- Founder, Girls on the Run West Sound
- Avid Trail Runner
- Mom to Grayson the Great & Andrew Shepard (Grayson & Shep), pictured above
- Started GOTRWS In The Bedroom She Grew Up In
A Million Dollars
Rachel Bearbower and I go way back. Way, way back. "We met in Ms. Pugh's class. We were 5th graders in a 5th/6th split," Rachel explains. "I feel like for me [the moment we became friends] was when we did the "What Would You Do With A Million Dollars?" project. I thought: "this girl’s cool." We both wanted to go to Egypt. It was like, alright, we’re going to be friends because we’re going to Egypt. I think for a really long time, I truly believed that we were going to go to Egypt." When I remind Rachel that there's still a possibility of that happening, Rachel laughs and agrees as we continue down the gravel-lined trail.
Rachel has invited me to meet her at an unmarked forested spot in Kitsap County for a walk. This hidden gem is tucked way near some power lines and the trail itself is a miles-long stretch of gravel path; the remains of an old logging road. Rachel swears me to secrecy about it as we meander through towering cedar trees, and I'm only too happy to oblige. "That's what makes it a hidden gem, right?" I say. "Not many people know about it." Her two pups, Grayson & Shep, bound off-trail ahead of us. The birds are chirping, the mid-morning air is fresh, and the sun is peeking out behind clouds.
It's the perfect day for a walk in the woods. And an interview.
Rachel Bearbower has GRIT
After graduating from Washington State University (WSU), Rachel, 32, moved to Boston where she worked for a financial organization. It was during this time that Rachel discovered both a passion for running and for volunteering with Girls On The Run (GOTR), a national organization that started in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1996. (Now GOTR has chapters in all 50 states.)
Moving back to Kitsap County, Rachel's hometown, was "the biggest shock. It was definitely not part of the plan." But once she was firmly rooted again, Rachel started the West Sound chapter of GOTR serving Kitsap, Mason, & Pierce County. "I started it in the bedroom that I grew up in, which is kind of hilarious," Rachel laughs. She found community members to join in, from coaches to teachers to friends of friends who, as Rachel says, "were interested in taking a chance, taking a risk on this concept and believing in what could happen, because at the time [GOTR] wasn’t something people were really familiar with."
As Rachel tells it, in the beginning she knew every family who signed up, every coach, every kid's name, every kid's birthday. Now, she still knows most of the coaches but not all of them. "The connections are growing; there's a ripple effect taking place. I take pride in that I don't know everyone and everyone still has a deeply rooted connection to GOTR."
Rachel's drive for GOTR? Watching women empower each other; watching the relationships that women are making with each other, from serving on the board together to coaching. As the social climate has evolved, so too has Rachel's drive. "I am very passionate about women having equal rights and making sure that we are treated fairly," Rachel says. "I think that starts with giving our girls the confidence to know that they can be whoever they want to be and they are just as good as anyone else. And just because they’re different, that’s okay."
"Being Naive and Overly Confident Pays Off Sometimes."
"I don’t think I could have ever comprehended how GOTR was going to take shape, but it’s been beyond my wildest dreams. It's surprised me how fast it has grown. There were times when I didn’t know if we were going to make it to that next phase and somebody pops up and says here you go; here’s the money or here's the volunteer you need. People really step up."
So, where is Girls on the Run West Sound in 2017?
The organization is currently running programs in 20 schools serving 3rd through 8th graders. There are two programs: Girls on the Run serves 3rd-5th grade & Heart and Sole serves 6th-8th grade. Rachel anticipates that they'll be in upwards of 25 schools in the fall.
How It Works: The teams meet twice a week after school for 10 weeks. There's a fall season & a spring season. Two to three coaches are assigned to each team of approximately fifteen girls. GOTR is curriculum-based around "teaching girls life lessons to be successful as they continue to grow. We use running as the vehicle to teach these lessons. They're training for a 5K that culminates at end of each of those 10 weeks: one in December and one in June."
As we pass through an expansive and open meadow full of lupines, I ask Rachel where her love of running came from. Her response surprises me.
"I was not ever a runner. I would sit on the opposite side of the field when we had to run the mile, all through elementary school. Mr. Eklund, our P.E. Teacher, would call from across the field: "Rachel. You need to get up."
I stop walking on the trail and turn toward Rachel in disbelief. The Rachel I remember from those elementary school days was an athlete, a soccer player. Rachel shakes her head. "I was very vocal in hating running. Very vocal. So. Fast forward…I was living in Boston and was there for the holidays and there was a Turkey Trot. I was like okay, I feel like I could do this running thing. It was hard but it was kind of cool. By December 10th I had signed up for the Boston Marathon, just a short two-and-a-half weeks after running my first 5K. So in less than four-and-a-half months I started training for the Boston Marathon. We use the word run lightly: run/walk situation. But hey: finishing. Finish all of them."
For those who, like me, are also confused by the term ultra, let me quickly explain. An ultra, in terms of running, is anything over 26.2 miles (a marathon). When Rachel moved back to Washington, she dated a guy who ran ultras. And one day when they were on a run together, he bolted up a mountain.
"I thought, 'That's crazy, and this whole thing is crazy.' Then I went to a 100 mile race that I still volunteer for. I was talking to a couple of girls who also volunteer there and who have become really close girlfriends and they said, “Oh no. He runs up the hills, we hike up them.” I paused and thought, "oh. I could totally do that." So we hike up the hills and run the flats and the downs. I'm a back-of-the-pack'er as they call it in trail running. I don't run fast but I have endurance."
But the beauty of trail running for Rachel isn't found in the racing, it's in being outside, decompressing, building strength, and meeting people. "I loved that my feet would take me to these really cool places, places a car couldn't take me."
We near the end of our loop trek back the way we started, underneath the power lines. Grayson & Shep continue to run ahead of us with passionate abandon, both of them flashes of fur weaving in and out of dense undergrowth. I ask Rachel what her big dreams are for GOTR. On this, Rachel couldn't be more clear: "I want to serve more girls. I want every girl to have the opportunity to participate. I'm working every day to make sure the pieces of that puzzle come together because this is a really powerful program and it can make a difference."
Rachel truly is a mover and shaker in the Kitsap community, and I admire her dedication and drive in making this world a better place for young girls and communities alike, one run at a time. I'm grateful to call her friend. And maybe, just maybe, we'll make good on our ten-year-old selves' dreams of going to Egypt. One day.
Learn more about Girls The Run West Sound by visiting: https://www.girlsontherunwestsound.org/
Rachel’s Tips for Trail Runner Newbies:
Start out slow. As Rachel says, “You don’t have to run up the mountains. Just go for a run. Maybe it’s an interurban trail or a flat trail near your home and eventually start working your way up. You’re not going to be running up and down mountains on your first try. That’s not how it works.”
Invest in a really good pair of shoes.
Make sure you have your Ten Essentials if you’re going somewhere remote. You can run with a backpack on.
Bring plenty of food and water.
Above all: keep yourself safe. “It’s awesome to go and experience the woods,” Rachel says, “But be smart about it."