In 2015, I signed my daughter up to run with Youth Run NOLA (YRN), little did I know running with Charm would change my life. Here I am thinking I’m signing Charm up for an extracurricular activity; the next thing I know, two years has passed and I’m hip deep in my feelings with a bunch of kids that I now look at as my own!
Recently, I had this realization when I was emotionally rambling to a friend about how great YRN has been in our lives over the last couple years.
Youth Run NOLA:
To catch you up to speed, Youth Run NOLA is local non-profit embedded in the community of New Orleans. Textbook version: Through running, it is the mission of the organization to create and empower active, healthy young leaders. Real talk version: YRN is a badass organization, run by a bunch of kick ass people, that are passionate about investing into the lives of our kids, helping them navigate this thing called life and giving them an outlet through running to realize their potential.
Charm and I started running with YRN in November of 2015, not long after she told me she wanted to start running with me. Our good friend introduced us to YRN after I told him Charm was interested in running. A couple of weeks later, Charm and I were running the Crescent City Fall Classic together. Currently, we are in our third season with YRN. I continually find myself growing in the presence of these amazing young people and kick ass YRN staff.
Charm and I have always felt like a member of their community; we felt like we found a place to belong, TOGETHER!
First, let me say how freaking amazing the people who run this organization. I have grown so incredibly fond of them over the years. Denali, Caleb, Jon, Kat all of the volunteers and amazing people who were just here for a period (I miss you Lea) have truly become my friends! They are amazing people for being so genuinely invested in the kids they are working with. You can tell when someone just has a job for the sake of having a job, and you can tell when people really love what they do. These people love working with our kids. Since the first race we ran, Charm and I have always felt like a member of their community; we felt like we found a place to belong, TOGETHER!
It has meant the world to me that they took the time to get to know Charm and be genuinely interested in what she has going on. Even with many other kids running around, she was not just a face, she has always been CHARM.Charm has quite the personality – she loves to entertain. YRN lets her be the social butterfly she was born to be, floating around giving everyone her best performance.
I don’t think there’s been a time that Denali has seen Charm and she didn’t stop to talk to her about how things are going with a genuine interest in Charm’s response. As for Charm, she loves these people. Denali (YRN Executive Director) and Caleb (Program Director) are two of her favorite people. She is excited to see them, loves hanging out with them, and is afraid of disappointing them. Considering I love running so much, it has meant the world to me to find a space that I can share my passion with my daughter, as well as share Charm with these amazing people.
YRN has shown me what Charm is capable of, more than just running:
I’m the coddling parent. Yup, I’m the softy, let Charm get away with murder, baby her because “that’s my only baby” parent. I was the “I don’t think she can do that” or “She’s not ready for that” parent. Prime example, the first time Charm asked to run with me I had the audacity to look at her and tell her I didn’t think she was ready for that. She was 8 and quite capable of putting one foot in front of the other, and she boldly told me “I was born ready”! I knew she was capable of running around to play; I just never would have imagined she would survive three or more miles. Yet, she did and she didn’t stop there.
Charm’s First 10K:
The first season with YRN, I volunteered to train for the New Orleans Rock-n-Roll half-marathon with some of YRN’s amazing kids. During the winter season we train for the half-marathon at different neighborhood parks all over the city, our park is Joe Brown Park in New Orleans East. The first day of training Caleb told me she could train to run the Rock-n-Roll 10k (6.2 miles). I kind of laughed at him and said something to the sort of “Don’t tell her that. She’s not interested in running that many miles”. Caleb was confident that Charm was going to train for the 10k. Before I knew it, Charm was willingly training for a 10k. Coach D made that happen because she trusts him and likes being around him.
Unlike Charm, I was 29 when I ran 6 miles for the first time! Even though I ran track in high school, you couldn’t pay younger me to run more than a couple of miles. Because of how I remember my body and mental felt when I was first getting into running, this made me so ridiculously proud of my 8-year-old. Since that first season, Charm has gone on to run three more 10k’s and over fifteen other races. One of her favorite races is the Spillway Classic Mud Run.
Charm outside of Running:
YRN showed me Charm is capable of much more than I was giving her credit for. There was so much that I was doing, or wanted to do, that I was excluding Charm from because I didn’t think she was up for the challenge. For example, I love going on hikes and going to rock wall gyms. Those are things I would have left Charm at home for in the past. After we joined YRN, Charm and I made a list of some places we would like to go hike together in Louisiana, we’ve gone on camping trips, and I take her to the bouldering gym.
Charm in Brazil:
We took Charm to Brazil for the 2016 Summer Olympics. While we were there, we hiked up the Corcovado Trail to see the Christ the Redeemer statue. This was a pretty steep peak for her; she was bouldering rocks on ridiculous vertical inclines close to the edge, my heart almost stopped watching her make it up. It was amazing to watch her get up to the summit. Charm has developed into my adventure buddy. I parent her as needed, but in our free time we try to adventure when we can!
YRN has shown me what I am capable of while running:
Before signing up to run with Charm and YRN, I was aimlessly running. I was enjoying running and pushing new boundaries, but I wasn’t running with a purpose. All I knew was running made me feel better, and the endorphins were addictive. I had trained myself to run a 5k and 10k, but I hadn’t put much thought into goals past that. After our first Crescent City Fall Classic in 2015, I can remember Caleb mentioning the need for adult volunteers to run the winter half-marathon season. I was in awe that some of these kids would be running a half-marathon. For many, this wouldn’t be the first time for some of them!
