Dedication: The GOTR Staff of Lisa, Jess and Liz

Tomorrow evening, hundreds of girls and their running partners will “rock” the Lehigh Valley Parkway for the Girls on the Run 5K event. We have been working toward this date since mid March, and in that time we have watched our girls increase their endurance and their ability to run. This has been very rewarding as you might have gathered from the “proud coach” photos that grace my Facebook page. For a few of our girls, the 5K will mean they will take off when the gun sounds and never slow down until they cross the finish line. For others, it will mean that they run and take a small break to walk before starting up again. And for a few, it will mean that they take a nice stroll on a beautiful evening. But for all of them it will mean one thing: they will finish.

Finish is the one key word that comes to mind when I think of our team at Washington Elementary. I shared with you last week that we had 20 girls start the program and we have 20 girls finishing it. And for that accomplishment, I tip my hat to my two wonderful partners, Jen and Jackie. Together, armed with a great curriculum, we worked through the highs and the lows of managing 20 very different personalities, and finding a way to prove to each one that she can finish, too.

In our society, finishing something that you started doesn’t hold the same value as it once did. For certain socio-economic groups of kids, there is an option to “quit” one sport, program, or enrichment activity to make room for another one in their very full calendars. This isn’t the issue with most of the girls we coach. They have different challenges pulling at their commitment to a program, which makes their completion of it all the sweeter.

We have been on the other end of the phone with a working Mom who couldn’t get to the school to pick up her daughter on time. The solution? The girls’ two brothers sat outside of Washington every Tuesday and Thursday from 3:15-4:45 and waited for their sister Adrianna to finish GOTR. Tomorrow, when she crosses that finish line with Coach Jen, I hope her brothers know that they cross it, too. Their sacrifice to make this work for her is something that is beyond impressive.

We have had a few girls who challenged us on several occasions with their behavior. And we have had a few “candid” moments with each of them. We have set behavioral expectations and made them understand that if they couldn’t handle them, they had to leave the program. Two of those young women are in my mind tonight. They have fought us hard at different points, but they kept coming back and so did we. And tomorrow they will finish.

We have another participant, Ally, who was originally scheduled to move in early May to Florida. The move was delayed, which means we had the chance to keep her in GOTR longer. But when she started the season, she started with the impression that she would only be with us to train but not to see the program through to the end. Tomorrow, she will cross the finish line and take that victory and the special memories of this program with her as she moves to Florida.

And then there is Chad’s running buddy, Marielly. Yesterday, we were checking to make sure she had a ride to the event. Coach Jen engaged in a discussion with her aunt. Marielly, at different points, translated the responses for us. At one moment, she turned to us and said, “My grandmother, who is not with us any longer, just passed. It is her funeral on Thursday, but after the funeral, my family will bring me to the 5k.” Marielly will run 3.1 miles tomorrow with my favorite guy in the whole world cheering her on, and her Grandmother looking down on her as she finishes.

They will all finish. Every. Last. Girl…all 20 of ours from Washington and hundreds more from Lincoln, Shoemaker, Swain, Macungie, Cetronia and Jefferson, and the list goes on. I will be thrilled for every girl tomorrow, but my heart will soar for our 20 girls. Girls who had many obstacles pop up between the starting line of the season and the finish line they cross tomorrow. Girls who possess a level of resilience and a spirit of endurance that is uncommon for their age. This endurance may not translate to the “fastest time” that is recorded as they cross the finish line. But it is this endurance that got them to the starting line, and it is what will enable them to finish. Every. Last. One.

Girls on the Run International and Say It Forward are committed to the empowerment of girls everywhere. We believe that every girl has an important story to share – a story of determination and perseverance, a story that can inspire others to overcome the self-limiting beliefs that keep them from reaching their fullest potential. We are also committed to empowering the women who invest their time and energy in these girls.

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Jill Helmer