Girls on the Run 5K

imageIt’s not often that I write negative or emotional posts on my blog (not that I think it’s a bad thing, I like reading about anything and everything!), but last night I participated in the Girls on the Run (GOTR) 5K. I want to say that this event was a positive one for me, but my experience made me really sad. I was paired with a girl from a local elementary school, and she came in dead last. Don’t get me wrong – that isn’t what made me sad at ALL. It was the circumstances that surrounded the situation just really bothered me.

The girl, who I’m going to call Suzie, was from a school in an underprivileged area, and she arrived with her grandmother. She was 11 years old, and seemed very shy when first introduced to me. No problem, I can break anyone out of their shell. I’m the friend you go running with that starts talking as soon as I start my Garmin and doesn’t shut up until the last mile. When we began the run, it was a pretty congested field so we started off by walking. Once we were able to run, she would dash ahead for about 20 feet, and then begin to trudge along. I’m not talking a power walk here – I’m talking literally dragging her feet.

It wasn’t the pace that made me sad – you could just tell that this was the last thing Suzie wanted to do. She had zero enthusiasm and it just seemed like she wanted to be anywhere else but at the 5K.  It’s totally okay if running isn’t your thing, but she just had no interest in participating. If she was happy to be there or enjoying herself, she didn’t let me know about it. We ran in the parkway, so if she saw something like a bird she would stop and look at it, or she would try to pick flowers if we passed by wildflowers or flowering trees. She would find anything she could to just stop, and I don’t think she realized that by not moving, we would not get to the finish line.

When I realized that running the race might not be in the cards for Suzie, I tried talking to her and getting her to open up. Maybe I couldn’t inspire her to run, but in our time together I might be able to have SOME sort of impact and get to know her a little bit. Unfortunately, she didn’t want to talk and would answer my questions only about half of the time. I was really striking out: I couldn’t motivate her to run, and she seemed to want no part of hanging out with me. I’m not used to that. As a high school teacher, I take a lot of pride in being able to relate to students and make them feel comfortable and relaxed in their surroundings, and I was not successful with this. I’m not known to be intimidating or unfriendly – I connect well with kids. But this was one kid that I was having a hard time getting to know. I think that’s what bothered me the most.

I kept trying to give Suzie little goals to motivate her to just keep moving. First, I did time intervals. Once we were able to run, I suggested that we try to run for one full minute to see what she would do. We made it about 25 seconds before she began to walk. When I realized she didn’t respond to that, I told her when we hit the first set of hills in the first mile that we would just try running down the hill. Who doesn’t like running downhill? But we trudged up one of the first hills, and she stopped before we even got to the top because she got cinders in her shoe. At the top, I tried to get her to run down the hill with me but she completely ignored me and kept walking.

My next strategy was to pick a point and tell her we were going to run to it. As we approached the red covered bridge (the one mile marker), I tried to get her to run to the bridge. She started running and stopped about 20 feet later. My next attempt to get her moving was to challenge her to a “race”. I’d pick a point- like a bench, or a tree – and tell her to race me to that point. Of all of my strategies, that seemed to work a little better. I would make sure that I stayed a good distance behind her so she could “beat” me every single time. Once we stopped running, she would slow down and walk slower than we were going before. I’d periodically challenge her to race me from this point forward, but she wouldn’t always “accept” the challenge and just ignore me. Other times, she would start running and just stop a few feet later for no reason. When the last girl passed us, putting us in last place, I tried to use it as motivation to move. I’d say, “Okay, lets run to that girl and catch her”!

At the end of the race, a few of the volunteers on the course that were walking as the “sag wagon” walked us in. As we approached the finish line, she repeatedly asked where her grandmother was. I told her she would see her grandma as soon as we crossed the finish line. At this point, we hadn’t run in quite awhile. Her teammates and one of her coaches were all there cheering for her, and she looked both confused and overwhelmed – almost like she wanted to cry, but it didn’t seem like tears of joy. She looked more scared than anything, and saw her grandmother about 10 feet in front of the finish line. She stopped running and just walked to her grandma and wouldn’t go any further. I was so confused. Both myself and the other volunteers were trying to pump her up and get her to cross, but she refused. It was like she didn’t understand what was going on, or just really didn’t care.

Eventually, her grandma walked her across the finish line with me. She got her medal, looked at me and smiled and waved and said “Bye!” I walked back to her team’s coaches, where we all met before the event and one of the coaches asked me where Suzie was. I told her the story and how she was with her grandma, and she replied by saying, “Yeah, I wasn’t sure about her. Did you get her to talk?” So it was apparent that they were completely aware that something wasn’t right there.

I think it was great that Suzie participated in the event, but I feel like one of her coaches should have run/walked with her. Not because I didn’t want to, but because she clearly was not comfortable with me regardless of what I did. I tried talking to her about anything and everything. At one point, we could hear the DJ and they were playing “Shut Up and Dance with Me” and I even started singing and dancing as we walked. Nothing. They only started the GOTR program at the school I was a buddy for in March, so I know the girls hadn’t had a lot of training, but I just feel like the coaches should have either been there for this girl or maybe prepared me for what she might be like. They had to know she was a little more introverted and that she would really struggle with the distance – they’ve worked with her twice per week since March! Part of me is glad that I was paired with her, because I am a teacher and I know that kids respond differently to different people so I didn’t take it personally, I was just really concerned.

