Alexis - 5th grader (age 10), VA
Victors' shared words -
"My favorite thing was learning about all the items
that the coaches taught us girls. Like not gossiping,
not smoking, and sharing. I also liked all the running
and how much I have improved."
(Shared by one Proud Uncle)
self-respect and healthy living.
"Changing the world one girl at a time."
Molly Barker - founder of Girls on the Run,
Four-time Hawaii Ironman Triathlete, and
one of Runner's World magazine's Heroes of Running.
Girls on the Run is a running program for young girls,
age eight to thirteen years old.
A lot more than a running program - "The programs combine training
for a 3.1 mile running event with self-esteem enhancing,
uplifting workouts. The goals of the programs are to encourage positive emotional,
social, mental, spiritual and physical development."
Learning how to keep young women out of the "Girl Box".
"The Girl Box is that place that many girls go around fifth grade, where suddenly being themselves isn't good enough," I shared. "In the Girl Box, girls begin to feel more valued for their appearance as opposed to who they really are. In the box we are never thin enough, pretty enough, smart enough, sexy enough, perfect enough. We are never enough. In an effort to deal with the Girl Box, many girls turn to alcohol, food addictions, eating disorders, multiple plastic surgeries and other unhealthy behaviors to deal with the turmoil of life inside the stifling box." Molly Barker - Girls on the Run founder
Watch the video below, courtesy of Girls on the Run,
to learn what all the fun is about!
(trouble seeing video image click on this Video Link)
Read more, Molly Barker's speech (ViF heartstrings warning!)
A speech by Molly Barker
given at UNC-Chapel Hill in March of 2006
I am a very low maintenance person….What you see is what you get. I don’t get manicures, I don’t wear much make-up…I don’t know how to curl hair and I hardly ever wear dresses. Case in point, the first time my daughter saw me wear something other than pants or shorts, she was old enough to talk. When I stepped out into the living room in my one skirt, she pointed at its fabric and asked in a completely serious tone, “Mommy what’s that?”
This is the same little girl that several weeks ago while I was “doing” my hair walked into the bathroom…decked out to the nines. She had a purse draped delicately across her shoulder, sunglasses perched on top of her head and a drop-dead gorgeous perfectly matched skirt and jacket ensemble. She looked at herself in the mirror and sighed. “I just love myself.”
I hid back the chuckle… “Helen, what is it that you love about yourself,” I asked.
“I love….my eyes…,”she said. “I love my mouth,” she said. “Oh yeah, Mommy. And, I also love my heart….”
It struck me right then and there, that my daughter was on the cusp of girlhood and even at age six, was taking in the messages I so wanted the girls with whom I work to absorb.
My daughter Helen loves herself…her eyes, her voice, her body, her mind.
I didn’t always feel that way. Heck, it’s only been since my mid-thirties that I came to some comfort in my own skin.
So I’m delighted that my daughter Helen is showing signs of a healthy body-image and esteem at the ripe old age of six!
So in preparation for my comments today…I wanted to find just the right words…the ones that would help you see into MY world…the world of the girl…the world where she lives and the heaven Girls on the Run is trying to provide for her. And while I know of the potential impact my words may have on you, I realize that what I say to you today is not nearly as important as what I told my eight year old friend Mary—that she is beautiful, in spite of the girls in her class calling her fat. Or the importance of what I shared with Sarah who doesn’t know where to turn—her beautiful thirteen year old daughter—her precious little girl—is starving herself to be beautiful and can now barely walk at 79 pounds. Or the power of what I say to sixteen year old Zoey who is cutting herself and can’t stop.……
Girls on the Run was a gift to me nine years ago. Struggling with my own issues of low-self-worth, Girls on the Run was the version of my life I longed for. A heaven if you will, where girls and women—heck anyone with whom the program comes into contact—are free to be themselves. A space in time where being real, authentic and vulnerable are admirable traits—where true beauty is wrapped in how we live our lives as opposed to how we look. As the program has grown, so too has my realization of the impact it has had not just on me, but of course the girls, their coaches, their families and you, the public.
Meet my friend Madeline. Last December I was wrapping up with my Girls on the Run girls at Charlotte Country Day School. The weather was unsure—in a constant state of changing its mind…would it be rainy, cloudy, cold, warm, thundering or sunny. So today as I walked to the track with my girls, I was grateful that the rain was holding off. An amalgam of emotions pulsing through my veins on this very last day with this group of amazing little girls.
They began to run—today’s lesson is called Run for Reason—12 laps covered by each girl—to raise money for other girls who would like to participate in Girls on the Run, but might not otherwise be able to afford it. I backed my car up to the track, put on some lively music and cheered on each beating heart, dancing soul, brilliant pair of eyes as they moved joyously around the track. Clouds building, a thunderstorm was rumbling hundreds of miles away. Rolling, building, powerful.
