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girls on the run race

Before moving to the Twin Cities to join the Experience Life team, I worked a schedule that involved being at the office by 5 a.m. each morning. There was plenty that was painful, physically and mentally, about waking up to darkness and a buzzing 3:30 alarm, but the timing did free up my afternoons to pursue other interests.

While the obvious choice might be napping, my favorite after-work activity was volunteering at a D.C. public school as a running coach with Girls on the Run, a nationwide organization that uses physical activity as a way to build up confidence and self-esteem in young girls.

Every Monday and Wednesday, the other volunteers and I would meet at Tyler Elementary School in Southeast Washington to lead a group of 3rd and 4th grade girls through team-building, self-esteem-boosting, and anti-bullying exercises. Each session included a running “workout” or game that served as training toward an end-of-term 5K “fun run.”

As someone who doesn’t particularly like kids, the choice to become a GOTR coach surprised many of my friends and family.

But as someone who was once a shy little girl with little (ahem, zero) natural athletic talent — and who therefore never participated in team sports — the mission of the organization felt incredibly important.

GOTR gives girls a chance to be active and to be part of a team, without requiring any tryouts or special skills in return. All the girls have to do is treat each other with respect and kindness, and make an effort to run — even if that means walking around the track.

Over the course of my 10 or so weeks volunteering with GOTR in D.C., I became very attached to “my girls.”

Of course, it wasn’t always easy.

These are pre-teen girls we’re talking about. There were afternoons when they’d throw fits, argue with each other, burst into tears, and flat-out refuse to participate.

There were the times when they were sweet and happy; they’d hold hands, burst into impromptu dance parties, and freely dole out hugs that, frankly, melted my heart.

And then there were the afternoons when they’d be so focused on the run that they’d get lost in the physical activity. With each lap around the field — whether they walked or jogged, sprinted or skipped — flaring emotions would calm and they’d work together toward their goals.

Since I moved from D.C. to Minneapolis in October, I arrived mid-semester — too late to sign up as a volunteer coach with GOTR’s Twin Cities chapter. Luckily, the organization offers a “Running Buddy” program for adults who want to support the girls but who can’t volunteer on a weekly basis.

As a Running Buddy, I’ll be paired with a girl for the Fall 5K, which will be held this Saturday. (If you’re in the area, feel free to swing by the Lake Nokomis course to cheer for our girls and say hello!) I’m beyond excited to meet my young buddy and complete the run with her. My only worry: Will I be able to keep up?

Tell me: What’s your favorite way to give back to your community? Leave a comment below or tweet us @experiencelife.

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