Sunday, April 29, 2012

B.S. that got me P.O'd and what made it all go away

The content of this blog entry has changed drastically since I originally started writing it earlier this weekend.  I had a grumbling little commentary all prepared to gripe about every little thing that was bugging me at the time I sat down at my computer.  My Friday at work was just plain old crappy.  I got dumped on and chewed out and I was a jerk to a few people in return.  My mood, my attitude, and even my food was just awful.  Friday is supposed to be the happiest day of the week for working folks but I could not muster up the strength to get remotely excited about the two days of free time ahead of me.  By the time I exited the parking lot and turned my car in the direction of home, I could only fantasize about my comfy pajamas and the corner of wine still left in a bottle I started on a few days ago.  An early bedtime and a dinner of Fruit Loops was on tap, as long there was still milk in the refrigerator.

I shot a text to my bud Steph about my sub-par workday and she responded with an invitation to a dinner of Tex-Mex food with good friends.  The company (and the margarita) snapped me out of my funk before I had too much time to truly wallow in it.  The rest of the weekend played out in similar fashion.  There were a number of celebrations on tap, including a graduation party.  It was for my cousin who just finished up her graduate studies after a long struggle of balancing career and motherhood while pursuing her dream.  There is something magical about seeing someone reach a huge goal after overcoming obstacles.  It is kind of like being on the sidelines at a race when you see that dazed and exhausted runner with scraped bloody knees cross the finish line with absolutely nothing left in their energy stores.  The race to get there is never graceful but those final steps across the finish are still filled with glory.

Of course the Saturday morning runs with my buds is always a consistent highlight of my weekends.  No matter how badly I want to be pissed off at random B.S., the time spent with the running divas seems to always diminish the enormity of whatever crap I allow to sour my mood.  The previous weekend my bud Sherry came up with the idea to solicit our little running clique to donate old running gear to my teen girls running club.  I put out a message on Facebook asking for old discarded running gear, in hopes that some of the ladies would be doing some spring cleaning and might need to unload an item or two out of their closets.  My hope was that I could gather a couple of running gear pieces that could be passed on to my Go-FAR girls.  A couple of worn tech shirts and few pair of old running shoes is about what I expected.  After all, running gear is expensive no matter what budget you are on and giving it away can be even harder.  If anyone was willing to part with any small amount items I would have been appreciative.

But true diva fashion, not only did they clean out their closets, they loaded enough items into my car that I had trouble closing the back door fully.  It was far more than I ever expected anyone to do for my small cause.  I got all wimpy and mushy when I took this photo.  Not caring what was actually in the bags, I was emotional just looking at the entire pile.  This was a lot of stuff.  It hit me that these women took time to give to a group of teenage girls they had never met, but the kindness of their actions was overwhelming to me.  Yes it might have been stuff they no longer used and would have tossed out eventually.  However, the fact that they each trusted me to get it to some stranger who would use it and love it as much as they did warmed my heart and unraveled my previously bad mood for good.

My Go-FAR girls don't ask for much.  They just want a stress free run twice a week in good weather with an adult guide (me) that won't judge them or criticize them, and will stay with them every step of the journey.  They know absolutely nothing about this little donation project, so they will be completely surprised when they see all the items at our next group run.  I would love for them to one day meet the ladies that were behind all the donations.  I share stories with them all the time about my running friends and how we support each other on and off the running path.  I use my friendships with my running buds as the model for the Go-FAR club.  They don't realize it now, but I see how these teen runners have bonded as a tight knit little group with every run, very much the same way I have bonded with my pals over time.  Maybe it is the sweat that bonds us to each other or maybe it is all the tough miles we cover together.  Whatever it is, I know it is solid enough to hold us together for whatever miles still lie ahead of us.  My students, hopefully, will one day feel the same way.  When they realize the power of those friendships, I would like to think they will pass on these same values to next generation just as I have to them.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


First off, I must apologize for my long absence from this blog.  I have missed my little writing escapes through this outlet, but things will soon get back on track.  I have been extremely distracted for reasons that would take me from now until next month to list on this page.  One of the major distractions has been the addition of a new running club to my schedule.  It is a club I created and named Go-F.A.R., which stands for 'Girls Out For A Run'.  Damn, I hope no one has trademarked that name yet or else I am in trouble!  You may recall me saying that I have worked in education for the majority of my career so a lot of my more creative ideas have always revolved around something teen or 'tween related.  This little venture is very specifically aimed at teenage girls.  It is not meant to be competitive or stressful.  Go-F.A.R. is truly an outlet for girls looking to learn more about the benefits of recreational running.

