Written by: Kayla Sykes
Today was a hard day for me. I had a series of bad luck, and I was drenched from the downfall while carrying boxes piled high on my pinterest inspired storage bins. I was admiring the eerie silence of an elementary school emptied by the summer; and beginning to think of ideas for the upcoming fall. Deep in thought over where I will put my things, I heard the familiar sound of brand new tennis shoes running down a hallway, with the words “Ms. Sykes” echoing in every step. I was charged with the biggest hug I’ve ever had from a 9 year old girl.
Mid squeeze she finally let go of her thoughts. “I’m running the color run next weekend with my sister! Just like you and Ellie did! And my mom already told me I could join again this fall!”
Some of those boxes I was hauling into school on this rainy day were things I have made over the summer for her, and for the rest of my team. My Girls on the Run team.
A crucial part of life is change. Sometimes it is hard and uncomfortable, and sometimes you have to work really hard to get halfway to where you really want to be. There are also unforeseen moments in life. The really good unforeseen life changing moments are called blessings. Mine happened in the summer of 2013.
Jeremy Baumhower shared this video:
I was in tears. What is Girls on the Run? I hate running, but I want that. I want that video to be my daughter’s life. A few weeks later I was speaking with a friend of mine, a friend who is on the board of the Girls on the Run of Northwest Ohio committee and the email simply said
“Want to coach at Frank in the spring?????”
Little does she know I actually screamed yes while I was typing it. YES! YES PLEASE!!!!!
But I casually responded with “Yes I will coach.”
And that was it. I was going to coach a team based entirely off of Jeremy’s video. I was excited, nervous, a little overwhelmed. But I was doing it.
In case you didn’t watch that video, Girls on the Run is an after school program for girls in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade. It combines a curriculum that addresses healthy living, building self-confidence, gossiping, bullying, and a number of challenging social issues that girls face these days. It is an emotionally safe place to be, where girls can run and play and talk with their peers. It is their happy place, and we teach them to have a happy pace. We combine that curriculum with running, and at the end of our 10 week program our girls are emotionally and physically prepared to run a celebratory 5k.
The first day of practice I was scared. I sat in an unfamiliar classroom, with my co-coach. She was overly excited about this, she had many years of experience as a cheerleading coach, and 2nd grade teacher. Up until that day my only experience coaching was community ed t-ball. And if we’re taking notes, I did successfully coach a 2 year old to use the potty. So I guess I would be ok at this.
At some point in questioning my capabilities to coach something as powerful as Girls on the Run, in walked 12 girls, just as nervous as I was. This was the first season my school offered. They had no tainted expectations from peers. I was going to tell them, and show them what Girls on the Run was.
It may have taken me weeks to remember everyone’s name, but I will never forget those 12 girls. The sisters who couldn’t seem to get along grew into friends by the end of the season. The girl who was afraid to run finished the 5k in authentic tears of accomplishment. The girl who could hardly make eye contact during conversation with unfamiliar faces was dancing in circles by the end of our season; in front of strangers. The girl who had prior obligations came to show support by running the practice 5k before our practice 5k even began.
The biggest sense of accomplishment as a coach was watching a girl who struggled to complete our practice 5k. The rest of her team finished the practice 5k, and she had 2 more laps left. My entire team, on their own, ran those 2 laps with her cheering her name.
THESE ARE THE GIRLS OF OUR FUTURE.
They reached for the stars, and they recognized the thunder. They allowed me to hold their tears, and secrets. They let me witness the strength they had before they realized it existed. Together they discovered in secret washable marker code that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Those girls, at 9 and 10 years old changed me. They tugged at pieces of my heart until it was all out in the open. And they stared at me with innocent eyes, and my heart in their hands. And that’s when I finally swallowed everything I was preaching. That is when I began acting as the person I was molding my girls into. I began to be honest, accepting, and confident no matter what situation I was put in. I began to feel beautiful, and eventually I felt 12 rays of glimmery sunshine happiness beaming off of me almost every day, in almost every situation. And when the sun left, sometimes I was surrounded by a dark cloud, but I wasn’t denying it. Because that’s a part of life too. And sometimes you have to look for the light during a storm while the thunder is rumbling.
The day I had to stand in front of 12 beautiful girls with magazine advertisements. My ears that heard your innocent thoughts. My eyes that witnessed you come together in unity. My heart that grew when we crumpled up a piece of paper at every rude comment, but tried to unwrinkle it with compliments. The day we ran laps stopping every so often to pay out a compliment to a girl on our team. My one on one time running with you, and hearing your voice, witnessing your strength. YOU CHANGED ME.
Your voices, hearts, and souls even when defeated was the reason I was there, and will continue to be there. Girls on the Run didn’t exist when I was a child, but I will make it my personal mission to have it continue until the end of time. Because with the instantaneous world we live in, we should all remember what it means to be young, vulnerable, easily influenced, and the excitement to belong.
Being a Girl on the Run is a way a young girl is able to tap into her individuality, and realize the beauty is right there. In accepting herself, she begins to accept the ones around her for who they are as well. There is a wave of masks that peel away, as the girls begin to express themselves, letting go of the pieces that were held back because society had lead them to believe it wasn’t ok. And the blanket of acceptance is wrapped around each girl, as she giggles, laughs, and dances around the gymnasium. Dancing like no one was watching. Dancing with confidence.
August 28th is registration for our fall 2014 season. If you are a parent of a girl in 3-5 grade, I highly suggest looking into this program. If your elementary school doesn’t have this program yet, and you were interested in starting one please contact our program director, Sarah Gable. She is amazing, and will point you in the right direction.
I am Kayla Sykes, and I am a Girl on the Run.