Mom on the run

At the age of 9, my daughter was beautiful and bubbly, intelligent and funny. Always tall for her age, she possessed a body built for strength and she was using that strength to become a decent swimmer.

Nine was a year of significant growth—and a year of doubt. This would be the year that she became more sensitive about how she looked and the size of her clothes. In spite of every bit of praise I could muster about who she was and the amazing things she could do because of her height and strength, she only understood that her body was different from many of the other girls’.

And like many of us, she didn’t like being different. She longed to blend in.

It was that same year that we were introduced to a program called Girls on the Run (GOTR). She had a great teacher who was a runner and got the girls in her class excited about GOTR. While I wasn’t sure that my daughter was cut out to run 3.1 miles, I was willing to give the program a shot.

So one January evening at 6 p.m., the sign-ups opened and I was online. The slots fill up fast, I was told, so you want to make sure to sign up right away. The fee required was something we could afford, but throughout the process I wondered: What do other girls do? What do other girls do who don’t have a parent who is able to be on line at 6 p.m. to pay for registration for a program they hope will work for their daughter?

The process prompted me to look back. I am not sure when I first became aware of my body image as a young girl. In a world in which my greatest exposure to such images was the JCPenney catalog and an occasional Seventeen magazine, I know that moment came much later in life than for my daughter.

I am sure, however, when I realized that I could run.

It was at the age of 43—when I signed my daughter up for GOTR. The program has the option of signing up a friend or family member to run with your daughter or asking that a volunteer “running buddy” be assigned to her.

When my daughter asked me to run with her, I said: “I’m not really a runner.”

Her response: “Neither am I.”

I immediately signed up to run with her.

From March to June, we became runners. She would come home after each practice and tell me how many laps she was able to do. The number of laps grew but, more importantly, she grew. She would come home to tell me about the lesson of the day. Girls on the Run incorporates lessons on self-respect and self-confidence, while also encouraging healthy eating choices and taking care of your body.

GOTR blog photo 1

Soon, inspirational quotes started to appear on her door—cut-outs from the lessons they did at GOTR. About the same time, she started to explore healthier snacks and become more aware of the choices she was making. The program was having a positive impact!

And then it was race day. As we made our way down the hill to the race, music was pumping and flashes of pink caught my eye against the beautiful blue sky and the green grass. There were stands to get your hair sprayed and healthy snacks to consume. And there were happy teams of girls getting pictures taken together as they prepared to run.

The gun went off and hundreds of girls and their running buddies took off together. There were fans cheering and water breaks at key stations along the course. And the course, itself, was filled with running buddies encouraging their partners.

You can do this, they were telling the girls. And they did.  Every. Last. Girl. Finished. How is that for incredibly amazing?

These girls, many running their first 5K, all crossed the finish line. Sure, they did so at different paces, but the cheers were as strong for the first one who crossed as they were for the last.

As I watched one young woman use every last drop of energy to cross the line, supported by multiple running buddies, I became hooked. A program that could have this much of an impact on one girl multiplied by hundreds was one I wanted to support in any way that I possibly could.

As for my daughter, she is turning 11. I wish I could tell you that every doubt she had about her body disappeared after GOTR. It didn’t, but neither did the impact of GOTR on her life.

She still prefers the swimming pool to the running course, but the important thing is she knows she can run.

Those lessons on self-respect and self-confidence still seem to be with her. I can see her growing more confident every day, and I can see her learning to appreciate her body for the amazing abilities it has.

I am incredibly thankful we came across this program. I am even more thankful that we were able to afford her participation because, unlike me, she is exposed to so much more than the JCPenney catalog and an occasional Seventeen magazine. She and her peers are flooded with images hourly of what their bodies should look like and do.

I want to support a program that helps to send the right messages and helps to build self-esteem. I have witnessed the impact of Girls on the Run on “my girl” and I am committed to providing the same opportunity for other girls in the Lehigh Valley. Will you join me?

Jill Helmer
GOTR – Lehigh Valley mom

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  • Beautiful and insightful as usual! She is fortunate to have an amazing mother/ woman in her life full of support! I’m glad I was there to witness her accomplishment!

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