Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Steve Lindsley is curating reflections on a physical faith. How does one practice a physical faith – inside or outside of the church? In what ways can we experience God through our bodies and our communities? And how does movement, of many forms, bind us to a deeper sense of spirituality? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!
by Ashley Armistead
I first started running as a teenager to replace feelings of insecurity with hope. It also fed the need that all of us have to belong and to be accepted. Running gave me a sense of belonging to something greater than myself – much like a church community. It also helped me to relieve stress, deal with my emotions, and generally balance out my life. I have always believed that running develops happier and healthier children. It demands that you bring your best attitude and a positive spirit. Running does not respond to status or appearance, just a big heart and good energy.
When I saw the imbalance of society’s stereotypes on young boys, and the power that running had shown me, I had a sense that running would be a good vehicle for boys to experience, camaraderie, emotional balance, and their God-given potential.
The initial idea for Let Me Run came when I had boys of my own. After becoming a mother and seeing what I had seen in my boys, I was sure that there was something more to being a boy than what society was telling me. What I was seeing did not match with what I was hearing, and I wanted to fix that. For practically my whole life I had been hearing things like, “Boys will be boys” or “What did you expect? He’s a boy!” But I knew that boys were capable of so much more. They aren’t all ruled by testosterone or incapable of growing as people. As a parent it is hard to sit back and watch the ‘Boy Code’ in action. From the ball fields to the office, limiting messages are being sent to males. You’ve heard them: grow up, be a man, suck it up, boys don’t cry, don’t be a sissy, stop being a girl, and always be in control!
I always seemed shocked by these comments, as I know that my boys far surpass me in their caring actions, integrity, and self-control. I became more aware of societal expectations of boys and of men.
I kept thinking about my caring, compassionate, and tough boys. Would they be able to stay spirited and full of wonder?
I want so much for children to be free to experience joy and live into their God-given potential. I want this so much that I created Let Me Run. Let Me Run inspires boys through the power of running to be courageous enough to be themselves, to build healthy relationships, and to live an active lifestyle. The program started with 14 boys in Charlotte and has now served 11,000 boys in 23 states. The volunteers for Let Me Run believe in servant leadership. It is often their faith that brings them to give back through Let Me Run. Seeing their faith in action causes a community to be drawn to such people and learn from their example.
Perhaps the greatest gift in Let Me Run is being side by side with a boy sweating, panting and listening to his boundless thoughts, fears, and dreams. It is sacred to sit with a group of boys after a run and hear the depths of compassion and empathy that our boys are capable of. We get to see boys, “feel more alive,” walk a little taller,” and turn jitters into accomplishment. We get to see what happens when boys are given permission to come together and be themselves. They choose to lift each other up instead of tear them down. They choose to see success for their teammates as improvement. They meet each other right where they are in the moment with no expectations other than to bring your best self. When given permission they naturally create an atmosphere of acceptance and belonging and that is exactly what Christ wants for our community of faith.
Ashley Armistead graduated from Wake Forest in 1991 with a degree in exercise science and University of Delaware in 1995 with a degree in nursing. She spent time working in cardiac rehabilitation and pediatric nursing. While raising her boys, she worked as a school volunteer and with mission and youth at Welwyn Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC. In 2009, Ashley founded Let Me Run in Charlotte, which is now in 23 states. Her passions are running, reading, youth sports, and not cooking.