls on the Run, a national nonprofit started in Charlotte, has served the Triangle since 2000. It empowers girls by combining life lessons on topics such as bullying prevention and gratitude with running. Often, when women first hear about the program, they say they wished it existed when they were growing up – including me. Teams of third- to fifth-grade girls meet twice a week for four months, culminating in a non-competitive race.
Last fall, I met Veronica Quiett. She’s a fourth grader at Durham Academy. Veronica and I have the same purple water bottle, so naturally, we bonded. She’s completing her second season with GOTR and remembers being nervous the first day on our team. That quickly changed. “Everyone was really nice and inviting when I first walked out,” she recalled. “I had never done an official 5K.”
As a coach, it’s fascinating to learn that sometimes a girl on our team may never have encountered issues like peer pressure or body image before. Coaches provide a valuable learning touchpoint for teammates – an empowering responsibility.
Our teammates are perceptive and wise. Veronica told me about a lesson we completed recently about gratitude, and explained that what she learned would help her in other situations when she’s a part of a team, including in the workplace and in college.
Veronica’s mother, Valerie Quiett, said GOTR has boosted her daughter’s confidence and taught her lessons that will last a lifetime. “Veronica and the girls are in a better place as far as knowing how to handle various issues going forward,” she said.
The curriculum is geared to elementary school girls, but I’ve found it’s also applicable in my life. One lesson emphasizes having a positive mindset. When I’m facing a challenge or frustration, it can be easy to slip into negative thinking. When we cover that lesson, and pair it with a running activity, it’s easier for me to switch gears.
When I run, I often feel a surge of boundless energy and am proud of what I’ve accomplished, regardless of the distance. The same is true for our team.
“I feel really happy when I start to run,” Veronica said. “If I’m not in a good mood, running sort of helps me clear it out.”
Valerie said GOTR has helped her family focus on wellness and a healthy lifestyle. In fact, Veronica’s family will be there at this spring’s race April 11, when hundreds of community members will cheer on our team.
Veronica remembers feeling great as she crossed the finish line last year.
“I felt happy,” she said. “It was really good, because it was encouraging.”
This year, GOTR will serve its millionth girl nationally. Locally, GOTR is on track to serve its 10,000th girl. Over the years, Triangle participants have run as far as 10 trips across the country during the seasonal race. Ten thousand girls means 10,000 high-fives and smiles, and at least 1.5 million heartbeats headed toward the finish line. Ten thousand goals set, and 10,000 goals accomplished.
This spring, I’m hoping for clear skies, balmy weather and a confident and joyful team. No matter the weather, and no matter the team, I know they’ll be ready to confidently cross the finish line. I’ll wait with anticipation alongside hundreds of others, cheering on our team, and celebrating each step forward.
For information on the April 11 race, please go to http://gotr5krun.com/
Elizabeth Poindexter is marketing coordinator for DurhamCares and is also a volunteer coach with Girls on the Run. You can reach her at email@example.com.