March 3, 2015

On Empowering Young Girls

Last month I played race director for the first time.  My kids' school held their first annual fun run to raise money to buy new technology.  I stepped up to co-chair the event. I was nervous---not only was it my first time being in charge of such a large event pretty much by myself, but as a runner, I know how these events should go.  As a fun run, it wasn't a timed race, but I still wanted it to be as professional as possible. I mapped out a 3.1 mile course and a 1 mile course (we gave both options in  order to maximize the number of participants), got sponsors, ordered medals and t-shirts, had food at the end, etc.  In the end, we netted over $3500 in profit, which made me happy, especially for our first time.  I heard nothing but positive feedback the day of the event and after; it was fabulous and I'm really proud of myself.

But that is not what this post is about.

You see, one of the runners doing the 5k was a 4th grade girl.  To keep her anonymous, I'll call her Susie.  Susie is the daughter of a friend of mine. I am friends with the mom, but not close friends, and therefore I don't know Susie very well.  But when I saw that the mom and Susie were registered for the 5k, I was very happy and excited for them.  I found out that this was to be Susie's very first 5k.

When they crossed the finish line, I was there.  I had my phone in my pocket, and wanted to take a picture of the two of them, to commemorate this achievement.  However, Susie was very upset.  She was crying.  The run had been really hard for her. She had never done 3.1 miles before.  It wasn't a particularly HILLY course, but there were definitely some small rollers that did not make it flat.  And it was a warm day.  All things conspired to make it a hard run for her.

She refused to let me take their picture.

All she kept talking about was how hard it was.  I tried to tell her what an amazing feat she just conquered---doing her first 5k---but all she was focused on was how difficult it was for her.  She simply could not bask in the glow of her accomplishment. It took her quite a while to calm down, and only later, before they left the school, did she let me take a picture with her mother.

While I myself was basking in the glow of MY accomplishment all day, being pleased with myself for pulling off a fun and successful first-time fundraiser, I couldn't stop thinking about Susie. It bothered me that she wasn't able to celebrate her triumph.  I didn't want her to focus on how hard it was. I wanted her to know that BECAUSE it was hard, and BECAUSE she got through it, that made crossing the finish line that much sweeter. I knew that she was at a delicate age---9---and that many girls decide not to try new things, or hard things, because of the difficulty involved.  I didn't want Susie not to run again. Or shy away from something else based on difficulty---real or perceived.

I could not get Susie out of my head.

I know that sometimes hearing from another adult, instead of your parent, who is supposed to encourage you no matter what, can make a more powerful impact.  So I wrote her a letter, and put it in the mail that Monday.  And I wanted to share it with you.  I did hear from both my friend and Susie that they really appreciated it. I hope it helped, and I hope that Susie toes the line of the school 5k next year.

Dear Susie,

I was so inspired by you today after you crossed the finish line of your first 5k. I wanted to take a few minutes to tell you just how awesome you are that you took on that course.  3.1 miles is a long way, and you did it! I know you said it was really hard, and that's true!  That makes you finishing it even more amazing!

I do a lot of races, and often find myself struggling to finish them.  I wanted to share something with you that happened to me last September. I was doing a swimming race, called the Tiki Swim. This was a 2.4 mile swim in the ocean.  Yes, 2.4 mile SWIM---almost as long as your running race today! I had trained really hard for the swim, and felt prepared.  But that day, in the water, I was having a really hard time.  Because it was in the ocean, there were waves to get through, and that day there were REALLY big waves, almost 6 feet tall. I almost couldn't get through them, and I started crying, filling my goggles up with tears.  I almost called a lifeguard over to get me, because I wanted to quit.

Then I made up a mantra.  Do you know what a mantra is? A mantra is something you can say over and over again, to help you concentrate.  And I thought of something right there in the Pacific Ocean that really helped me.  Here's what I made up:

"I'm smart...I'm brave....I'm strong....and I can do hard things."

I kept repeating that to myself, with every stroke that I swam. "I'm smart, I'm brave, I'm strong, and I can do hard things".

And you know what? I finished that swim!  And when I got out of the water I was so proud of myself. I did the same race last year, but this year I was more proud of myself because the waves made it harder this year than last year.  The harder something is to do, the more rewarding it is when you finish.  Whether it's a 5k that is hard, or reading a book with a lot of hard words, or ANYTHING that seems too hard---when you finish, it's something to be REALLY proud of.

Also---next time you face something that seems really hard, think back to your first 5k.  Remember that you CAN do hard things.  Because you've already done something hard.  Because you're smart, and you're brave, and you're strong---and Susie, YOU CAN DO HARD THINGS!

Thanks for reading...and I hope you keep running!



While I'm glad I wrote the letter for Susie, I'm keeping it for my own future use.  It's so easy to lose sight of the sweet reward at the end when I'm putting so much hard work in now. It's true---the harder we work to overcome, the more rewarding it is.


  1. Congratulations on the race you put together! I hope Susie is proud one day of her accomplishment. She should consider Girls on the Run if there's a team in your area. #shamelessplug We build the girls up to a 5K over 10-12 weeks and get them conditioned to running by playing a variety of games :o)

  2. This brought a tear to my eye. It's good reminder for all of us, no matter what challenge we're facing. I hope that this had at least a small effect on Susie. <3

  3. Sugar - you're awesome. And so is Susie.

  4. Wow. Hard to see the accomplishment sometimes. Good for you for the encouragement, hope she draws on it.

  5. What a great letter! Way to empower a young lady at a pivotal time in her life. I have not commented lately, but I am still reading your recaps and love seeing all of your race recaps!


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