Friday, May 10, 2013

A last-minute invitation to celebrate Girls on the Run

No single achievement added more to my self-esteem than competing on the track team in high school. Seems silly now to say that we weren't allowed to compete in cross country; too grueling for our delicate constitutions,  I guess. So, the half-mile and mile runs had to suffice.

I was lousy, never finished higher than seventh in an eight-person race. But the training lifted my soul and my expectations: mile after mile through Wilmore and Francis parks, chatting, trotting, stretching. I had been known as one of a dozen or so faceless, doughy brainiacs, but I emerged from a spring of training lean and mean. I felt like an athlete. I learned that I could go beyond the boundaries of what others expected of me. More important, I broke through the bonds of what I expected of myself.

I blossomed intellectually, physically, artistically. I learned to play the guitar and piano. I earned scholarships, awards for writing, got the lead in the annual musical and even became a photographer: perhaps the biggest achievement of all for a girl that the nuns in grade school deemed inartistic because I couldn't color in the lines.

Thanks to running.

The girls from more than 200 schools in grades 3 though 8 competing in the Girls on the Run 5K on Saturday know what I'm talking about. They've spent the last 10 or so weeks training for the run, scheduled for 8 a.m. downtown at Soldiers Memorial. But they've also spent the time training their minds to accept no limits, to celebrate their accomplishments, to feel better about themselves and their potential, thanks to the help of their volunteer coaches, their parents and each other. The national organization works to formalize the lessons that I learned more or less through osmosis.

Honorary chair Shannon Leinert, one of the best runners the area has produced, went above and beyond in her prerace message to the girls. The best part:

"I have been running just like you since I was 8 years old.  Although Girls on the Run didn’t exist when I was growing up, I was surrounded by supportive coaches, teachers, family, and friends who inspired me to LEARN, DREAM, LIVE, and RUN!"

I thought that they deserved acknowledgement for their achievements and that I should issue a last-minute invitation to the area's runners to join them. Online registration remains available at $30, or you can sign up the morning of the race in person for $35.