As a serious high school track athlete, I can trace my love of running back to my experience with Girls on the Run in 4th and 5th grade. This year, as a junior coach in Maplewood, I was able to help inspire a group of young girls to pursue their own dreams.
When my mom suggested I consider volunteering as a Girls on the Run coach, I didn’t think I was old enough, and I worried that my own spring track season would conflict with the girls’ practice schedule.
But participating in Girls on the Run when I was in elementary school had a tremendous impact on me, so I really wanted to get involved again. Along with being my first real experience with running, I also noticed a huge change in my confidence and overall happiness as soon as I started. It was those feelings that pushed me to continue running at higher levels. I think the message of the GOTR program—empowering young girls through positivity, confidence, and athleticism—is incredibly unique and compelling.
When I realized I could be a junior coach and that I would be able to give both Girls on the Run and my own track season the time they deserved, I thought back to my time on the team. I knew that I would have loved having someone a bit closer to my age coaching me alongside adults. I felt that as a high schooler, I could add a new perspective to teaching the girls important life lessons.
Before I knew it, I was contacting the Essex County coordinator, meeting the other coaches, and getting my team’s materials ready for our season. We decided our team would meet in Maplewood Memorial Park, the same place that I practiced with my old team.
I was beyond excited to meet the girls on the first day of the season in April. I wondered how much of the program would feel the same and how much would seem different to me with more than seven years under my belt.
Simply being back at that same park, for starters, led to some serious déjà vu. Meeting all the girls brought me back to when I was that age too. Some of the girls were shy at first, hanging back and not participating as much as others in group conversations. And I understood them—I too was extremely quiet at their age. I joined a Girls on the Run team during a time when I needed a lot of support, and that’s exactly what I got: an immediate group of friends, an opportunity to exercise, and an outlet where I could be myself.
We ended our first day of practice with a GOTR cheer, a fun way of celebrating either the whole team or a specific girl for doing something deserving recognition. As a group, we chose to do the “banana cheer,” which yes, is pretty much what it sounds like—you literally pretend to be a banana. Peeling, eating, the works. I remember doing that same cheer seven years ago; it was always one of my favorites.
Looking back on the season now, I’m amazed at how much I saw the girls grow. I watched firsthand as girls who couldn’t even run a whole lap without stopping on the first day bounded across the finish line at our end-of-season 5K. I saw the shy girls, the ones who were afraid to participate initially, start leading group discussions. By the end of the season, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride for every girl on the team, and I could tell they were all proud of themselves too.
You don’t have to be a runner like me or even have participated in the program as a kid to coach for Girls on the Run. It’s a truly unforgettable and remarkable experience, one that I’d definitely recommend to anyone considering it. And, come on, where else do you get to pretend you’re a dancing banana just for the heck of it?
If you’re looking for an opportunity to get involved in your community, get outside and move, and meet some incredible girls, I’d seriously encourage you to coach a Girls on the Run team. As one of our most popular cheers goes: “Girls on the Run is so much fun!” And, from personal experience, I can tell you that it truly is.