Saturday, December 6, 2008

Volunteering - The Greatest Gift

Today was the Iron Girl race. This race means a lot to me, as I ran it with Mom , Lilac, and her mom last year. It’s a great race because it’s all about supporting women of all ages and abilities, and nurturing their desire to be active, healthy, and have strong relationships with other women.
This year, the race had a different, yet equally special meaning, because all of the Girls on the Run schools from Maricopa County were running in it as their big end of season race. It was a beautiful day, if a little chilly, and I just want to share some of the moments.

I arrived (first of course, damn my time issues) to a very dark, but quiet and peaceful Tempe Town Lake. All of the signage and staging that we had set up the previous day were still in tact, which we were nervous about, and so I had an opportunity to stand on our little hill, and serenely breathe in the early morning crispness.

Yeah, that serenity didn’t last long, but it was all the more precious because of it. Our first girl showed up 45 minutes early (and I thought I had time issues).

All of our girls came to the race, which I would have bet money against.

One of my Hannah’s (we have 4) mom came up to me before the race, and told me that her daughter just loves me, and that she appreciates the time and positive messages that I’ve taught her daughter. Her eyes welled up with feeling, and my heart rejoiced that I’ve been able to make a difference with even one girl.

I was in charge of GOTR tattoo application, which means I had the coldest fingers in the park – those freezing cold wet face cloths (and my hands) made the girls shriek and wince, but every single one of them told me it “wasn’t that cold” and I knew that they weren’t going to let the goon get to them today! Even the running buddies joined in on the fun.

Lilac came, and ran with a girl from Clarendon – someone who wasn’t a barnacle, which I think was good, and will build her confidence as a running buddy after what we’ll call the “Laveen Fiasco”.

The girls warmed up, did their favorite cheer (Dynamite), responded to a rousing speech from our head coach, and lined up to start the race. I went up to the Mill Ave bridge where I could cheer the girls on, let them know it was all downhill from there, and count off to make sure we got all of the girls.

First one in, Jamie – no surprise there. She ran a 27 min 5K. Only about 15 minutes faster that I can run one….Then came Megan, and I’m so glad she was smiling, because she had really put a lot of pressure on herself to do well. 33 minutes. Then came … Zora??!! No way! Then Maurissa - I was shocked out of my sneakers! Then Kiley came charging through, with Madison right behind her. Then Abby, Vivica, Hannah, Hannah, Hannah, Hannah, Lauren running her heart out on an injured leg, Sofia, Sedona, Ariana, Landry and Kayla, Alissa, Lissett, Noha way before I expected her, Marissa with her mom, Natalee looking proud, Breannon hanging in there while not feeling well, Gabby looking strong, Aly working it, Erin with her pink boa and crown (her running buddy was similarly attired), Lynsey looking for the finish line, Alondra – I’m so glad for her, she worked so hard! I had lost my voice halfway through, and still kept screaming and cheering. It was, as the girls like to say “Magical.”

“The love we give away is the only love we keep.” Elbert Hubbard

Every single one of those girls was smiling, and radiating vibrantly with a tremendous feeling of success and of accomplishment. It’s something that will stick with me and that I’ll keep in my back pocket when the goon is after me, and I need something to lift my spirits. Their smiles are etched in my memory.

And then there was Tiazhe… last on my list… and never crossed the finish line. Never. After about 90 minutes we started to panic, and had the race announcer calling for her. We checked with the computer guys, and we hadn’t missed her, she hadn’t crossed. Did she get lost in the 10 mile group? Did she and her cousin take off and go to breakfast? I still don’t know what happened.

One of the Bustoz coaches came up to me afterward, and said that she was glad that I was part of the program, and that I made a big difference. I have no idea what I did to deserve that, but it felt great to hear it.

Lilac and I went to breakfast, and there we saw the Hannah that most reminds me of shy, awkward, pre- ‘beautiful butterfly’ Lilac. Her mom mentioned as they were leaving that Hannah had come home right before Thanksgiving and said “Coach Eileen said her Dad puts different kinds of apples in his apple pies, and I want to try that with my pie this year”. The pie apparently came out great, and they’ll be doing it again that way. You can make a difference with even the smallest statements!

This program has taught me so much this season. I’ve learned:

- How to be an Indian, and hold back my inner-Chief, a struggle, let me tell you.
- That I’ve gotten back more than I gave, and that it came in ways I hadn’t expected.
- The ‘I feel, when you, because, I would like for you to’ statements. They really do work.
- There is more to life than whether or not my projects get implemented perfectly, and as much as it feels like it, the fire at my desk is actually not going to consume my life unless I allow it.
- That you can make a difference with every girl - maybe not in the same way, or with the same amount of impact - but every moment with these girls provides an opportunity to give them something meaningful.

“I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.” - Maya Angelou

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