Taking Flight, Again.

In elementary school I was the fastest girl runner in my class. I could even beat most of the boys. I would always win the races at field day. I can still remember that feeling of flight when you are running so fast that if you think too hard about it you might lose your footing. Running at that speed gave me so much confidence and power and it was amazing how positive I felt about myself because of it. My elementary school years were definitely my glory days for friends, running, academics and my self-image. Somewhere along the way in middles school, and certainly by high school, I lost my self-confidence. Kids were tough and I couldn’t find my place in it all. I was bullied and girls were mean to me. I became aware of fashion and money which I didn’t have. Boys didn’t think I was pretty and I became very self-conscious. Needless to say, I never pursued running or sports. However, I still always envied my schoolmates on sports teams, especially runners as they looked the strongest to me. By college I strongly believed I was not athletic and I told myself some people are born athletic and some are not. As I entered early adulthood, I was overweight, inactive and depressed but I was still always intrigued by runners and desired to be part of a team.

A tragic family loss of a cousin in 2003 changed my life. My cousin Will Speck, an elite local runner, passed away suddenly. His daughter started the Will Speck Memorial 5K in his honor on Father’s Day. In the early spring of 2005, she sent our family an invite to the 5K and attached the ‘Couch to 5K’ training plan. This was the first time in my life that I realized YOU CAN TRAIN YOUR BODY! I was inspired and motivated. I was now 25 and in a really good place in my life and the timing could not have been better. With the help of my husband, who ran track and cross country in high school, a plan to complete the 5K was made. I was so excited to enter the 5K that I started the training plan that week. At the beginning of the training program I could not run for 60 seconds straight nor run up hills but 12 weeks later, I finished my first 5K in 29:54, and I have never looked back. That finish line was truly just the beginning.

Those 12 weeks of training were transformative, full of both highs and lows. Immense reflection, personal growth and revelations. It was powerful and it was hard. It was the first time since elementary school that I believed in myself again and actually felt worthy of calling myself a runner, a title that I never thought I would have again.

I have to imagine that the 10 week journey that our Girls on the Run program participants partake in is something similar to what I experienced during my 12 week training plan. I see it in their faces when they cross the finish line. Pure accomplishment. Confidence. Joy. I know that feeling all too well now and it means the world to me to see it our girls’ faces. This program begins at a pivotal age and instills confidence and strength where and when we need it most.

I have continued to take flight for 14 years. Running has been the best gift I could have ever given myself. I couldn’t run for 60 seconds in 2003 and this past May I ran a marathon. We were all born to run our own race and Girls on the Run gives our girls a place to do that.

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Jacklyn O'Hara

Girls on the Run RI Executive Director for 4 years. Mom of two strong children. Married to my best friend for almost 15 years and a runner.