I have had the privilege to serve as a GOTR coach for four seasons. There is a lot I enjoy about being a coach that I expected. I expected to love spending time outdoors running with the girls and I do. I expected to forge really special relationships with the girls and with my fellow coaches and I did. I expected to shed a tear or two at every 5K and I still do. But there have also been some things that have surprised me and those surprises have been really special.
Surprise #1 – I started out being really excited about what we could teach the girls – four seasons in, I am amazed at how much I learn from the girls and our lessons together. The messages of positive self-talk, being a good friend, and believing in yourself are a life long journey. Frequently when I was preparing or delivering a lesson, I would realize that it was exactly the lesson I needed at that particular moment. At one practice in particular, I was distracted by a difficult conversation I had that day with a colleague that had not gone well mostly because I had responded before fully considering my approach. The lesson that day was on the importance of taking a breath before responding in emotional situations. Pay attention coach! I needed that reminder. It was encouraging to hear the girls internalize the lesson and offer examples of how they would use the lesson to handle difficult circumstances. I went home after that practice with a few tips from the girls.
Surprise #2 – Being a GOTR coach has made me fall in love with running again. It has reminded me how much goodness running has brought into my life. I never participated in athletics in high school. I was a skinny bookworm with asthma so I didn’t quite fit the “natural athlete” profile in my own mind. I never thought I was “good enough” to participate in a sport. I started running in graduate school as a way to manage stress. I did my first marathon several years later and then I was hooked. Over the last 25 years, I have run 13 marathons, 25 ½ marathons, and lots of other great races. Running made me believe “I can”. It gave me the gift of confidence, grit, determination and the ability to see myself as an athlete. As I started my first season as a coach, I was growing weary of running and enjoying it less. Seeing the girls run and grow through the experience of training for and completing a 5K has reminded me of why I love running. I am again grateful for the fact that running changed me in all parts of my life, not just on the track. My wish for the girls is that they have this same experience.
Surprise #3 – It is really tough to be a young girl today. This shouldn’t have been surprising, but seeing the reality up close had a real impact on me. There are so many exciting possibilities, but also so much pressure to look and be a certain way, to make friends, to do well in school, etc. As someone who does not have children, I have been amazed at just how much is happening for the girls in and outside of practice. I believe in the messages and approach of GOTR and have seen it make a real and meaningful difference. One example stands out in my memory. During my first season there was a girl who seemed a bit quiet in our group. She didn’t always participate in every lesson and didn’t seem to like to run much. As we approached the 5k, she and I started to have a few more conversations about the coming race. She asked me to be her “running buddy”.
As we ran together that day, she shared with me her dream to be a doctor. She also shared with me some of the lessons she took from the season. She may have been quiet during the season, but it wasn’t because she was not paying attention. She got it all. She was working hard during the race and as we got close to the finish line she looked up at me and said, “Coach Sarah – I can’t believe we are almost to the finish line. If I can do this 5K, I can do anything!” I nodded and said “Yes, you can.” Who wouldn’t want to be a part of making a special young girl believe she can do anything?
Register today to be a volunteer coach at a GOTR site near you this fall! https://www.gotrchicago.org/Coach