Erin and I started FBG to make working out and eating right fun and accessible to women of all shapes and sizes, no matter where they were on their fitness journeys. FBG isn’t about being perfect, but about being real, laughing at yourself often and really enjoying a balanced and sane life. And we always thought that once we had a readership that was large enough to make a difference (and hence some funds to contribute) that we’d give back. Well, I’m happy to report that that day has come. It’s giveback time! You guys already know that I’m running the marathon for SoleMates to benefit Girls on the Run (GOTR), but we wanted to do a little bit more for the nonprofit after-school running program for young girls that uses running to transform the way girls see themselves and their opportunities. That’s why today’s FitStars interview is with Molly Barker, the founder of GOTR. Molly is totally inspiring. She’s a four-time Hawaii Ironman triathlete with expertise in counseling and research on adolescent issues. Her organization is truly changing the mindset of young girls and introducing them to the positive powers of running. The GOTR program combines training for a 5K event with life-changing self-esteem enhancing lessons that enhance social, physical and mental health in 8- to 12-year-old girls. It’s amazing. If you have a daughter this age, I highly recommend you see if there’s a GOTR chapter in your area. Read on to learn more about why Molly does what she does, her thoughts on the “boy box,” how she stays so motivated and what’s next for GOTR! (Plus, details on how we’re giving back with your help!)
- FBG: According to your bio, you got the idea to start GOTR during a sunset run in 1993. Where did you get the idea and how has it changed from that first spark?
- MB: At age 11, I stepped into the “Girl Box.” The Girl Box is a place many girls go, around middle school, where morphing into what they think they should be becomes more important than just celebrating who they are. For years, I struggled trying to conform to the standards and lifestyle defined by the Girl Box. At age 32, I hit bottom. On the following day, July 7, 1993, while out on a run, I had an epiphany. About mile four of that run, something dramatic happened. I felt complete, whole and “in-powered” and knew that from that step on, I would do everything in my power to help girls and women recognize and achieve their greatest human potential.
- FBG: How does GOTR help girls break out of the Girl Box?
- MB: The messages of the Girl Box vary, but the overarching theme comes from a culture rooted in the belief that girls and women must conform to a set of standards that are unattainable and dangerous to our health and well-being. “You’re not smart enough,” “You’re too smart,” “You’re not thin enough,” “You’re too fat,” “You’re too loud,” “You’re too quiet,” “You’re not pretty enough,” are a few of the more well-known Girl Box messages. Girls on the Run educates and inspires third- through eighth-grade girls to stay true to themselves—to discover a life free of the Girl Box, where they can say, “I AM enough and I belong just the way I am.”
- FBG: In GOTR, you obviously focus on running. Why running? And why is the 5K at the end of the program so critical?
- MB: For me, running is the sanctuary in my day, when I am free of any expectations or judgments. Running can serve many purposes. Time alone, time with friends, time to think, time to NOT think, time to train, time to relieve stress…the list is as long as there are runners! What I do know is, it represents something unique for every girl in our program…running has no meaning to her, until she gives it meaning. That’s what the curriculum provides for the girls. An opportunity to explore the Girl Box and give running meaning beyond competition or cardiovascular functioning. The end-of-season New Balance Girls on the Run 5K is the dot on the timelines of their lives to mark the experience and to provide for them a lasting memory…a memory they can engage the next time they are afraid, lack confidence or are challenged. “If I can do this 5K, just think of all the other amazing things I can do!”
- FBG: How has running and working out regularly changed your life? How has it affected your confidence?
- MB: My relationship with running has evolved over the years. In my teens, it was a space of self-discovery. I learned the capabilities of my body, a gentle understanding of how my breathing, pace and lifestyle were all connected. In my twenties it served as a vehicle to meet people…a social life. Running also provided for me a feeling of comfort and “power” in my skin. I liked the effect it had on my appearance and this provided for me the self-confidence I needed to navigate first jobs, new cities and the singles scene. In my thirties, I stepped “off track.” I was competing in Ironman-length competitions and I lost sight of the joy and found myself running from my problems rather than toward serenity. Running became a crutch rather than a strength. I could numb out on the endless hours of training. And now in my forties, my love for the sport is full-force. I run every other morning, before sunrise, listen to my feet scuffle through autumn leaves and feel grateful for my body, my age and the place to which running has carried me.
- FBG: Most of our readers are out of their teenage years, and many serve as role models for younger girls. If you could give our readers a few words of wisdom about what they can do for the younger generation, what would it be? Do mothers with daughters play a special role?
- MB: I think we all need to celebrate, honor and embrace our gifts. This includes speaking kindly about ourselves and others, avoiding gossip and verbal name-calling, and standing up for ourselves. Consider this question and then make a decision based upon your answer: Does this person/situation/circumstance honor, respect and elevate the ME of who I am…or does this person/situation/circumstance demean and limit the ME of who I am? Conversely, am I honoring, respecting and elevating the YOU in someone else? While I won’t always be “right on” with my response, this has been of great value in keeping me on center and true to myself.
- FBG: Here on FBG, we’re all about working out to feel better about ourselves no matter how big or small our fit bottoms are. How do you stay so balanced and focused when it comes to fitness, and do you ever have a day where you just don’t feel as fit as you’d like?
- MB: OH yeah. I travel quite a bit these days, and I’ll have to say, if I go three or more days without a good sweat I can start to get a little bit…oh, how shall I put it…mean. Even on the road, I try to hit the hotel fitness center. Thirty minutes is all it takes now and then to keep me motivated and “upbeat” for my day!
- FBG: GOTR obviously focuses on girls, but do you think that boys can get stuck in the “Boy Box?” Do you talk to your son about the same issues you address in GOTR?
- MB: Absolutely! Boys AND men definitely have their boxes. I do believe they are different. Boys’ stature in the world is based on material success, athletic prowess and sexual conquests. As with my daughter, I want both of my children to get past the value we place on external measures and celebrate, honor and respect people for the gifts and talents they provide in this world.
- FBG: Anything new in the works for GOTR? For you?
- MB: I’m currently re-writing our curriculum. It is important that we remain relevant to the girls we serve!
- FBG: What are your favorite forms of exercise?
- MB: Running, cycling, weight lifting.
- FBG: Any final words of advice for our readers?
- MB: Based on the fact that I am 49 years old, my sixth-grade daughter Helen, is getting a huge kick out of the fact that I am being interviewed by ANYTHING with “fit bottom” in the title. She isn’t sure whether to laugh out loud or be embarrassed by it. Ahhh, the angst of adolescence and having a “fit bottomed” mother.
Helen, be proud! Your mom is awesome! And because we so believe in this program, we’re donating $1 for every comment—up to $500—on this post. So comment away, dear readers! It’s for a good cause!!! —Jenn
Update: A big thanks to New Balance for offering to MATCH our contribution, making each comment worth not just $1 but $2! Girls on the Run is nationally sponsored by New Balance, Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes, Secret and Goody, and SoleMates is sponsored by Horizon Fitness.