That’s not what I was thinking as I left the Girls on the Run 5k on Dec. 11, 2010. I had signed up for the 5K because I was working my way up to a 10K and needed a race that weekend. While waiting in a line, a parent asked me what school I volunteered with. I replied “I don’t even know what this is, I just needed a 5K to run.” She explained everything and I was overjoyed. There wasn’t anything like this when I was little, but I was so happy the program existed now. Regardless of socioeconomic status, it seemed like young girls had the odds stacked against them way worse that anything I experienced as a 10-year-old.
Negative media images, lazy parenting, burnt out, discouraging teachers. No one was there to help them process their daily tribulations. But this program sounded wonderful. It wasn’t just some rich do-gooder. Yeah we need them, but you can’t just throw money at systemic issues. This whole program was developed by an experienced social worker, not some academic with no real world experience.
I left feeling like there was some hope for at least for some young girls in the Baton Rouge area. Over the next four months, I never thought much of the race or the program. I got a nice finisher’s medal, but I was back to the hustle and bustle of daily jounalism and its crazy hours. Then it was over. On April 4th, 2011, I walked into the newsroom and started to work on a story, only to be called into my managing editor’s office and told that my position was being eliminated. This was two months after I had won an award. A month after I was tasked with creating radio promos for the paper. Twenty minutes after I had spent the early morning hiking through a state park with wildlife and fisheries agents, documenting extensive damage that was still in place from Hurricane Rita, which had wrecked Southwest Louisiana. Yeah, it’s that vivid. Up until then, I had been working since I was 15.
As I mentioned before, my family had my back. My parents let me move back home. Journalism doesn’t pay very well, so I hadn’t saved much money. Friends helped me pack and my parents helped me move. When I got everything moved back May 1st, I was at my lowest point. I never thought I’d be in this position. Forget that the nation had record unemployment, journalism was shrinking, and still is, my pride didn’t care. I was supposed to be the exception. I worked hard, you know because companies will overlook all those factors even though they’re broke. Yeah, I was thinking like it was 40 years ago. And I was depressed. I didn’t have my current outlook. I felt like a failure.
I had two and a half weeks to pack and move and during that time, I traveled back and forth to Baton Rouge to get a lot of things ready. And I kept running. It really was part of the blessing. Sitting around wasn’t going to help. I’d just do a bunch of emotional eating and then feel bad. I never felt bad after a run. Even after a bad run, I’d be happy I got it done. That’s how you know depression is straight from the devil. It’s all about doubting yourself and getting you to just wallow in all the bad things and not move forward. It’s also about fear. For the future, for that situation. When in reality, you’re usually overthinking it and working yourself into a frenzy. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” It makes me think a few things (because I believe God is very straight forward with me): 1. Nobody said this would be easy, quit thinking you’re an exception. 2. Anything you’re going through is not unique. Many other people have gone through this and come out of it unscathed. You will too.
To bring this all back around, I was in Baton Rouge at the beginning of May, trying to make myself continue running and continue my job search. I was unhappy and had not had the above mentioned revelations. But I had to keep moving, so I looked for a local race. The Girls on the Run 5k was in a week and half, but I thought I shouldn’t be spending money when I don’t have a job, so I decided to volunteer. From 6-10 a.m., I bounced from registration tables to my position on the course and back. I ended the race encouraging one very unenthused young lady to finish the race. She didn’t. I wasn’t so upset about not being able to encourage her to finish. She was a bit overweight and clearly didn’t want to be there. I was happy that I got her talking and laughing. About school, about other activities and making her laugh at silly stories about what my pets did. She didn’t seem comfortable discussing anything with her white, male running buddy. And he was a great guy.
I won’t lie, that day was just as much about me and my confidence. I never was the chubby girl, but I was the quiet one who had a million neat things to talk about but never did because of some irrational fear. What 10-year-old wouldn’t find it hilarious that my cat was so enthralled attacking his stuffed animal that he fell off the couch? The Girls on the Run program covers important topics like positive self talk, expressing your feelings, cooperation and dealing with peer pressure, but to me it’s also about teaching 10-year-olds that it’s OK to be a kid and telling all the bullies and naysayers to fall back.
I won’t lie, my decision to volunteer as a coach was on a whim. My job search continued with no responses and I didn’t know what was going on with my life. I just felt like I wasn’t good at anything and I needed to try something else. I signed up to be an assistant coach. I wasn’t really ready to run the show. I got to the coaches meeting and was asked if I would be co-head coach because my fellow volunteer was finishing up a Ph.D and would miss some days. Don’t ask me why I said yes.
The first day, I was terrified. I know kids are hyper, and I know I was, but I’m not now. I’m acutally not a fan of any form of loudness. The first semester I became the disciplinarian coach. This term can be used loosely of course. It mainly consisted of making sure they kept their hands to themselves and shutting down negative comments. The saddest part of my first semester was kicking a girl out of the group. She was quite toxic. Once I learned that she inherited her nasty attitude from her mother and the henpecked father just went along with it, my only regret was that I hadn’t kicked her out sooner. I waited until four of the 12 girls told me she constantly made mean and nasty comments before I even gave her the first warning. By the time we talked to the parents, then decided she couldn’t come back, eight of the 12 girls had come to me about her. Had I let them down? I still wonder about that.
Also, I definitely wouldn’t have made it through the first semester without the help of the school’s liaison, a teacher who serves as an advisor and go between with parents. She has been teaching for more than 20 years and keeps my childless self from going off. At a parent, not a child. There are some things that have really gotten to me. But as I wrap up this second semester as a coach I’ll stick to some of the gems.
There is nothing like listening to a 4th grader explain why it’s important for her to not only have a cell phone, but an iPhone and how everyone else has one.
Me: Just because a 4th grader has a cell phone, doesn’t mean they need one
4th grader: my mom said that too.
5th grader: (gasp) you graduated from high school in 2000!?!?! How old are you!?!?!
Me: I’m 29.
Entire group; (GASP) — I guess I should have felt kind of old, but I couldn’t stop laughing at how surprised they were. And well, I don’t feel old.
Listening to one of the girls begin a story with “when I was little, I used to…”
Me: (chuckle) When you were little?
Girl: (now 10-years-old) Yeah! When I was four….(continues story)
The spring 5k is May 5th, you can register here.