Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Girls on the Run New Orleans 5K Race Report

As I mentioned yesterday, I started volunteering as a Coach this year with Girls on the Run. It's been an eye-opening experience... the school I'm at is made up of primarily lower-income students, and I'm coaching 6-8th grade girls along with the "Head Coach" (a teacher at the school) and another assistant coach. Every session, the first 15-20 minutes is spent talking about different topics (we're given prompts and activities to follow), and then we spent about 30 minutes being active. The point of GOTR is not just running... they can run, walk, skip, whatever they want. The point is to help them realize their potential and that they can do anything if they put their minds to it.

I'll be honest--I was pretty nervous at first because I wasn't sure how well I'd be able to relate to these girls. The school is in a very low-income part of town; most of the girls in our group don't even own running shoes so they run in their school clothes and boots or slippers (whatever they had on that day). It's also not the safest part of town; a few weeks ago, there was a shooting at a playground in the neighborhood--there was a block party going on or something like that. Anyway, 17 people wound up getting shot (no one was killed, though several people were shot several times) and over half of them were under age 21. Although none of the girls on our GOTR team were there, several kids from the school were there, and to them it seemed like no big deal. Our Head Coach teaches 3rd grade, and she said that a few of her students were there and they said something along the lines of, "We were there and we heard pop pop pop and we got outta there!" These kids are so jaded already, and they don't know anything different. It's just another day in the Ninth Ward.
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Now that you know some of the background of the girls I'm working with, let's talk about the 5K! I honestly wasn't looking forward to it because I wasn't sure any of our girls would actually show up--but it turned out to be AMAZING and reminded me why I wanted to coach with them in the first place.

Stormtroopers! I was laughing at the one dancing next to me.
As you might imagine, The parents are fairly uninvolved--I'm sure there are a variety of reasons. All of the girls were supposed to have a running buddy for the race--a parent, sibling, friend, relative... But we (the coaches) were our girls' running buddies, plus some other teachers from the school came out to support the girls and be RB's as well; some of them even made signs and cheered for us along the route! None of our girls had any family members present, and the other teachers actually picked up the girls who wanted to come and drove them to the race (we had 4 come to the race, out of 8).

Team Photo! Three more teachers showed up a little later. (My running buddy, C, is the taller girl in glasses.)
The race itself was SO much fun! There was face painting, "Happy Hair" (they spray fun colors on your hair), lots of food and snacks, GREAT music, and a big warm up routine. The race started at 8am, and we were off! We encouraged our girls to start slow (as opposed to their usual schtick of sprinting and wearing themselves out), and 2 of the faster girls ran ahead with our fast runner coach, and then we basically ran fartleks with the other 2 girls--"Okay, we're going to start running at that sign! Alright, let's walk when we get to that trash can!" (I was wearing my Garmin, but they much preferred the visual interval markers.)

Best friends
There were groups all along the course to cheer the girls on--cheering, high fiving--it was awesome! There was such a positive energy; I wish I could have bottled it up to take to every race! I could tell our girls were getting more confident as the race went on. At the start, they were like, "What, 3 miles?!? We can't do that!" but at the end of it, C said, "I can't believe I just ran 3 miles!" and she was absolutely beaming. I was SO incredibly proud of her!

All in all, the race was amazing and I am so very proud of the girls. Even if I'm not able to commit to coaching again, I definitely plan to volunteer and be involved with Girls on the Run in other ways! You can volunteer at the 5K, be a Running Buddy (run with a girl on race day), a Super Running Buddy (raise money for GOTR and run with a girl), a Sole Mate (be a charity runner for GOTR--I'm actually doing this for the Crescent City Classic in March)--if you're interested, find your local chapter and see what you can do!




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