Running to Empower Girls in Underserved Communities through Sports

Kathryn Egizi, Head Coach, Emerson College  @ECwomensLAX

We sat around a table in a one-room office filled with racks and boxes of sweatshirts, t-shirts, and sneakers. All of our eyes were on the woman addressing the group telling a story about why a coach from Boston needed uniforms for her girls’ basketball team. The coach had told her that currently her girls’ team played their games immediately following the boys’ games, which is when the sweaty teenage boys would go in the locker room, take of their uniforms and the girls would have to put the smelly, soaked jerseys on to play their game that was set to start minutes later. This, she told us, was the moment behind the inspiration for her new mission. She then went on to explain the cost of various basic items required to participate in sports down to simple running sneakers or a single soccer ball. Speaking to us was Linda Driscoll, Founder, President and CEO of the non-profit Dream Big! whose mission is to empower girls and young women from low-income situations by providing them with the equipment, uniforms, sports attire, athletic footwear, and program fees needed for them to participate in sports and physical activities that contribute to their health, education, and overall well-being. As we listened to Linda tell stories of the thousands of individuals and teams whose lives Dream Big! had impacted, I knew that I had chosen the perfect team with whom I would run my first ever Boston Marathon. Linda then asked us to share “why” we wanted to run for Dream Big! and my answer came very easily to me – I am who I am because of sports, and I believe that every child, regardless of economic status, should have those same opportunities that I had.

Photo Courtesy of Emerson Athletics.

This meeting of our Dream Big! Marathon team took place in December of 2016 and I am now onto my second training cycle as a Dream Big! Marathon Team member and will be running this April with Dream Big! across my chest. I have learned an incredible amount over the last 2 years being part of this organization that has helped me to be a better coach and person and felt it was my duty to pass on a little piece of the experience with my lacrosse community.

  1. Sports are expensive. I never spent much time thinking about every expense put into my athletic career over the years, especially considering that I chose two of the most expensive sports to participate in – lacrosse and ice hockey. Every skate sharpening, new stick, tournament fee, piece of gear I HAD to have, all went into my ability to play. Even training to complete 26.2 miles requires at least 3 pairs of quality running shoes going for upwards of $100 each! Hearing about girls not able to compete because they don’t have proper footwear or enough balls to run a practice has helped me find new gratitude for the funds my parents invested into my sports and also in the budgets from our athletic department and institution that allows us to compete.
  2. No single day will define you. Some people get caught up obsessing over the bad training run they had and begin doubting any chance of ever making it to the finish line. Others have a great run and then make the mistake of setting unreasonable expectations for race day or pushing too hard in training and getting hurt. Every run is just another part of the experience helping you to grow and learn. The same goes for our teams. We don’t cancel the season because the whole team collectively cannot catch a ball on the same day, just like we don’t get the National Championship trophy when the stars align and we beat a ranked team with more talent than us. Each day is part of the process.
  3. Teammates are more than friends. Training for these marathons has reminded me of the special bond that comes with teammates. While as coaches we are important members of our teams, there is something about being a teammate that surpasses other relationships. Every Saturday morning, our Dream Big! Team, along with 13 other charity teams, meets in Newton to complete our marathon training runs led by some amazing coaches that guide and inspire us every week. While I don’t always run side by side with teammates throughout our run, the support, camaraderie, and inspiration we provide each other pushes me every week. This team has given me so many new friends from various backgrounds and experiences all bonded through a common mission and passion. Something about this shared drive and experience connects us and creates a love like family that is pure and inexplicable.

      Photo courtesy of the author.
  4. Success is a high worth chasing. Training for marathons is reminding me of my love for being the absolute best possible version of myself. It truly is empowering in a way I never totally appreciated as a collegiate athlete. The feeling of running further than you ever had before or getting to the top of an unreasonably steep hill or mastering a dodge or beating your team’s run test for the first time builds confidence and self-love that I have only ever found through accomplishing athletic goals.
  5. Sometimes a bathroom is a partially hidden spot next to a dumpster. We like to pretend this is not a reality, but the truth is, that in anything, “stuff” happens! Do what you gotta do, laugh about it, and  move on.
  6. ASK! I have never been good at asking people for money or help, so when I was pledging to raise $8,000 last year for Dream Big! I was very nervous. The generosity and willingness of so many friends, family members, colleagues, and even strangers to give from a simple ask was overwhelming to me. Not just that, by telling the Dream Big! story, people not only wanted to give money, but they were thanking me for running and for raising money for an organization whose mission resonated so much with them. People are kind and giving when you give them the opportunity. Especially in this women’s lacrosse community, there are so many resources to take advantage of, but the first step is to get up the nerve to ask!
  7. Surround yourself with your best squad. Training for a marathon and raising thousands of dollars is hard enough, but when the bulk of this happens during your entire season, things can get extra challenging. My assistant coaches over the last two seasons have gone above and beyond to enable me to get all my runs in throughout our busy and unpredictable season. My team has come to know and love “loopy Kat” as I am now known when coming to practices or games post 13-21 mile runs on Saturdays. And of course, my friends and family have donated over and over again to my fundraiser and supported me throughout the long runs and on Marathon Monday across all 26.2 miles. In any journey towards a major goal, no one can find success alone. When I cross the finish line, I may be crossing alone but I have an amazing army that carried me to get there. Our successes are the culmination of our determination and hard work combined with the people we surround ourselves with that enable us to get there.
  8. The women’s lacrosse community is an incredibly special family that we cannot take for granted. The outpouring of support I have received from this community truly speaks to the values and motivations of those involved in this sport. I have had colleagues from across divisions step up and donate, including the coaches I will face in the weeks before and after Marathon Monday. My sister is a lacrosse player at Richmond and shared my mission with her team and the generous support I received from families that saw the value in this organization without ever having met me is truly humbling. And most moving of all, my former teammates and families of teammates have been some of my biggest supporters throughout my journey of training and raising money. One of the most significant things I have learned from being involved in college coaching for the past six years is that when tough times hit one of our members, the lacrosse community steps up, when someone needs help, the lacrosse community has their back, and when someone is successful, the entire lacrosse community celebrates that success. I am very proud to be involved in the women’s lacrosse community.

On Monday, April 16, 2018, I will be running the Boston Marathon on behalf of Dream Big! And I am beyond proud to do my part in this mission to empower girls and young women through sports. I have pledged to raise $10,000 and will continue to work towards this until I have reached my goal. My players motivate and inspire me every day and I hope they are as proud of me as I am of them on a daily basis!

If anyone is interested in learning more about Dream Big! or in contributing, here is the information:

https://www.crowdrise.com/o/en/campaign/dreambigboston2018/kategizi

https://dream-big.org/

 

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