Posted on 4/4/2017 |Remarkable! People
Beth Gillespie is the founder and former council director for Girls on the Run East Central Illinois. This year, Hyland’s Leg Cramps offered Girls on the Run International three bibs for the 2017 Boston Marathon. Beth, who has been involved with Girls on the Run for nine years, submitted her story of what running the Boston Marathon would mean to her and was selected to receive a bib and represent Girls on the Run at this year’s marathon. Beth is currently using her training to inspire other middle-of-the-pack runners to boldly pursue their dreams and is a part of the Hyland's all-women team.
My relationship with Girls on the Run started nearly nine years ago when I was looking to make a career shift that allowed my excitement for the life-changing power of running to become a central part of my professional day - not just a personal passion. In January of 2009, I joined Girls on the Run Southeastern Michigan’s 5K Committee as the race director for their first stand-alone, independent GOTR 5K. I quickly fell in love with GOTR and its commitment to empower young girls through running and lessons that allow girls to see themselves and their bodies outside of the “girl box”. I saw girls figuring out that they were powerful, capable, and worthwhile - all lessons I learned while becoming a runner.
As the race director, I could see how the program also impacted more than just the girls. Time and time again, I heard stories of how parents or other adults also trained to complete 3.1 miles, how they feared failure, and how while they were proud of their girl, they were also proud of themselves. The GOTR 5K creates a platform in which not only the girls can succeed, but allows important adults in their lives to be a part of that critical moment too. What a gift it is to stand at the finish line of a GOTR 5K to witness and absorb how this program empowers entire communities, not just the girls in the program.
After successfully planning and facilitating four GOTR 5K events over two years, my husband and I relocated to East Central Illinois. The nearest GOTR council was over 2 hours away. I took a deep breath, reminded myself of the lessons the girls absorb while in the program, told myself to be brave, and started the process to start Girls on the Run East Central Illinois. GOTR East Central Illinois was an official council on May 1, 2011. After nearly 18 months of behind the scenes work, I cried tears of pure joy because I was officially a council director. GOTR East Central Illinois is located in a rural part of the state but our council quickly grew and served a vast and unmet need in our community. With limited programs for young women, we quickly grew from serving 15 girls in our first season, to an average of 250 girls per season in three years.
In January of 2016, I left my position as council director for an opportunity I could not turn down, but was only possible because of my leadership through GOTR. During my tenure, we served nearly 2,000 local girls, which is a statistic I am exceptionally proud of. Since leaving GOTR East Central Illinois I have remained committed to serving the girls in our community and the long-term success of this council. I am an ongoing financial supporter and currently serve on the 5K Committee.
I am a woman who failed running the mile in high school. Three times. Three days in a row. So when I accidentally started running at the age of 27, it was with significant doubt that this was something my body could do. Starting with the day I ran one mile without stopping, each milestone was celebrated. When I ran 2.2 miles for the first time, I felt like I could conquer the world. I was so proud when my parents came to cheer me on at the finish line of my first 5K. When I ran 6.2 miles for the first time I cheered so loudly in my apartment parking lot that neighbors came out to see what was going on. Each time I went a bit further, my confidence in my body’s power increased. I discovered a side of myself that was hidden before I laced up a pair of runners. I was happier, I was way healthier (and 70lbs lighter), and I also was more confident in myself as a woman, as an athlete, and as an adult than I had ever been.
I have successfully competed 18 marathons and three ultramarathon since I first laced up my runners in March of 2005. I am still absolutely in love with the power of this sport and the allure of the finish line. Running the Boston Marathon has never been on my list of races to complete, but only because qualifying has always seemed out of the realm of possibility for me. I do not lack dedication or the will to train and commit to preparing for the marathon distance, and I do not lack the heart to keep moving forward when things get hard. I lack the speed, not the heart, not the courage, not the love.
Being able to complete the Boston Marathon, as a proud middle-to-back-of-the-pack marathoner will be an incredible experience. I want to help inspire others who have a similar pace or similar bodies as mine and remind them that our miles are just as worthwhile as those who are Olympic Trials qualifiers. To help raise awareness that Girls on the Run gives the girls, their families, and communities in North America the power of a finish line on a larger platform would be an opportunity I cannot refuse - that reason alone makes taking on the 26.2 journey worthwhile.
Each of us women need to learn to challenge the status quo, to reclaim the narrative from society, to lift all women and girls up, and to help all women and girls realize we have the power to change our world. To be able to train and participate in the Boston Marathon, share my story and experience, help promote GOTR and the power of this program makes all of the joy, all of the work, all of the training miles to run the 2017 Boston Marathon for Girls on the Run an absolute privilege.
Support the Girls on the Run East Central Illionis council here.