“Look Coach Bridget is here!!” Words I never thought I would actually hear in my lifetime. Ha! In grade school and high school I really signed up for sports for the whole social aspect of it. Who could I talk to the most, how could I figure out ways to not get put in the game, and most importantly how could we accessorize our outfits to match and look cute? Being that I wasn't much of an asset on a team (except for bringing the cool scrunchies and cheers), being a coach was certainly not in the future aspirations.
A few months back I was searching online for a way I could contribute in the San Diego community. Here is where I get cheesy (sorry!) -- I have been very fortunate in my life and a generous number of people have helped me along the way in this journey; yet most days I find myself thinking about what my social plans are, my work schedule is going to be like, my active time, my travel plans… I started to realize there was a lot of "mys" there and not enough time built out for serving others. I wasn’t attempting to go out and change the word, but I did know I could be using the gifts I have been given to do something beyond my own needs. I began scouring the internet for volunteering opportunities and I came across a program called Girls on the Run. They just so happened to be looking for coaches immediately, and the first meeting was being held that night! I quickly signed up, attended the first meeting and prepared for my first time meeting with the girls. We coaches were assigned different schools, and age groups throughout the San Diego County. I would be working with 6th-8th graders at Nativity Prep. I liked running, talking, and being around others, it seemed like a perfect fit. If I could help in some way to contribute to these girls' futures, even better! Little did I know they would be the ones impacting me.
To be honest, I was somewhat nervous to meet my team for the first time. I sort of assumed it would be hard to get through to them, or that they wouldn’t want to participate or might think the whole thing was just not worth their time. I could not have been more far off. At our first weekly meeting I knew these young ladies were a special bunch. The school and the girls blew me away. Nativity Prep is an all scholarship middle school dedicated to providing a rigorous and enriching education to young men and women from low-income homes. The girls on our team ranged in ages from 11-14 and were as hard working, intelligent and kind as they come.
The early teenage years can be a pretty difficult time, especially in this day and age. With social media, bullying, and cultural pressures, it seems our youth are growing up at a faster pace than I can recall in our history. What I love about Girls on the Run, or Girls on Track for the older group, is that they cover topics ranging from body image, bullying, eating disorders, drugs, alcohol, relationships, stress, healthy eating and living -- all profoundly important topics that are crucial to talk about at a young age. Some of these can be heavy and uncomfortable to discuss, but from the start the girls were so open, honest and excited to learn as we dove into these topics each week. We followed discussion with an exercise activity and then we processed everything. We closed off the practice by giving each other “energy awards.” These awards were given out by the girls to other girls/coaches, applauding one another for something they did that was noteworthy during the practice. Sometimes it was as simple as “Thank you for listening to me!” I could visibly see how much fun the girls were having, while still absorbing as much as possible, although I was skeptical if the momentum would last.
As time went on during the program, I wondered if they would still stay as engaged, or if they would begin to lose focus and find it pointless. I wondered if they would keep wanting to learn from what we could share, or if their phones, Facebook , boys, etc. would pull their attention away. Week after week I met the same happy, SMART, compassionate, not to mention hysterical girls – I found out more about One Direction (mainly Harry), Justin Bieber woes and “Viners” then I ever thought I could (or would want too :)) possibly learn! These girls kept us on our toes, but always showed up with a good attitude and a hunger to understand more about how to navigate this beautiful, yet sometimes challenging life. One practice highlight was when a volunteer at GOTR dropped off brand new shoes for every girl on the team. I was ecstatic I could be there to see the looks on their faces as they opened their boxes and ran laps around in their fresh kicks (and slightly jealous!). It was a great day. When I left work a bit early each week to race to get to practice, there were days I just felt wiped or worn down. The entire car ride I attempted to get myself pumped up for practice, but no matter what in our time together, I left Girls on the Run feeling so energized, more passionate about life and in being a confident, healthy, woman.
An incredibly rewarding experience for me was when they began to look at me as a mentor and shared more of their lives with me, opening up to me about their struggles and so forth. With whatever experience or knowledge I could offer them, it made my heart full knowing they felt like they could turn to me for advice. These girls helped me to be more present, they helped me to focus on all my positive qualities, and in the trainings we unpacked together each week, they even helped me to remember critical life lessons. They each showed one another compassion and companionship, even if they were in different grades or didn’t interact with one another outside of GOTR. They never judged one another, but instead used words to help, encourage and uplift each other --things we could all try do a bit better in our own lives.
Girls on the Run/Track is an exceptional organization. Their mission is to inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum, which creatively integrates running. They envision a world where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams. And I witnessed first-hand how this is truly helping shape and impact this younger generation. Since launching in 1996, with the help of over 55,000 volunteers, GOTR now serves over 130,000 girls in over 200+ cities in North America every year. This program helps to bridge the gap between grades and girls that might not hang out otherwise. It breaks down “cliques” and stereotypes and forms a community among them. GOTR covers topics that need to be talked about more—especially at these developing ages and before transitioning into high school. It helps girls love themselves better through words, actions and exercising. It encourages the female youth to speak up about things that are going on in their lives, and that we should always be there for one other. This time in their lives can sometimes be one of emotional/mental/physical chaos. To know they have a support team at school and mentors they can talk too through Girls on the Run, is a game changer, and it's an organization I firmly believe in.
Sadly, our final meeting was last week. We used the time to just hang, listen to music, have snacks and make “tutus” for our big race that Girls on the Run leads up too. The girls were giddy with excitement about the event, or giddy from all the candy and snacks we ate! Either way, we had a great time preparing for the big day. It was bittersweet for me, as it was our last practice all together. Meeting with the other coaches and girls was something I looked forward to each week. I didn't let myself get too emotional about it, and instead focused on how very proud I was on everything these girls accomplished over the last few months and all that I knew they were going to accomplish in their bright futures.
We arrived early Sunday morning to the big event. The energy was on another level. There were a million little ones running around, the jams were blasting and tutus were scuttling around every which way. My boyfriend and my brother even got in on the fun! We outfitted them in our own homemade tutus too :) (haha sorry guys!).
Each of the coaches and running buddies matched up with their student, the bell rang out loud, and soon we were off running/walking/skipping/jogging! Now 3 miles might not seem like a lot, but for girls ranging from 3rd-8th grade it really is. Over the last few months, all of the girls prepared little by little, each at their own pace, but they were ready! Watching them all finish over the course of the morning was remarkable. All shapes, sizes, heights, strengths, abilities, disabilities -- all these beautiful healthy young ladies finished (and guys!) with smiling faces. It was the reason while we were all there. We watched as they set their minds to something, they worked hard for it, believed in themselves, and accomplished a huge goal. The sky is the limit for those girls, and I only hope they know that too! The volunteers, organizers, staff, teachers, parents, students—it could not have been possible without everyone’s commitment and belief in what Girls on the Run is accomplishing and works to keep accomplishing in every girl's life. Being a coach was truly a gratifying experience and a time I will always cherish. I speak for myself, and I think every coach, that we were the ones that really received the biggest gift by spending time with these outstanding individuals. Until next season, girls!