Misadventures with wine, weights, and running shoes.

Dashing Darby and Girls on the Run Program

Friday, May 16, 2014
Although, running is something I have done for going on 8 years (wow! That long already?!) I have done most of mine solo or with a few people at the most. Running in a group or as a member of a running group is VERY new to me.  It has not only helped me gain amazing friends, some potentially life long ones, but it has exposed me to activities and programs I never knew existed.
In the fall, one of my running buddies asked if I wanted to be a buddy for her daughter’s friend in a Girls on the Run (GOTR) 5K because the mom was injured.  I knew nothing about the program, but said I would get back to her. I looked into the organization briefly and thought it was a cool program. As I saw it, it was a way of getting elementary school girls to run. Before I really could decide, however, I was told the mom had recovered and wanted to run, but maybe I would consider signing up anyway for someone else.

At that time, I had a lot going on, was still newer to the area, and establishing my routine. The event came and went and I didn't think much of it for a while. Later in a series of post run coffee meetings at a nearby Starbucks, I realized that the director of the GOTR program, Lara Mish was one of the ladies. I casually asked her about the program, as I was always looking for something for my Daughter, Ashley, to volunteer for or get involved in. It resulted in some good chit chat and something to store in the back of my head for a later time.

Spring ahead - I get another message from my initial running friend telling me that the girl I was supposed to run with in the fall, was disappointed that I hadn't run (really?) and they wanted to know if I would run this spring?  They even offered to pay for my race ticket. Wow! How could I turn down something like that?  I talked to Lara, who by now, I had enough regular contact that a Facebook message didn't seen entirely out of context.  I asked about volunteer opportunities for Ashley, and as she was not quite old enough to be a running buddy like myself, she could volunteer in another area, the day of the race. SWEET! So not even having met this girl, or no anything about this, I jumped in and said yes. 

BEST DECISION EVER!

After some initial emails back and forth, I got to talking to my little running buddy’s Mom. She was going to run with her other daughter and had been a runner herself but not as much anymore. I learned a little bit about my buddy, that her name was Darby and found she was similar in age to my son Ryan. Like most 9 year old kids, she gets distracted easily and needed reminders.  As a fellow squirrel (easily distracted) person myself, I knew we would probably get along very well! I loved how protective Darby's mom was, just like I am of my kids. I assured her, that as a fellow Mom, she would be in good hands.

Ashley and I set out shortly after 6am to grab my obligatory coffee and head out to Anne Arundel County Community College at Arnold.  Volunteers had to be there around 7, and although I wasn’t running till 9, I figured I could help Ashley get settled and see what I could do to help. We were met pretty quickly by Lara, sporting very bright shoes (she said it’s easier to find her), along with most of her family, sisters, in laws, fellow coaches and a plethora of people coming together on an early Sunday morning.  
Ashley and Cindy
Nothing had been set up but was in the works, so Ashley and I, along with several volunteers began to set up the staging area of the race.  Volunteers came in a steady stream, and it was very cool to watch Lara in her element directing different people to all the little things needing done prior to a racing event.  Setting up tables, the finish line, check-ins, water, apparel and Ashley’s activity, fancy hair. As a runner, I see the areas already set up by the time I get there and it was enlightening to see all the behind the scenes work that goes on.  Needless to say, I will make a point of thanking the volunteers MORE now.  It really does take a village.

As runners began to arrive, I was frankly astounded by the volume.  I find out after the event that more than 800 girls participated in this program, which is not including the running buddies, coaches and supporting crew.  As I waited for Darby to arrive, I walked around and it was an incredible sight.  Running buddies were teenagers, Dads, Moms, really anyone - all shapes, all sizes, all ages, sporting the same T-shirt I was wearing with the words “I Changed A Girl’s Life Today” BEAMING with pride as they stood next to their runners many taking pictures to mark the event.  It was enough to make even the most unfeeling grump misty.  Me, a self-proclaimed sap-  I’m looking for the carton of Kleenex.
I finally linked up with Darby, her Mom, my running friend Cheri and her daughter and a whole group of buddies that have done this program together.  The program was 10-12 weeks and I could see the same giddy bond and pre-race excitement that I have seen in all my friends, including me leading up to crossing the timing strip to start a race.  We went over to my daughter Ashley’s station and had our hair spray painted and were prepped and good to go for our race.  We had a group warm up of jumping jacks and knee lifts and all things to get warmed up, I showed Darby some of the things that I do before running a race and she was all too eager to soak in every tidbit of information I would share with her.  She had been running, but mostly a run/walk routine, so I shared with her basic running strategy: start easy, it’s packed and busy, get a lane and find your happy rhythm and pace, last part if you feel good, speed up and run hard through the finish.  She nodded but not sure how much she understood.  This was not a timed event, but I pulled out my phone and used the stopwatch so she would have an idea how she did.
We set out and at first it was very much a shuffle.  We found lanes including the grass and got around the walkers and big crowds and found happy running lanes.  I was very mindful to run her pace and look for any distress signs - I saw none. What I saw was a happy girl, out for a little jog with her friends.  Something I believe we sometimes forget and lose sight of why we started running in the first place.  I would do periodic checks and give her form ideas and things to look for when running. I rehashed the base strategy as we went along and she stuck with it perfectly.  There were no mile marker signs, so we would periodically ask a volunteer how far along we were and she lit up when she was half way, realized she felt great, and didn't feel like she had to walk.  

I kept up the encouragement and it was priceless when we got to 2.25 and she said, “I can’t believe it! I'm going to run the whole thing!”  She started passing teenagers and that made her smile more.  The closer the cheers came the happier she got, and when we came around the corner and so many people were cheering as loudly as they could, I said are you ready?  She nodded and she just took off!! She finished the race with a big smile and said “Wow!” as only a racer would understand.  I helped her walk it out, grab her water and we waited for her friends to finish.  I told her she finished it under 33 min and went straight to her coach to tell her that she ran the whole thing and how fast.  She was absolutely beaming!  It was amazing to witness someone do something incredible for the first time and feel accomplished. 
After the race and we congratulated other runners, she went off to her schools meeting group to receive their medals and swag bags (learning early-running with swag and bling!) and eat ice cream. The coach had given them all nicknames, and each were fitting to the girls.  This was so much more than running, as most runners know.  It is about inspiring girls to find out more about them, to forge their own path and to begin to understand how to work towards a goal and how rewarding that is when they accomplish it.  I ran into so many of my running buddies and friends that day, all of us, sharing the love of running and passing the torch off to the next generation of athletes.  It was truly and honor and a blessing to have done this event and will easily be signing up to volunteer next year!
Cindy and Darby
For more information on Girls on the Run of the Greater Chesapeake please visit:

Online: http://gotrchesapeake.org/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Girls-on-the-Run-of-the-Greater-Chesapeake
Twitter: https://twitter.com/GirlsontheRunGC

Contact: Lara Mish lara.mish@girlsontherun.org

~ Cindy
2 comments on "Dashing Darby and Girls on the Run Program"
  1. I'm so glad that you too had the opportunity to be a buddy runner this spring. I love that shirt and we really did "change a girls' life" by running with them. Perhaps we inspired them to continue to run and stay healthy. I really found coaching so rewarding and I can't wait to do it again. Glad we connected! Deborah @ Confessions of A Mother Runner! Love your blog subscribing now

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  2. Thank you so much!! I'll be following you as well!! ~c

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