Working with teenagers can be challenging, exhausting, sometimes fun and sometimes heartbreaking.  Teenage girls are sucked into a vacuum of pressures and unattainable standards that can affect them in ways that could break even the best of us hardened mature adults.  However, as educators we sometimes are able to find unique avenues to help the kids see their future potential in the sneakiest ways.  I work in a high school setting that has a high pregnancy rate, high dropout rate, and a high amount of influence from gangs and street violence.  Some of my kids are affected by these negative  influences, but an even higher amount of them are not.  Most of them have an incredible sense of community and latch on to anything that positively impacts their immediate surroundings.  However, they are not exposed to as much as students in more affluent areas of town.  They don't see much outside of their neighborhoods.  I have caught the look in their eyes when they listen to me brag about my marathons and some of the fun running trips I have taken with friends.  They seem fascinated by the most mundane details about my races and behave as if training and running their own road races is a far off distant dream.

For a very long time, I sat on my ass wondering how the girls at my school would react to the creation of a social running club.  Would they sign up?  Would they be willing to deal with the heat?  Would they freak out from all the sweating?  Running in the neighborhood where I live is easy.  We have nicely paved running trails, well lit sidewalks and clearly marked crosswalks at busy intersections.  When I need to, I can buy new running shoes from nearby athletic apparel stores and have access to several running pros in my network of friends to answer any questions on my mind.  There is also an abundance of running clubs and groups to meet up with so you never have to go it alone.  Running where my students live is not so easy.  There are far fewer sidewalks and the vehicular traffic is unpredictably dangerous.  My kids' parents don't have a lot of disposable funds to blow on expensive running gear for fickle teenage girls.  Nevertheless, I was determined to give this venture a try with slim hopes that at least 10 girls would be interested in joining.  

Fast forward a couple of months and I now have 35 girls in my club.  There is a waiting list for additional memberships.  I had to stop accepting girls because the numbers were growing too rapidly for my one set of  eyes to watch them all safely on group runs.  We meet twice a week after school and never run more than 3 or 4 miles at a time.  We have no budget, no gear and no t-shirts.  All we have are a couple of low traffic running routes I was able to carefully map out with a lot of help from the girls themselves.  I was honest with them when we met for our first run together and told them they were my guinea pigs in this experiment.  I explained how the program would be bare-bones and we would figure it out as we went along.  They did not care about all that in the least.  They were too thrilled to get out and do something together that any one of them was too afraid to do on their own.  

After our very first run together (only 2 miles), I was panicking that they would complain about the heat or the fact that I kept nagging them to drink water the whole time.  Surely they would drop out and stomp away from the club forever once they realized how much work running can be.  Would you believe none of that happened?  They returned to the school at the completion of that first run with tomato-red faces, sweaty clothes and multiple mosquito bites...and they were beaming with pride.  I was astonished at how they absorbed that first run so well.  In the time that has transpired since that first day, the girls have grown close and supportive of each other in ways I did not notice before.  We have a safety rule on the runs that no girl is ever left behind.  Everyone must have a "buddy" of sorts that they stick with and check on in case they need to slow down or walk.  They also seem to be following this rule away from our runs, too.  I have observed the girls doing the same thing in the hallways and in the classrooms, as they encourage each other and keep pushing their buds to do better.  No one gets left behind.  They seem to be taking this to heart.

My girls have made me so proud of them because of the smallest changes they have made.  They make every effort to avoid D-hall and finish up after school tutorials just so they can make it to our group runs on time.  Some of the girls are drinking water during the day for the first time ever because they say soda and juice doesn't hydrate them well enough.  One student in particular gave up her beloved Hot Cheetos because she felt she needed to make better choices for her pre-run snack.  If they are already making changes like this in the few short weeks we have been running, I can only imagine the impact it can make in the years to come.  I was a fully grown, allegedly mature adult when I starting running and it impacted my existence for the better immediately.  The women I met through a running club have become some of my closest friends.  I relish the time I spend running with my buds because it makes me feel happy and strong, and gets me closer to becoming the kind of person I want to be.  Could my students also experience this same feeling?  I hope they do and maybe more.  From the start, my goal for these girls was for them to simply give running a try in hopes that it would encourage them to take better care of their bodies and spirits.  Who knows if it will work or not, but how "far" they choose to take it is entirely up to them.