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Lighting A Fire

By Minka Misangyi on 07/15/2015 | Featured Columns & Series

Who are all these people? 

A man in a green shirt with “Jasmine’s Running Buddy” boldly stamped cross the back. A cluster of families wearing matching tube socks and their daughter's site emblazoned on their shirts. Parents with tutus and face paint, children donning capes, hordes of people laughing and chatting, giving one last pep talk to their girls before the 5k begins. The sight of them all stops me mid-stride. I don’t recognize anyone. I don’t know who they are, nor they who I am. How strange. How surreal.

During our first few seasons, I knew every girl by name. Which site she attended, her parents’ names. And I recognized almost every face. Our 5ks were small, and I knew who people were or to whom they belonged. As council director, I felt that I had complete responsibility for creating not only a successful program, but the passion it takes to see it flourish. 

Girls on the Run has caught fire. Now, the community owns it, and they’re running with it.

Now, it’s our 5k celebrating the end of spring 2015, our ninth season. There are almost 400 race participants and spectators ranging from family members and friends of the girls to school administrators, volunteer running buddies, members of Gamma Phi Beta and Alpha Sigma Alpha sororities, Black Girls Run and the San Antonio running community. They are here not only because they love the girls—but because they love the impact the program is making in their community, whether they have girls or not. Their passion is evident in their outfits, their shouts and cheers, and their expressions of delight.

This passion is what stops me mid-stride. I sometimes forget how contagious it is. For the past five years our council has focused on building a quality program, training and supporting strong and compassionate coaches, keeping our nose to the grindstone and working hard to spark a movement right here in our own community. We’ve been rubbing two sticks together trying to start a fire. As I stride through the 5k crowd, sights set on the other side of the park, I am still holding onto those sticks. When the tutus and tube socks, family shirts and face paint catch my eye, I realize the flame has ignited. Maybe I can let go. Girls on the Run has caught fire. Now, the community owns it, and they’re running with it.

This intentionality, this ownership of an idea as life-changing as Girls on the Run is so far beyond me, so much bigger than me and my desire to see our council succeed.  

This has been our council’s goal—to see the community embrace Girls on the Run. Yet as I stand in the middle of a field before our 5k watching a crowd of virtual strangers antsy with excited anticipation, pride gleaming from parents’ and coaches’ eyes, a sense of purpose shaping volunteers’ faces, my reaction surprises me. A strange sort of detachment. Not indifference. Not the kind that means I’m not present and enjoying the day (and worrying about every little race detail). But the knowledge that I have nothing to do with this. This passion is not mine. This intentionality, this ownership of an idea as life-changing as Girls on the Run is so far beyond me, so much bigger than me and my desire to see our council succeed.  

What a relief. What a privilege to be a part of it. What a profound joy.

*****

Five weeks later our council holds a volunteer information session. The room is full, with people I do not recognize. 

Where did you hear about our program? We ask each person as she signs in.  

The local news. My friend’s daughter. I was a running buddy and want to do more.

Tell us about your running buddy experience, we encourage one of the attendees. 

The room erupts in smiles as she tells her story of the bubbly girl, the stranger, who was at first reluctant to run, but ran until she discovered she could. The girl who not only finished the race but then turned around came back for her.  

The attendee pauses thoughtfully when she finishes her story, nods her head slowly. That girl can run, she says. And she lit a fire in me.

 

Minka Misangyi

Author

As the Council Director for Girls on the Run of Bexar County, Minka now lives in San Antonio. Minka has a Ph.D. in English and taught composition and American literature, as well as spent several years freelance editing and writing. She is now working on a memoir about how running changed her life.

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