Thursday, August 23, 2012

Dirty Girl Profile: Lucy Arnold, Aged 14

When I first met Lucy at Route 16 this past March, I didn't know what to think. Here was this beautiful young person who looked like a teenager, but whom sounded like a very educated and wise adult, far more wise than myself, truth be told! Though she spoke quietly and in measured tones, her passion for running was beyond evident. I knew in my soul that she was meant to be a part of Dirty Girls. She'd been running less than six months when she first came out for our Sound To Narrows training group. She placed first in her age division at this race, and then went on to place first in her age division at the Rock N' Roll Half Marathon and at the Tacoma Narrows Half Marathon. She impressed me very much as a runner, but she impressed me even more as a person in the way she encouraged other runners, educated herself about the sport, and the way she tried to really listen to her body, even if that meant not running as hard or as far as she wanted to go. Later, as her younger sisters Isabel and Olivia began to run for the first time (inspired by the transformation of their big sister) she was their most ardent cheerleader and fan. Though Lucy is young, she struggled in her earlier years with trying to fit in at school, a struggle that no doubt fuels her running now. While I admire Lucy so much as a runner, I would admire her just as much if she finished dead last in a race. She is a living embodiment of courage and strength. Read on as she discusses her running, her early struggles, mean girls, bullying, how to reach teenagers, and so much more! Oh, and please know that Lucy wrote this WITHOUT any help or editing. Because you will find yourself wondering how it's possible that a person her age can sound this way. That, I tell you, is the Lucy Affect!
1) You make running look so easy and effortless. Does running ever feel hard to you? If so, when? What goes through your mind when you're having a tough run or tough moment? What keeps you going? What do you say to yourself?

Running continues to get easier and easier for me, but there are still times that are harder than others. This is often when I am running in harsh conditions (namely heat, snow, wind storms, and heavy rain) or when I reflect too much on   how much farther or longer I have to go to complete a run. When these things happen, I concentrate on how great I will fell when I finish and how much stronger it will make me. I always think that the pain or difficulty is only temporary, and that the accomplishment and glory will last forever. Another thing that helps me through is thinking about the athletes and people that I admire, and some of the things that they had to overcome to get where they did.
2) You just took up running this past year, correct? What inspired you to begin? Do you have a history with other sports? How did the effort of running feel in the beginning versus how it feels now? 

When I began running in the fall, I was doing it for several reasons. I have neighbors who are avid marathon runners, and I was always in awe of their fitness and the love they had for their sport. Also, I wanted to run because I knew that it was an excellent way to increase fitness, and this had become very important to me. I was desperate for an activity that would strengthen my whole body, for I was trying to recover form a bad spiral of unhealthy weight loss. Aside from not always eating enough, I had developed a bad habit of obsessing over certain exercises. There was even a point where I would do sit-ups for sessions of over an hour, at least several times a week. People were starting to worry about me, and I knew that I had to act fast if I was going to get healthier. After reading that weight-bearing exercises like running could help to rebuild muscle and maintain bone mass, I decided that it would be a good replacement for my previous exercise routines. I had hardly any experience with sports before this point and had never enjoyed running very much, so it was definitely hard at first, but as I worked up my endurance it got easier. It all began with running one mile every day for a week, and then the next week it was two miles a day. Very gradually, I worked up to higher mileage, but becoming passionate about my new activity happened very quickly.

3) What advice would you give to a person looking to take up running for the first time? 

I would tell a person who was taking up running for the first time to start at their own level and to ignore any fears or insecurities. I have yet to meet anyone who was an Olympic caliber runner the first time they went for a run, and I know that I never will. Just getting up off of the couch to run is a victory, and the pride that you will feel once you've finished will be worth the difficulty. Begin slowly and at your own pace, and notice how it gets easier as you stick with it. Soon you'll be making friends with other runners, and it is likely that you will receive admiration for taking control of your own fitness.
4) What do you like best about running with the Dirty Girls?        

