Okcate’s Out and About: Girls on the Run YWCA Tulsa

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Unlike the girl pictured above, (who is rocking those laps!) I’ve never been what some might call a natural runner.

Growing up, I had the distinct talent of falling up stairs, tripping on flat surfaces, bumping into doorways… You get the (very awkward) picture. My feet had a way of growing faster than the rest of my body, and it took me years to catch up and learn how to use them properly.

But at least I was cute???

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They say cuteness helps kids survive; I’m glad because I needed all the help I could get…

I could swim and bike all day long, so not drowning and balancing on two wheels presented no problems for me, but running was definitely hazardous to my health.

In the past decade however, the theatre, dance, and fitness training I’ve pursued throughout my life has percolated and rattled around in my head and my body enough that, recently, I’ve decided to re-visit that childhood source of embarrassment, running.

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Also embarrassing: that picture in the upper left corner. I was eight. And a Hobbit. Don’t judge me.

My attitude toward running really started to change a couple of years ago with a certain 5K celebration at the University of Tulsa, my alma mater. Girls on the Run YWCA Tulsa (Tulsa County) was in its second season, and I had joined the program for the first time as a volunteer coach to help coach the girls at McAulliffe Elementary.

As an assistant coach throughout the season, I not only encouraged the girls to embrace the runners within themselves, but, at the 5K, I also got to experience the thrill of participating in a group running event for the first time in my life. The girls, their family members, and coaches were all there––all running and cheering each other on!

I finally understood why people train for and run marathons, 5Ks, and fun runs. They are uplifting and empowering, and folks are pulling for each other.

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The GOTR girls and me, training up.

As the YWCA Tulsa website states, “Girls on the Run is a transformational physical activity based positive youth development program for girls in 3rd – 8th grade. We teach life skills through dynamic interactive lessons and running games. The program culminates with the girls being physically prepared to complete a celebratory 5K running event. The goal of the program is to unleash confidence through accomplishment while establishing a lifetime appreciation of health and fitness.”

And it also teaches the coaches a great deal about life as well. It is full of lessons about self care, being kind to yourself and others, discovering your potential––lessons we sometimes forget as the adult world becomes increasingly demanding.

Since the fall of 2013, I have completed three 5Ks, a half marathon, and a 6.2 mile leg of a marathon relay that I ran with my YWCA Tulsa coworkers! The relay is the event I’m most proud of to date, as it was the first time I did not walk/run, but ran the whole way!

Granted, some of it looked more like glorified jogging, but I can confidently say that I did not walk it. And I finished within my goal time, which, considering my last month of training got derailed by my mom going into the hospital, was quite the surprise.

It was good day, if I do say so myself.

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Mentoring the GOTR girls and working with inspiring coaches who bring their experiences to the table has been a truly transformative experience for me. I am glad we can be there for these girls to share in their successes and hardships, all the while encouraging physical confidence and helping them build self-esteem. 

Girls on the Run provides a safe place for girls to share their thoughts on their emotions, relationships, aspirations, and fears. It provides an opportunity for these girls to discover athletic potential they may not know they have. GOTR encourages, and it teaches the girls who, like I did, do not believe themselves a “natural runner” the tools to train up for an event that will prove that belief false.

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It gives them goals to work toward and personal bests to strive for. This spring, two of the girls who finished last in previous 5Ks came in close to the middle of the pack this spring! They were welcomed at the finish line by coaches, family members, running buddies, and their teammates.

“Girls on the Run’s mission is inspiring girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running. The vision of Girls on the Run is to envision a world where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams.”

Keep an eye out for this chapter of Girls on the Run International in the next few months. You too could selfie it up with Volt, a Girl on the Run, and her running buddy (which in this case, was my sister)!

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And of course we got our faces painted, because, you know, theatre kids…

YWCA Tulsa will host its first ever Girls on the Run Community 5K in August. Be prepared to see a whole bunch of empowered girls with their running buddies––sisters, moms, dads, brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends––supporting and sharing in the success of these great girls.

Maybe I will see you there, or perhaps you’ll join us to find out, firsthand, how transformative this program is, for the participants and volunteers alike.

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