Open Your Heart: Becca’s Story
I’ve been at Girls on the Run for 16 years now. The program has grown from 13 girls in 1996 to serving over 120,000 this past year.
That’s a lot of growth.
There are so many factors that go into the growth… strong infrastructure, strategic planning, detailed logistics, wonderful and authentic women leading our efforts both in the national and local offices, and loving and passionate volunteers.
But this morning as I write, I’m finding myself rest within a strong sense of wonder – a delightful space of being – wondering what’s really going on beneath the surface of all that amazing and beautiful growth.
I am reminded of a visit I made, not so long ago, to a group of our Girls on the Run girls in Bentonville, Arkansas. The girls there were in the middle of their practice 5k. It was a very windy day, their little bodies would push through the strong headwinds, and would then wrap around each lap with the delicious tailwind pushing them from behind. Every one of them finished. Their coaches used streamers rolled out as finish line tape. Every girl got to break through her own finish line, arms lifted, hearts soaring.
When Becca was done, she walked over to me, her face flushed, her hair blowing in the wind.
Becca is in the fifth grade. She wears glasses and her eyes are tender and kind with the slightest twinge of sorrow. She pulled me aside.
“I want to tell you how much Girls on the Run means to me.”
“Why thank you Becca.”
“Yes, my mom is very sick and I can get very sad. She has Huntington’s Disease. When I think about that, I feel tears inside. But when I come to Girls on the Run, everyone here lifts me up. When I am down they help make it all a little bit better.”
We stood there for what felt like an eternity… the only words exchanged between us were those I heard in my own mind, recalling the tender touch and words of my own mother. The wind whirled around us, its powerful embrace holding us close to one another, in this moment, this experience, this memory I share with you now.
I hugged her. She hugged me back.
The following night, a minor league baseball team hosted Girls on the Run night at the local ball park. I had the privilege to throw out the first pitch.
Becca was there with her mom and dad. I met them both. Her mom was in a wheelchair, quite thin, the illness had weakened her body, her ability to talk and walk, but her eyes… oh her eyes… alive, powerful, and direct.
“Your daughter was very open with me today at Girls on the Run about what’s going on at home. I applaud you two, for raising such an empowered young woman. Her ability to share her thoughts, fears and strengths as she did with me indicates a very strong sense of self. She is quite a love to be reckoned with, and as she grows up I can only imagine the inspiration she will be to many others.” I told them.
Her Dad placed his hands on his wife’s shoulders. “We’ve been very open with her,” he paused, took a deep breath, looked Becca directly in the eyes and said, “frankly, we know no other way.”
The sun was setting, long brilliant rays of its last light, pierced the black clouds of an approaching rain. I wanted to yell, scream, shout… pound my fists at the approaching storm. Why? Why? Why?
But then I did the only thing I could do, I asked Becca if she would help me throw out the first pitch.
“Sure,” she said, “I’d really like that.”
We threw out the first pitch as Becca’s mom and dad watched. My guess is this will be her mom’s last trip to the ballpark.
As I write now, I think about the literally hundreds of thousands of girls involved in Girls on the Run, and the stories unfolding in each of their young lives… their willingness to share them with me, their coaches, and our Girls on the Run family. They sprinkle them like the petals of broken flowers along the cobblestones of our own life’s path. What a privilege it is for us to share this journey with them. I am so, so, grateful.
And now… here I rest comfortably under the blanket of my own life, these folds of wonder wrapped around me. The candle I light every morning flickers, burns, shines, and fills the dark room. On this morning, I lovingly hold Becca in the power of this moment. I ponder… wonder… wish to know why we often stop feeling so free to share ourselves… why we stop trusting… why we hold back these beautiful opportunities to connect with our sisters. Why we are so afraid to say, “I am hurting, I am scared, I need you to help lift me up.”
Twenty years from now, Girls on the Run will be woven into the lives of literally millions of adult women. From what I can tell, the world will be a different place then. The shift is already occurring. Becca will be all grown up. Perhaps somewhere tucked into the many memories she will have of her mother, will be the moment we shared on the pitcher’s mound in Bentonville, Arkansas… and if my prayers are answered on this morning, while the candle burns here in my living room in Charlotte, NC, she will, with the same vulnerability she shared with me on the windy day of her practice 5k, seek out one of her sisters and say once again, “I am hurting, I am scared, I need you to help lift me up.”
Rather than trying to figure out what’s going on to bring about all that program growth… to name it, and label it… I’ll just be joyful and open to all this beautiful wonder… and smile knowing that it is in the joyful sharing of our own hearts where real growth, the kind that matters most, can happen.
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 GirlsontheRun.org »