Posted Tracy Gariepy on 9/7/2016 |Featured Columns & Series
I’m a SoleMate. I love saying that! Running has always been something so meaningful to me, because it means so many different things to me: It’s my chance to decompress or ramp up for something. It’s what I do to feel strong. It’s what I do when I feel sad or happy. It’s my time to be alone when I want to, or something I can share with my friends. I have awesome amazing epiphanies when I run and I want to burst with pride when I see someone I love (or even a complete stranger!) reach one of their running goals.
Now I get to add something else to that crazy list: Now my own running means something - not just to me, but to a whole bunch of very worthy girls.
When I was 10, I needed Girls on the Run. It didn’t exist, and I didn’t know I needed it, but I needed it. I was a lower-income farm girl, raised in a loving family who supported me and raised me up to be a strong woman. However, at 10 years old I was a shy and awkward girl who lacked the confidence to try any school sport. When I reached middle school and then high school, in a small town where nearly every kid played at least some sort of sport, I hung back and tried not to be seen. I told myself I couldn’t play any sport because I wasn’t any good at it. The thought of being rejected (or worse…laughed at!) kept me from ever trying.
As an adult I outgrew the shyness and I found I loved group fitness classes - so much that I became certified to teach them. When the opportunity came up to participate in a race to benefit a camp for diabetic girls (which my daughter attends), I realized I was in shape enough to run. All of the sudden I was a runner! I was someone participating in a sport, an ACTUAL SPORT! HOLY COW! And you know what? No one laughed. No one rejected me. The love of the sport brought strangers and friends together. It united us. That’s what running does. There I found the confidence to keep going, to push harder, to try harder. I’ve run half marathons, marathons, 50 milers, 100 milers… I’ve run through the day, overnight, and into the next day. Sometimes I win, sometimes I come in last but I’m a runner, and I’m healthy, strong, confident, and proud. That’s what running does.
That’s what Girls on the Run does. It unites girls, like my 10 year old self, and teaches them that HOLY COW they can participate in the sport of running regardless of what they had feared before. It gives them the tools to build self-confidence, self-awareness, appreciation for others. It gives them the outlet that I finally found. I learned about GOTR when my employer became a National Partner and asked me to speak at the GOTR Summit one year. I found a vast community of women who are 100% committed to every girl in the program, and I fell in love. With the program, with the community, with it all. And I wanted to be that committed to it as well.
I travel for work, so I can’t offer to coach or lead a council because in all fairness to them I can’t be there when they need me. What I can do is run, and hopefully my running inspires others. If it does, then perhaps they’ll be moved and want to support this organization that means so much to me.
In September I’m running a 300 mile solo run, from North Carolina to Georgia, as a SoleMate. I’m asking all of my friends and family to support me by donating to Girls on the Run International. Every time my email dings to say I have another donation, my heart soars. It means more girls that this program can reach. It means another generation of strong, confident, fearless women. It means that this thing I do called “running” has become so much bigger than me; it means I can make an impact. And I’m so grateful.