I weighed 150 pounds. I was the tallest and heaviest girl in my grade school. What little self-esteem I had after being mercilessly picked on as the ‘fat kid’ my entire school career so far disintegrated. To this day I can still feel the pressure in my cheeks as I bit down on them in a bid to keep myself from crying in front of everyone. I managed to hold on to a small shred of dignity and did not cry until the bus ride home. That’s when all of the other Fifth grade girls compared and bragged about how tiny they were. And as the last girl proudly confessed her weigh-in results, I felt all of their eyes turn to me. It was Shannon, the largest of the small girls that pressed for the details of my weigh-in. She was relentless, even physically prodding me to confess the number by pinching my fat arms. Even at that young age, I knew my number was shameful.
As a result of my continually diminishing self-esteem I was bullied, teased, overlooked and victimized by my peers and adults. I spent my life trying to hide. I didn’t participate in sports, clubs or activities. And what I did participate in, community theater, I shamed myself into the last row of the chorus at the back of the stage. I suffered from depression, anxiety, anger and even considered suicide on many, many occasions throughout my pre-teen, teen, and early adulthood years. I had no where to turn for help. The bigger I got, the smaller my life became.
While my story is very specific to my adolescent experience, these feelings are not a unique symptom of being a girl. It’s rare that any girl gets through the warzone that is growing up without a few battle scars. Most young women feel insecure about something in their lives and it takes a toll on their self-worth. Many find a source of pride through activities like sports, clubs, community service, or nurturing talents.
But there are still girls like 10 year old me out there. Girls that feel insignificant, worthless and lost. Girls that hide themselves away. I was lucky that after many, many years I realized my value through the life of my daughter. I knew I owed it to her to find my inner strength so that she could harness hers. But no little girl should have to wait 30 years to know how valuable they are to the world. Some of these girls will grow into women that never know their worth and never live life to the fullest. That’s why I’ve picked Girls on the Run as my charity of choice.
Girls on the Run is a program designed to help girls realize their unique inner-strengths. The coaches help participants build character, healthy habits and self esteem. Girls on the Run holds two 3 month sessions a year. Physical activity and learning sessions are woven together to create a curriculum that stresses the importance of team work, supporting other girls and how they can shape and have a positive impact on the world around them. At the end of each three month season, the girls participate in a celebratory, non-competitive 5k race. And because each little girl is just as important as the next, each gets a racing bib with the number 1 on it. As each child passes that finish line, she will know pride and she will realize that anything she wants to do in life is possible.
I wish that Girls on the Run had existed when I was a child. Perhaps I would not have suffered for decades with obesity and low self esteem. Before August of 2011 I was never a runner – unless you count running to the fridge during commercials. My life until that point had been largely sedentary and lacking in motivation. I have finally found my purpose and inner-strength through a healthy lifestyle and running.
In the spirit of the mission of Girls on the Run, in February I pledged to run 250 miles between February 1st and August 3rd to raise money for the organization. Since making that pledge I have run 218 miles, including the legendary 10-mile Broad Street Run in Philadelphia and The Warrior Dash obstacle race. I also hope to one day become a coach with Girls on the Run.
My self-worth is no longer based on the number I see on my scale. Instead my value lies in the number of lives I can change for the better.
Will you help me change the life of a little girl so that she can become part of the next generation of strong women?