I love running with the Dirty Girls because of all of the support and encouragement that is given to all of the runners. It is such a friendly and wonderful group of people, and I have found that I have much in common with many of them. The trails are also one of my favorite places to run, because I enjoy the diversity of each run and feeling so connected to nature.

5) Tell us five things we don't know about you:

 1) I follow a whole foods-plant based (vegan) diet and love cooking healthful meals.
2) I live right by the water and my family sometimes paddles our canoe to Blake Island from our home.
3) I'd love to travel the world, but also dream of attending a top-tier college when the time comes.
4) I am passionate about health, proper nutrition, and fitness.
5) The friends that I have made through Route 16 and the rest of the running community are some of my dearest.
6) What do you like to do for fun when you're not running? And what makes you laugh?

When not running, I love to read, cook, or do other exercises for my core and strength. Writing is another thing that I enjoy. I usually laugh when people around me say or do funny things or something random or unexpected. My two cats and my dog make me smile everyday.

7) Lucy, you inspire us so very much! Who are your heroes and why? 

First of all, my parents are heroes. They both work hard each and every day to sustain our family. Likewise, the many runners and coaches that I have met through Route 16 and Dirty Girls are my heroes because they give so much to their communities and all overcome odds to take part in the sport that they love. Some of my more personal heroes include Scott Jurek (ultra runner) and J.K. Rowling (author of the Harry Potter series, whose refusal to give up and whose groundbreaking success has opened doors for many other female writers). But in the big picture, I think that anyone who works hard and overcomes difficulty to accomplish something or meet a goal is a hero, as is anyone who makes sacrifices to help others.
8) What have been some key breakthroughs for you in your running training?

The biggest breakthrough was when I actually began to ENJOY running. When I began my training, I ran one mile everyday for a week, and then spent the next month or so doing two miles a day. These runs often felt like a chore, but I kept doing them because I was determined. In January, however, when we were snowed into our house and our street was coated with ice and snow, I realized that I NEEDED to run because staying inside was driving me crazy. So, despite the conditions, I ran three miles for the first time, and was thrilled with every minute of it. It was that day that I learned that running was to be a lifelong passion. During the following weeks, I worked up to four and five mile distances and became even more in love with the sport. Finding Route 16 and the Gig Harbor running community made things even better, for I learned about technique, pacing, proper shoes, and the importance of a diverse training routine. Now that I was able to run trails, hills, and different routes all over Gig Harbor with other runners, my speed and strength improved dramatically.
9) What advice would you give to us adults to that might help us to help the teens and young girls in our life feel more self-confident and more comfortable with taking on new challenges or trying something new? 

I think that the best way to encourage teens and young girls is to inspire them, but also to support them. At my age, it is very easy to feel insecure and to feel like you have to be "normal" in order to have a chance of being accepted. Now that I have learned that it doesn't have to be that way, I'd suggest that adults help the teens in their life by letting them know that they are loved the way they are and by encouraging them to be themselves. Once teens (or any young people) are more confident, odds are that they will be more open to trying new things (like running) or taking on a challenge. Also, it helps if a teen has someone to do the new activity with them, because then they won't feel so alone and might be more driven to do their best.

10) The first time I met you I remember thinking to myself, "Wow, she looks like a teenager, but she sounds wiser and more mature than me!" Everyone I know has this reaction to you. When you look back over your life, what are some key things (events, people, books) that have influenced your goals, interests, or values. 

