Girl, 9, asked us to sign her up for Girls on the Run this past Fall - a program designed to instill confidence, body acceptance, and overall empowerment through running. It involved practicing a couple of times a week after school and culminated in a 5K at the end of the season (a week ago). We thought this would be a great idea. She has good endurance while swimming but during soccer games, had the running endurance of one of the people showcased on "My 600lb Life." The Husband was perplexed. "She has our genes!" I reminded him that, yes, and 50% of those were mine.
Practices seemed to be going well and Girl's reports were that she was running further and further. The Husband noted that she was running better during soccer practice.
The GOTR coaches asked for help with the last couple of the practices prior to the big 5K to have enough adults accompany the girls during the runs around the school neighborhood. I happened to be able to get off work early those days and volunteered. I was excited to run with Girl and her friends and see her progress firsthand.
Well, practice was...not what I expected. Of the 7 girls, my Girl was one of those who struggled the most. She had to walk frequently, and when she did pick up to start running again, she looked... as if she was one of the people showcased on "My 600lb Life." Her legs would just shuffle under her, her upper body flopping around in exhausted torment. It didn't actually appear to be running at all. For many of the other girls, it seemed effortless. They waited for the slower ones at the street crossings. This did not bode well for the 5K. We had only covered a course of about 2.4 miles and she walked half of it at least.
At night, I shared the experience with The Husband, who was more frustrated than anything. He thought it was all mental.The genes! I hypothesized some kind of physical deformity preventing her from actually running normally - prepubescent lumbar spine lordosis? Did she have some kind of undiagnosed lung malformation?
For the 5K, all girls needed a Buddy (aka Parent) to run with them. Both The Husband and me registered. We decided that The Husband would be the official Buddy (aka Parent who Walks with Child) and I would just run the thing since a) I needed my workout for the day, and b) I actually had to be at work that morning and could not afford to clock 16 minute walk/run miles.
Girl was very excited. She woke up early on Race Day, had a power breakfast, and we drove 2 cars to the race so I could leave early to get to work. There was A LOT of purple and pink at the Start. So many girls. So many school banners. So many cold parents. (I forgot to mention that it was downright FRIGID). We took many pictures with our numb fingers on our frozen phones.
And then we were off. I thought I'd run with them both until they started walking. There was an announcement made at the beginning that walkers should stay to the right and allow runners to pass on the left. CLEARLY NO ONE HEARD THIS ANNOUCEMENT. Oh the walkers! Walkers and people moving only marginally faster than walkers were everywhere across the lane. We had to dodge and weave like mad just to keep moving forward. Like those old Family Circus comics showing the meandering path of the child from point A to point B. Girl was moving at a good pace and both us worried she would fizzle out soon because of it. But she kept going. We kept passing people. We passed runner parent types who were walking with their children pleading, "C'mon! We need to start running again at some point!" We passed spectators holding signs that read, "Go Parents! You can do it!" (We definitely appreciated that many parents were not prepared to run a 5K. A couple were wearing jeans.) We reached the 2 mile point and Girl was still running full force!
Sometimes, she would sprint ahead and we would run to catch up to her. We were like her bodyguards/personal assistants, taking her hat from her when she was hot and holding her discarded jacket. We ran together, the 3 of us, talking and cheering her on. We turned the corner and faced a hill - we knew crossing this bridge would take us close to the finish. Many people had slowed to a walk on the hill. Girl sped up! She darted around the walkers and accelerated. Then it was all downhill and close to the finish. The crowds lined both sides now, cheering and waving signs. We passed our school supporter group and waved for action photos. They seemed surprised to see us. With less than 20 yards to go, I said to Girl, "I'll race you to the finish!" We sprinted ahead and finished strong. (I let her cross first, of course.)
She ran the whole way! She was bursting with pride, as were we. We would later find out that she was the first girl of her group to finish. Among the last in practices, first to finish.
"You were a rock star today!" her coach announced at their school's small medal ceremony.
Her smile could not have been bigger, and it lasted for days.