Big, Strong, Beautiful, Bold: Sierra’s Story

by Molly Barker 14

Girls on the RunI live and breathe in the world from the view of an eight year-old girl. I just love kids.

When I started Girls on the Run, the obesity issue wasn’t much talked about. That was sixteen years ago. As anyone who reads the news knows… it is much talked of now. Couple this with the eating disorder challenges young girls face, and the landscape can get very confusing. Our culture’s extreme emphasis on appearance, coupled with shame for not fitting into the appearance norm is, I believe, a contributing factor on the issue. I will admit right here and now that I am not an expert in the field of nutrition. The issues are very complex for sure!

The further I get down the Girls on the Run road, the more awed I am by the passion and commitment of the Girls on the Run volunteers and staff around the nation. (If this is the first time you have heard of Girls on the Run…please read on. We need you!) Many of you have your own stories of feeling left out, shamed or hurt when you were little girls (and boys), but all of you have used that pain, shame, and healing to create safe havens on playgrounds, in rec centers and school classrooms, all across North America. Where little girls as young as eight can open up, share their hearts, their fears, and their hope.

I am reminded of Sierra.

Sierra was in fifth grade. Sierra was a big girl — some of the other girls in her class called her fat, lazy, and ugly. When Sierra read her big sister’s magazines, all the models were thin, beautiful and sexy. They all had really nice cars and didn’t have to work when they were fifteen. All those actresses wore makeup, smoked cigarettes and confused her because her Grandmama, a good strong woman told her, “That stuff isn’t good for you,” but Sierra thought maybe if she tried it she’d be beautiful too.

Sierra was in Girls on the Run.

Girls on the runTwo thirds of the way through the 12-week program the girls get a chance to practice a 3.1 mile run or walk. Sierra did not believe she could do it. While the majority of girls in the group were running by her, I could see Sierra look on with envy. “My body can never do this.”

While Sierra had stubbornly drudged through two miles, all of the other girls had finished and were already socializing on a nearby picnic table.

Among them was Jordan. Jordan was the fastest runner. She was thin and in third grade. Jordan always finished first. Jordan noticed something special on that day. She noticed that Sierra had gone further than she ever had. She walked to the edge of the track. “Sierra, you’ve gone further than you ever have. Come on now, you can do it,” she yelled joyfully.

And in that moment, I witnessed a light — THE light — sparkle in Sierra’s eyes. The realization that “I can do this” transformed her stroll into a jog, her attitude into a kick, and her body into a machine. With every ounce of her being, Sierra started jogging first, then running, huffing and puffing every step of the way. She smiled with each step, moving that big, strong, bold body effortlessly around the pavement.

Before the last lap was complete, all 14 girls had joined her. She had done it. The body that never would–could. A smile, as big as California, stretched across that beautiful, sparkling face; sweat glistened on her brow.

Girls on the run GOTR 5k

On that day, Sierra took her body back. She took it back from the magazines, from the movies, and from the MTV images. She took her body back from the teacher that told her she was lazy, and from the girl who called her fat. Big. Strong. Beautiful. Bold. Her body was her body, and she took it back.

I don’t believe there is much more I can write. This story makes me cry every time. This story makes me feel the power of our work, and fuels my desire to move the world in such a way that all of us… every last one of us… can realize that we are all strong, big, beautiful and bold.

I guess sometimes it just takes a few of us longer to realize it than others. But if ya don’t mind… let me remind you, right here and right now… that yes my friend, YOUR body is strong, big, beautiful and bold… just like Sierra’s. Strong, big, bold, beautiful and yours.

Molly Barker is the founder of Girls on the Run International, Athleta's charitable partner. A four-time Ironman Hawaii finisher who holds a master's in social work, Molly combined her passion for sport, her counseling and teaching expertise, and her research on adolescent issues to develop and deliver the first Girls on the Run® curriculum to 13 girls in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1996. The innovative, experiential program combines training for a 5k event with life-changing, confidence building lessons that enhance the physical and mental health of 8 to 12 year-old girls. Today, Girls on the Run is offered in over 150 cities across North America and hundreds of thousands of girls and women’s lives have been changed by the program. Learn more and get involved at »