Madeline is the smallest girl in Girls on the Run. She is petite. Every feature on her face is tiny, she has tiny wrists, her little feet, her small voice. “Molly, come here,” she said. “I have something I have to show you. I must show you. Please.”
“But Madeline I need to stand here and cheer on each girl.”
“But Molly, you have to see this.” She then cupped her mouth with hands on either side and whispered, “I think I see Heaven.”
Madeline took me by the hand and ran with me to the far end of the track.
“Look!” She said. “Look. I see Heaven. And I turned to my right and saw before me the absolutely most brilliant sunset I’ve ever seen in my life. Dark black clouds surrounded a brilliant white light of such force that light pierced the sky and sent beams of light down on the earth miles and miles away. “See,” she said, completely convinced, “Heaven.”
“Madeline,” I said. “Yes, Heaven…surely.” But I didn’t need to look at the sky. I didn’t need to look to some distant space in time. I only had to look at the two small, but brilliant rays of light—there in Madeline’s eyes to know that indeed, heaven is right there—resting inside her little girl soul—that little girl body. Heaven rests in me and you and the brilliance of our own lives—I am convinced as convinced as Madeline was that she was witnessing a glimpse of heaven on a stormy—day that Girls on the Run is creating our own heaven—a place of safety where girls, mothers, sons, fathers, people can feel a peace of such depth simply being their authentic selves.
Authentic is not how I would describe my impressions of friendship growing up in the South thirty years ago. Girls in my neighborhood were supposed to be quiet, thin and pretty. Throw blond in there and you were almost perfect. Expressing your thoughts and speaking your mind was left to the boys…so too were the sports. I didn’t feel like I fit in. I was a tomboy, a smart athletic one…traits not typical of the girls who were called popular.
But now I know that being a strong woman isn’t just dressing up anymore—it's getting down and dirty on social issues—putting on your overalls and working in the trenches—making change at a grassroots level—and in the case of my work with Girls on the Run—committing myself fully to providing the light of Heaven so sweetly described by Madeline, to the ground beneath the running feet of thousands of little girls and their families throughout not just Charlotte but the U.S.
What is Girls on the Run? Ask any number of people and you will get a variety of answers. It’s a Running program…self-esteem enrichment course…after-school program….mentoring program….life-skills and prevention program…that list in part is determined by the teller—what she gained by either delivering it, enrolling her daughter in it or bringing it to her school or city.
The program, based on sound psychological research engages 3rd-5th grade girls for 12 weeks in a series of well thought out and sequential lessons that reveals to them—in girlspeak—a heaven of sorts where they are free to be themselves. Three core goals are at work over the 12 weeks…The first four weeks the girls explore their values—what and who are important to them…What do I believe in and what do I stand for?
The second four weeks explores team-building skills—how to stand up for myself, how to stop a gossip chain, how to be a good listener—the outcome being a strong sense of connectedness with teammates…and the last four weeks explores a host of ways they can speak up—use their voice and change the world. They design and implement their very own community project.
And of course, they run—they are training through playing topic-related games for a 5K run at the conclusion of the 12 weeks.
And yet it is a prayer for a shift in cultural thinking that is at the core of our program.
So while I could go into the research indicating the positive changes the program is having on girls’ body image, self-esteem and feelings of self-worth, I’d rather tell you about three people….three people I know were changed by it. Three people who through their transformation…changed me.
Britney was in fourth grade. Britney has recently been adopted. Britney has known darkness, more darkness than you would wish upon even your very worst enemy. She has scars across her back and thighs the size of cigarette butts to show for it. She runs from a camera, uncertain of what unseemly pose the photographer will require of her. She has problems with her eyesight from sitting in darkness for lengthy periods of time. And Britney doesn’t talk. It's not that she doesn’t know how—it’s that she won’t talk. Talking, where she came from, only got you in trouble. Using your voice and speaking up for yourself, expressing your fears, your tears, your emotions only got you scars, darkness or worse—nothing. Britney was in Girls on the Run.
And I had the privilege to be her coach. Typically in most of our games we have a processing period after each game or activity—an opportunity for the girls to relate the experience of the game to some real-life situation. Going around our circle of 17, I would come to Britney. And each day, Britney would nervously shake her head, look to the ground and we would move on to the next girl in the circle. The first week, one of the other girls said fondly, “Oh, that’s just Britney, she never talks.” But as the weeks went on, Britney kept coming back. She kept showing up and she kept shaking her head.
But girl, could Britney run. She communicated her moods, her feelings, her thoughts by how her body moved through space. When she was mad her feet would slam the pavement, her stride choppy, her blonde hair would sporadically rise and fall with each step. But when she was right with the world, for that one hour of her life, she would float across the asphalt, each step tapping the pavement, ever so lightly, her arms relaxed at her side and her blonde hair flowing in a stream behind her.
But the girl had no voice.