I’m not really sure what I’m getting at. I just wanted to write about the experience to get it off of my chest. I know several of my other friends were buddies and had GREAT experiences with the girls. I was happy to hear that, and that the program really does help and empower girls to be better and want more for themselves. Just something about my girl made me sad – like she is only 11, and no one is teaching her to have a strong work ethic, to strive to achieve goals, and to want more for herself. No one is teaching her to take care of her body and be healthy, and no one is teaching her what it means to give something your best effort. I want to participate again next year. Maybe I didn’t get through to Suzie yesterday, but maybe someday she will think of our 5K and it will light a fire in her to do something great.

Have you ever participated in a GOTR event? Ever dealt with a situation that just rubbed you the wrong way?

21 Replies to “Girls on the Run 5K”

  1. I participated in GOTR this season and honestly I was disappointed. I felt some of the lessons were way over the girl’s heads for their age and I didn’t think the “running” part of it was any different than making kids run in PE. I don’t feel that “See how many laps you can do in 25 minutes!” was good training for a 5K. The slow girls felt slow, the athletic girls excelled. The “community impact projects” felt forced. I was hoping the program would give girls some confidence in running, but all I experienced was girls feeling down on themselves if they couldn’t keep up. I’m not planning to participate again.

    1. Yes, I didn’t get to see as much of the training or what they do to prepare – I was helping out a teacher I’m friends with that teaches at the school I assisted with. She warned me about very similar issues – they were underprepared and came with a “binder” of curriculum to cover that the girls never really understood! I hoped the program would empower the girls. And maybe it did for some girls, but the situation I was put in did not demonstrate any positive aspects. Such a shame!! Sorry you had a bad experience too 😦

  2. Sounds like Suzie has some deeper issues. Hopefully she’ll continue to participate and a breakthrough will happen for her. Good for you for trying with her though, some people might not have been prepared for that type of introversion. Her coaches definitely should have run with her. They don’t have GOTR in my area yet, but it’s coming. My cousin is involved in another county and is trying to bring it closer to us.

    1. That was my biggest problem. Clearly, the coaches knew that there was something up with the poor girl by the way they asked about her at the end. She knows the coaches, and she is probably more comfortable with them. She must have also been very scared – having to complete 3.1 miles for the first time is stressful enough, but she had to do it with someone that she didn’t know in a location that I know she was completely unfamiliar with. I was glad to be her buddy but her coaches should have at least come along with us!

  3. Hmm, it kind of seems like maybe someone told her she HAD to do it. That definitely puts you in an awkward situation since you were trying so hard to make it an enjoyable, positive experience. I’m glad you shared this! I’ve only ever heard good things about GOTR, but I think it’s good to understand both sides of the GOTR coin so to speak. 🙂

    1. I completely agree – I feel like someone forced her to do it. But when I asked her about running, she told me she loves to run. So I almost think she was uncomfortable being with a stranger in strange surroundings, too. Either way, I hope she had fun regardless of the outcome! I do think GOTR is an awesome organization, though. I’m not bashing that at all – but I also think her coaches could have been a little more in tune to what she needed!!

  4. Oh wow. I’m sorry it wasn’t the best of experiences.

    It may not mean much, but I’m happy Suzie got paired with you. She really struggled and just didn’t want to put forth the effort, but she had a strong and motivating partner that did NOT give up on her. She may not realize it today, but one day she will.

  5. We have a similar program called SMART girls and I volunteer coach with them. I love it! We have a few of those girls like Suzie…usually the behavior stems from deep family issues. I’ve found it’s best to simply ‘be there’ and encourage. But it’s heartbreaking because I just want to adopt them all!! At SMART girls they do run and participate in 5ks but we also have life skill lessons like on self confidence, healthy eating, bullying etc. hopefully your Suzie will stick around and open up next time. 🙂

    1. Your program sounds amazing! So sweet that you volunteer coach – seems like a big (but awesome) job! A friend of mine has a program of her own that she calls the Donagan Dashers (after the school she teaches for) and she does something very similar with her girls. I really do see a lot of value in these programs! I hope Suzie sticks it out and opens up too!

  6. I feel like your experience must have been extremely difficult. I volunteered as a GOTR assistant coach a few years back. Perhaps my experience was different due to social/economical differences, but I had an incredible experience and felt that I was the one who had been inspired by the girls. I’m sorry that you did not have a similar experience and I hope you do get to try again soon! Hope you had a great weekend! Thank you for sharing : )

    1. My good friend volunteered with a completely different school (total social/economic differences) and had an amazing experience, too! I’m sure there were more good experiences than bad ones 🙂 It just wasn’t what I expected when I signed up, that’s for sure!

  7. So tough. One of my coworkers was a GOTR coach for a bit, and her daughter participates, and she voiced a lot of the same concerns. I know it’s a volunteer organization and beggars can’t be choosers, but it sounds like additional training resources need to be available for the coaches.

  8. hmm.. that’s really too bad. Don’t feel bad about it though. VERY great thing of you to do and to help out with. Unfortunately running isn’t for everyone.. and clearly it wasn’t for Suzie. Hopefully something else in life will help her out and get her excited about life.
    I hope to volunteer for GOTR someday. someday when my schedule isn’t too crazy,

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