RDC Youngers Women’s Project
For the past few weeks, I’ve been a mentor on a project to get 16-18 year old girls to channel their creativity through running. This is the final week and I’ve got to say, I’m definitely sad to see this current stint come to an end (though we do have plans to get them to continue running – more on that later).
Week one, we got the seven girls who showed up to run their first mile. It was a cold, wet and windy day. I was pleased enough with them just coming along, so to see them crank out 1.2 miles was fantastic. It’s always great to see the look on someone’s face when they achieve something they previously never thought they could.
Week two, we had two new girls join the group and we set out to run a little longer. I ran with Neba, who at 16, is the youngest in the group. She’s asthmatic and really struggles with running. At school, we’re basically taught that fastest is best and it’s difficult for Neba to get out of that mentality. On some level I think she feels as though if she’s not coming first, it doesn’t count. But with her asthma, it’s very hard for her to run a distance. I spent the session with her trying to talk her through all those moments where she just wanted to give up (of which there were many). Her monologue the whole time was ‘I can’t do this.’ We had plenty of walk breaks and I decided we really needed to break it down into bite sized chunks.
After hearing her say once again that she couldn’t do it, I said, ‘OK, let’s just run to that tree,’ a good marker which was maybe 30 metres away. After a little persuading, she took off running, she got to the tree and kept going, past one lamp post, then another, all the way to the end of the street. Then she stopped, smiled and got her inhaler out. It was probably less than 100 metres in total, but it felt like a marathon to her. ‘Now don’t let me hear you say you can’t do something,’ I said. We completed the rest of that 1.7 mile run using trees, lamp posts, bins, whatever as markers to run to, then take a walk break.
Last week we had to up our distance again, this time we aimed for 2.2 miles. Again, we had two more new girls join the group – for one of them, it’d be her very first time running. She gave the disclaimer that we all like to give in that situation ‘I’m probably going to die’ (I assured her, she wouldn’t), ‘I won’t be able to breathe’ (you will, I said, you just need to concentrate and do it slowly), ‘I’ll be so slow and hold everyone up’ (I’m slow too and we’re not going anywhere without you, you won’t get left behind, we’ll wait for you).
What was interesting last week, the third week of the project, as compared to the first week – now when the girls walk through the college in their running kit to our meeting spot outside, they’re looking up. They’re not slouched over, trying to hide their faces. In small ways like that, their new found confidence shines through.
We ran our 2.2 miles with far fewer walk breaks, a few of the girls even noting how different they felt from the first week, how they didn’t think they’d be able to run this far. The girl whose first run it was absolutely smashed it and really surprised herself.
As we approached our finish line spot, there was a large group of boys from the college hanging around the area. I wondered how this would pan out, knowing that there’s always potential for young men in groups to say something inappropriate. I braced myself for one of them to make a remark and was ready to jump to the girls’ defense but to my utter astonishment, the boys stood up and applauded – clapped these girls all the way to the finish line. Such a great moment.
This week, our final week, we will run 5K. We’re putting steps in place for the girls to continue their sessions at the college after Christmas and encouraging them to join us for a more prolonged Youngers program at Run Dem Crew, building them up to running their first 10K and incorporating more creative sessions for them to really connect physical activity with the other areas of their lives.
I love doing this work and connecting with these girls. Can’t wait to see how they get on this week and beyond. Watching someone blossom as they run their first few miles, to be there to encourage them with each step is such a privilege. Long may it continue!