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Jenna Wolfe: Girls should be encouraged to pursue athletics

Jenna Wolfe grins at the camera as she races in a 2011 Girls on the Run 5K, an event that pairs adult
Jenna Wolfe grins at the camera as she races in a 2011 Girls on the Run 5K, an event that pairs adult

There's a good chance I came up with the concept of Girls on the Run, a non-profit that helps preteens train for a 5K, when I was in fourth grade. I was a wide-eyed, incredibly energetic tomboy whose favorite "subject" in school was Phys Ed. (Don’t laugh.) I truly spent the majority of my brain cells trying to get my girlfriends to run around with me outside. Instead, I played with the boys by morning, skinned up my knees by day, and by night, listened to my mom ask me where her daughter was. 

I didn't really fit in. 

By my preteen years, I was still athletic, but at my school, it was uncool to run around, uncool to break a sweat, uncool to be athletic. I was laughed at by the other girls, stared at weirdly by the boys, and once again -- I felt different from everyone else. I didn't know where I belonged.

I never quite fit in as an athletic young girl growing up, but I’ve always been that way. I played sports in high school, as well as in college. I was a sportscaster on TV for 12 years before coming to TODAY. I’m also a personal trainer on the side. And like many athletic women, I just plowed my blind way through the world, feeling on my own as a young female jock.

So when I was first introduced to Girls on the Run, a youth development program that uses running to motivate, inspire and instill in preteen girls a sense of self-esteem, confidence and a healthy lifestyle, I warmly embraced this amazing group of women. They do such important work. They impart wisdom, guidance and soul-growth onto young girls who crave it growing up, no matter how socially settled they think they are.

I participated in a Girls on the Run 5K event with a group of girls last year. The way it works is that each adult partners up with a young runner. Of course, I came in looking for which adult was going to partner up with me, only to realize I was the adult. But once we got that settled, I met up with my little athlete and we were off. About a quarter mile from the finish line, she cramped up. So I pulled a “Jenna” and hinted that I'd be happy to carry her to the finish line. (I’m so competitive.) She looked me square in the eyes and said, "If I started this on my own, I'm going to finish it on my own.”

With that, she started walking (limping) to the finish line. And, wouldn't you know it, her friends, who could have easily run past her, all walked by her side to the very end. That’s when it clicked for me, and that’s when I committed to helping this organization out however and whenever I could.

I struggled growing up as an athletic girl. I shouldn't have had to.

Jenna continues to participate with Girls on the Run, most recently by speaking at a fundraising event. The 5K events are open to the community, and many are happening this week -- click here to find one near you!

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