These kids dominate:
I was sitting there on the track thinking to myself how amazing these kids are. Immediately, I knew I needed to train with them. If they had the heart to get out there and brave 13.1 miles, I wanted to be with them! That year, I was fortunate to train with Maxwell and Destiny to run the half-marathon together. Destiny was running his THIRD half-marathon that year. This was a young boy in high school killing 13.1 miles like it was nothing. Mind blown for me because I couldn’t fathom doing this at that age.
My first 13.1:
Training during the winter season with these kids at Joe Brown Park was one of the most motivating experiences of my life. Each weekend we were tacking on more and more mileage. At the time, 9 miles would be my longest run! In the blistering cold and the wrong pair of running shoes, it was one of my most brutal runs; I thought my legs were going to break, but it was so easy to stay motivated for the kids! This is the mental space YRN gave me.
Witnessing these kids get up bright and early on their Saturday mornings, dedicated to training for a half-marathon, taught me to push harder than I had ever wanted to push physically. There’s a concept in YRN, that as an adult, I’m supposed to be there to mentor the youth, but these kids mentor me as well. That first half-marathon Winter season solidified for me that as long as I was physically able, and as long as kids were out there running, I needed to run with them.
My first 26.2 and beyond:
If it were not for YRN, I probably would have never had the push to run my first marathon either. It was at a Gala with Denali that I had the initial thought to run a marathon. After sitting and listening to a bunch of old guys discussing their marathon experiences, I said to myself “I can run a marathon”; so I did! This year for my second winter season with YRN, I set out to train with Destiny and Maxwell again. While they trained for another half, I trained for my first full marathon. Ten months later, I am now training for my second marathon as part of the Dopey Challenge during the Walt Disney World Marathon.
YRN and running has helped me hone in on my passions:
YRN showed me how passionate I am about being involved in the lives of kids; motivating, encouraging, and supporting them. Professionally, this has been monumental for me. I am an educator at heart, and I work at a university in academic support services. Naturally, I love helping young people. I’m not necessarily built to be in the classroom, my passion is working with students “behind the scenes”. I love helping young people realize their potential, equipping them with the resources, and encouraging them to pursue things they are passionate about. Seems like that is one of the biggest reasons I love being with the YRN kids.
From working in education, I have learned that students need a lot more than what is provided in the traditional classroom. I am a firm believer that it is the extracurricular activities outside of school that will truly mold a young person. Our babies need constructive outlets to channel their energy with good people who are invested in them, YRN is that. Volunteering with this organization is a win for me all around. I get to run, spend time with my daughter, and spend time with all of these amazing kids that are so full of potential.
They also helped me realize how passionate I am about volunteering whenever I can and donating my time, energy, and skills to others. I’ve never volunteered with an organization as rewarding as YRN. Volunteering with YRN made me realize that service has to be an aspect of my daily life. It helps balance out all the many things that are negative in the world. And I am quite positive that it has done the same for Charm. She has always been a kind and considerate, but I see her compassion for other people growing in the last couple of years.
YRN taught me to say “why not me”:
After volunteering with YRN for our first season, I randomly received an email from Denali. I opened it thinking it was some updates of upcoming events. Instead, it was an email asking me if I had any interest in serving on their Board of Directors. I was immediately shocked and honored that she thought of me as a potential board member. Sadly, my initial reaction was also “why me?”. Being a Board Member wasn’t on my radar.
Here I was just enjoying the kids, loving running with charm, and making new friends. Unfortunately, I was doubting myself and what I could contribute, past just showing up with Charm. Denali’s desire for me to be on the Board of the organization that I had quickly grown to love…meant the world to me. The fact that she wanted my voice as a parent meant the world to me. I realized I was doubting myself.
I was always doubting:
- I want to run a full marathon: laughs at self – yeaaa right! You could barely make it 13, 26 will surely kill you.
- I want to qualify for the Boston Marathon one day: laughs hysterically – you could never get fast enough!
- I would love to run the Dopey Challenge at Disney World: you’ve got to be crazy to think you could survive 4 races in 4 days including a full marathon.
But now, I welcome the challenges that I would have doubted myself in the past. Now that little voice in my head has the attitude of, “Hold my shit and watch me work”. Unapologetically badass!
This past weekend, Charm and I ran our third Crescent City Fall Classic together. Although, it seems like I love running with my daughter way more than she loves running with me these days. Nevertheless, something about her reaching out to hold my hand one mile into the race means the world to me. I often ask Charm why she likes running with YRN. Strangely, her answer is always “I don’t like running, but I like hanging out with you, Denali, and Coach D”. You know what, I’ll take it. Charm could come out here and skip, dance, and hop the entire race and I wouldn’t care one bit, so long as she’s enjoying herself!
I think everyone should find an organization to volunteer with doing things they are passionate about. I was lucky to find an organization that allowed me to run while working with kids. The real MVPs of Youth Run NOLA are the kids. Even though I am volunteering to work with them, they are the ones that have changed my life and motivated me to be a better, stronger, more disciplined human, mother, and runner. Thank You, Youth Run NOLA.