Before first grade, I lived much closer to Seattle and my life was, on the whole, very sheltered. I didn't take much notice of the fact that my parents were working very hard to move our family into our current Port Orchard home. I also didn't work very hard to prepare myself for the new school experience that I was going to have, so our move seemed very sudden. We literally packed the family car with the few necessities that would fit and left our old house. The next morning, I went to public school for the first time as I began first grade. As we had moved over only the day before, I knew no one and felt out of place in such a loud, busy, new environment and was scared. Looking back on that year and all years of that school that followed, I'm aware that I never truly lost that sense that I didn't fit in or belong with the other kids, but I did come to value the ability to be myself. Luckily, I did have some wonderful teachers who did much to nurture and encourage me. Because of them, I developed a love of learning and working hard, along with an urge to always do my best. I especially credit my love of writing to the two teachers I had for fourth through sixth grade, who provided me with all of the support and lessons about technique that I needed to become a better writer.  My life at home was mostly peaceful, until I was ten, which was when my Grandma Teddo came to live with us. Though I loved having her around, it was hard for me to cope with her problems with my dad (and his with her) and how worn out my mom was from taking care of her nonstop. Our relationships became tense, and because I was dealing with mean girls at school, I became more insecure, but I was comforted by books that took me to faraway places and got me to use my imagination (like the Harry Potter series). When both my grandma and my grandpa died that summer and terrible drama over grandma's affairs arose in mom's family, I withdrew further into myself and was extremely hurt by how my own relatives could turn on my family in such a horrible way. My moment of glory finally came at the end of sixth grade, when I was chosen to be a speaker at the graduation ceremony. After that, I felt refreshed and believed that I was ready to take on the next chapter of my life. Instead of going to the local junior high, I had chosen a school that was a combination of home-schooling and public school. I relished the freedom that this gave me, but it wasn't long before I was battling disordered eating and obsession over my body image. My progress was like a roller coaster, but I was finally saved when I started running and when my aunt gave me a copy of the book Forks Over Knives, which converted me to a whole foods vegan diet and made me even more passionate about nutrition and fitness. Route 16 came into my life several months later and the people there have taught me so much and given me such courage and confidence that I now know that I never have to compete with anyone but myself and that it's ok to be different.

11) You are at an age where girls can be mean to each other in so many different ways. Why do you think this happens? What advice would you give to a girl who's a target of mean girls? What advice would you give the mean girls? And what advice would you give to the adults in your life? We want to help, but recognize that our "helping" can sometimes make things worst. What can we do to make things better? 

Girls are mean to each other when they are insecure about themselves, jealous, or intimidated. Any girl who is the target of a mean girl should know that the mean girl's behavior is a reflection of her own problems. In other words, if you are bullied, you are not the one who is the problem: it is actually the bully who has problems. Mean girls should be aware of the damage that they can do, and rather than lashing out at others because they know that they have something wrong inside, they should seek help or find an activity that helps them to relieve their frustrations. Adults who are trying to help need to do so in a way where the person who tipped them off about the situation isn't known by the bully. If the bully knows who told about their behavior, he or she could try to victimize that person. Also adults need to make sure that the conflict is really resolved before they stop paying close attention, since mean kids often go right back to being mean when they think that they are no longer being watched. Most of all, it is important to look at the perspectives on both sides of the fight and be fair in judging both. Bullies and mean girls often have rough situations outside of school and might need help.

12) You have spoking before about being a vegan, and I know you are incredibly well-versed in nutrition. I asked Lori Meisburger this question recently, and we heard things from the adult perspective. But I'd like to hear from a teenage perspective: how do we talk to teens and young girls about nutrition and exercise and without making them feel self-conscious? 

I've found that it definitely doesn't work to force anyone into trying something, be it healthy food or exercise, so it's always best to lead by example instead. Then, the teens and young girls can try it on their own terms and see how much better they feel for themselves. Also, when trying to get young people to eat healthier, it helps to educate them about the benefits for their health, but in a gentle way. As for exercising, talk with them about ways to make it more fun and tell them about any of your sport heroes. Chances are, the athlete that you most admire was not born with his or her ability, and this can help girls and teens to feel less self-conscious in the beginning.

13) What do you want to be when you grow up?

When I grow up, I will probably try to be many different things. What's most important to me is that I'm happy. I'd love to pursue running further, but I also dream of being a writer. With my newfound love of nutrition and fitness, I may also want a job  where I can help people to become healthier in the long term.