Posted Jennifer Helfrich on 11/29/2016 |Featured Columns & Series
“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” - John F. Kennedy
Here we are, more than halfway through our first season with Girls on the Run in my community! I was so very excited to start this season after all the work that was done to bring GOTR here, but there was no way I could have anticipated how much gratitude the program would bring me.
The season started with three coaches, all mothers to students in the program, all in different grades, who barely knew one another. The ease with which we fell into our session routines and developed our individual and collective roles as coaches was incredible. The only way I can describe it, for me at least, is that it feels like I’ve connected with two women who will be part of My Tribe for life. Although we may have different life experiences and world views, there’s this THING, this commonality, that runs through us. Yes, we are here for the same purpose, but it’s more than that. The things that make us laugh, touch our hearts and challenge us during the sessions are remarkably similar. I could not be more grateful for Coach Rebecca and Coach Jen (“with one n”; I’m Coach Jenn “with two n’s”); we really do embody the concept of teamwork and support and live the lessons we are teaching.
And then there’s the girls. When we first started meeting, it became apparent who only wanted to run, who hated to run, who loved to talk, who wanted to do anything but talk, who were close friends and who didn’t join with any of their friends. When they were asked, “Why did you join Girls on the Run?”, the most frequent…okay, the ONLY answer we were given was, “Because my parents signed me up.” As we’ve progressed through the season, I have watched these girls form a cohesive team, where everyone knows everyone. Where all of the girls are increasingly eager to give answers to the questions and participate in the games and challenges we provide to them. I’ve observed them getting to know each other, supporting one another, discussing ideas, and praising each other for their thoughts, ideas, and accomplishments.
Aside from how I’ve observed these girls come together to form a team, I’ve also been able to see individual development and how each girl’s star shines! The 4th grader who has gone from being a little unsure of herself as the youngest and smallest member of our team - She is our most determined and fastest runner! One girl, who loves nothing more than to talk and make people laugh, is still very much like that, but has also offered up some answers and insight that show a surprising maturity and a limitless capacity for kindness. Another girl recognized that one of her team members seemed to often be running on her own, and has run alongside her every single practice since then. I could list development and changes in each and every single girl on the team and the way all of the girls expressed their ideas and then came together as one to decide on our Community Impact project was so impressive!
This experience has been made even more amazing by having my own daughter participate and seeing her development. I will admit, I made a few missteps in the beginning of the season, being “coach” to the rest of the girls, but still acting like “Mom” toward my own daughter, for example. But we’ve allowed each other to get comfortable in our roles, and being able to see my daughter (somewhat) objectively, seeing her connect with girls in different grades, contributing to our discussions and workouts in a meaningful way, and seeing her compassion for and support of others come to the forefront of her personality…well, let’s just say I’m grateful that our practices have been mostly held in sunny weather, so I can wear sunglasses to hide the tears of pride that sometimes spill over.
The last time I wrote, I wrote about the feeling of serendipity. At this point in time, the main feeling is gratitude. I’m incredibly grateful for this experience, for the coaches, all of the GOTR volunteers and supporters who made this program a reality, and especially for all of the girls who are participating this first season. We coaches strive to bring the GOTR lesson concepts to the girls, because we appreciate how important they are for this age group, and we wish we had something like this ourselves growing up and we have enough life experience behind us to understand how important these lessons are. These girls may not understand it now, or even think about it in the future, but they have each taught me something about every single one of the lessons we have discussed; about teamwork, about real beauty, about friendship, about positivity, about compassion, about physically and mentally healthy behaviors, and yes, about gratitude.