Remember those kids who just loved gym class? I wasn’t one of them, and if you were an overweight kid in P.E. you may be nodding your head in agreement as the emotional scars of gym class come back to memory. I’d always been a chubby child and that made me a target for teasing. Gym serves as important time away from the classroom and an opportunity to develop strength and fitness, but for myself and many others, gym was utterly humiliating.
There were many things to dread about gym class: the unflattering cotton uniforms, feeling like everyone hates you for being on their team, and the silent but palpable disdain of P.E. teachers. But fitness testing caused me the most anxiety. I would struggle to complete a few sit-ups, and was completely unable to hold onto the climbing rope or do a pull-up. Even as an adult, the snickering and chuckles from my peers still ring in my ears as I was the last to finish the 1-mile timed run around the track. These and countless other similar experiences had a negative impact on my mental health growing up and left a bad taste in my mouth for exercise. I associated any exercise with shame and punishment, and happily abandoned any physical activity as soon as I was able.
Many years later I have recently made a comeback from my hatred of physical activity and my low self-esteem. After two years of running and a significant 140lb weight loss, I recently ran my first marathon in October of 2018, the Marine Corps Marathon. It took me over 2 years to reach the marathon, and along the way I faced the demons of my past gym class days. But unlike my gym teachers, I focused on my strengths not on my weaknesses. I set realistic goals and celebrated every victory as I hit milestones: 5K, 10K, 10-miler, and half-marathon. When I finally crossed the finish line of the marathon, I broke down into tears of joy and pride.
Any child who is “different” in any way has probably felt similar to how I did in school. When I think about young girls who may be experiencing the same bullying that I did in their P.E. classes, my heart breaks. The running community accepted me in a way I never expected, which sparked a desire in me to give back. When I found Girls on the Run, I knew I wanted to be there for the girl who might feel excluded or the girl who feels slow. I wanted to show them that they are just as valid as the first to cross the finish line.
Being a GOTR coach was incredibly therapeutic for me. I always made sure to remain positive and non-judgmental to all the girls on my team. I treated the girls how I wished I was treated in my gym class. If a girl wanted to walk for a bit, I offered to walk with them. One day one girls’ ankle was hurting so she wanted to stay behind. She asked for me to stay with her, and we simply sat in the grass picking up flowers and talking. She confided in me about her struggles with the other girls at school, and told me about her family and how much she loved her pets. I was so happy to be there as a listening ear for her and honored that she felt she could trust me.
I grew confidence in my own fitness as well through GOTR! Due to the endurance from my training, I could choose to keep up with the faster girls, or enjoy a leisurely run-walk with the back of the pack. We sometimes played games similar to ones I remember in school, like the running version of Sharks & Minnows. I was proud of myself for being able to keep up with the girls’ sprinting, and I loved gathering the minnows into a circle for us all to strategize on how we’d beat the sharks! It touched me to play these games and feel like a kid again. I developed new memories to replace the negative ones from my childhood.
Being a community coach for GOTR is not only tons of fun, but the girls may teach you things about yourself and your own childhood. I feel so lucky to be a part of an organization that aims to provide a safe space for the pursuit of fitness. The GOTR coaches and curriculum is so improved from what I experienced in school. Witnessing this huge change in approach and attitude towards our children instills hope within me for the future of happy, healthy, confident women.
Constance actively volunteers for women and girl empowerment causes in Montgomery County, including coaching Girls on the Run at Mill Creek Towne Elementary School. Constance was recently featured on WTOP to discuss her weight loss and fitness journey, and her training for the Marine Corps Marathon. You can read more here: https://wtop.com/marine-corps-marathon/2018/10/farther-beyond-that-finish-line-md-womans-first-marathon-part-of-her-weight-loss-journey/.
If you are passionate about empowering girls, we would love for you to become a Girls on the Run coach! For more information, visit https://www.girlsontherunofmoco.org/Coach.