On the very last workout day of Girls on the Run we ask the girls to name one or two words that would describe their Girls on the Run experience. Katherine said, “Cool!” Anna said, “Awesome.” Takia said, “The bomb” (this means great!). And Britney. . . she paused, she cleared her throat and said. . . nothing. She shook her head, looked to the ground and we continued. The following night we had our Girls on the Run Banquet. Every girl receives her very own award, based on what makes each girl special. Katherine won the “smile with the red face” award. Anna won the “loyal to her friends award.” Takia won the “cool cat” award.
And Britney, what award did she win? Britney won the “grand communicator” award—for communicating on a level that surpasses anything worldly. She could communicate with her body, the strike of her step, the look in her eye, the smile on her face.
And when I called Britney up to receive her award—she slowly moved to take her place next to me. And out of her back pocket she pulled out a small card. With a nod of her head she handed it to me and I opened it. And as I opened it, her face lit up, the knowing that today was special, today something different would happen. Today, Britney would find her voice. I asked her if she would like to read what she wrote—and that brave little girl, closed her eyes tight, so tight for a few seconds, dug deep, and read her very own words to all of her friends in Girls on the Run and their families. Oh the sound of her sweet voice, like music through the room. “Dear Molly, the word I wanted to say on the last day of Girls on the Run was Love.”
Britney got her voice back that day. Somewhere it had been lost or taken for that matter, in the darkness of some unknown closet, a burn or a photo. But on this day, Britney took it back. And I along with her friends had the privilege to witness her courage, her fear and her RIGHT to use her voice in whatever way she chose and with whatever words she wanted. The girl had been released! Heaven at last…Heaven at last.
I rarely walk laps with the girls, but one day last season, my assistant coach took the helm and I walked several laps with a group of girls. At some point during the hour, Madeline and I ended up alone. Remember her….the little one who saw heaven.
With Heaven pouring down around us, I asked… “Madeline, how is it that you and I ended up together? What happened so that you and I have been given the chance to know each other? How does all of that work? How did we both get so lucky?”
Madeline thought for several seconds—small puffs of air exiting her mouth with each step.
And then she spoke—with the assurance of someone who has absolutely NO doubt about the words to follow. “Well it’s like this,” she said. “God has an idea. But he has a problem because he somehow needs to get that idea down to earth. So to solve this problem, he wraps a body around the idea, and then brings the body down to earth. If the idea is a really big one, he wraps two or three or lots of bodies around the idea, so that the really big idea can get here. That’s how we get our gifts and talents. They are God’s tools to help us get the idea out of our bodies and onto earth.”
I took her hand, slowed our walk to a stroll and knew that this would be a moment I would never forget. That if there was a divine—a higher power—God or something greater than all of us out there—he, she, it—was right there in the words of that small child. Madeline, this small and brilliant 8-year-old, so eloquently put into words what I wish for me and you and any woman seeking contentedness—to shift the overindulgent fixation we have on our bodies to the idea around which our body is wrapped.
Yet somewhere right now, right this minute while I’m writing this, a young woman lies silent starving herself to be beautiful and invisible—a young girl is having sex so her boyfriend will love her—a young mother is selling her pregnant body so she can get her next heroin kick—a little girl thinks she isn’t worth anything, because she is fat—a mother hides her liquor but can’t hide the odor of it on her breath or the shame of it in her soul when her daughter comes home from school—a woman stays in an abusive situation while her daughter wonders why—and an eleven-year-old girl tries her first cigarette.
My desire to celebrate my children and all the girls with whom I come into contact is stronger than it ever has been. We’ve got to start somewhere. We’ve got to take back our voices, our bodies, our spirits and celebrate the ideas around which our bodies are wrapped.
Next month, my daughter Helen and I are hosting a tea party for my friend’s Chihuahua, Gerdie. We will play dress-up in frills, a hat and hold a tea cup with our pinky fingers extended. We will talk to little Gerdie, giggle for no reason and eat cake.
Today somewhere a girl cries in shame—for no real reason.
I want to know her. I want to get to know her, celebrate her, see her eyes. I want to kiss her cheek, dance with her in the sunshine, lift her up and celebrate all the girl that she is and the woman she will be. I want her to know that she is beautiful, strong and powerful.
Our jobs, yours and mine are to give girls back the “ideas” that are uniquely theirs. To take them back from the negative stereotypes and messages in the media. To take them back from the should and ought to people. To put their uniqueness, their individuality, their girlness at the core of all we do for them and with them. To provide as many opportunities for our girls to experience genuine acceptance of their uniqueness, their spirits, their voices and their bodies.
And what continually comes back to haunt me in all of my work with girls—and even more so as the mother to one is this:
I cannot give away what I do not already have.
I cannot teach her self-love and acceptance without first being the student.
I cannot offer up a definition of genuine and authentic beauty, until I am willing to embrace it myself.
I cannot look into her eyes and see the strength there until I am willing to look inward and see the strength that lies within me.
I cannot share with her the wonder of our most brilliant “ideas”…until I unabashedly unwrap mine.
Only then to reveal Heaven at last…heaven at last.