Sure Smells Like Teen Spirit: Caroline Wilkerson and Grace Ellrodt are Running On Time and on the Right Track

 Grace Ellrodt and Caroline Wilkerson, after a Half-Marathon, 2013

Grace Ellrodt and Caroline Wilkerson, after a Half-Marathon, 2013

Who says the younger generation is clueless? Whether it’s Elvis, the Beatles, Woodstock, Hippies, Yuppies, Generations X and Y, “Millennials,” “Noughties” or Hipsters, the younger generation will always be the same…young.

I laughed when I wrote that because now that I am “old,” it’s a pretty neat thing to find inspiration from “kids.” I first met Caroline Wilkerson when her big sister, Lizzie, couldn't babysit. There’s one word for her: adorable. There’s nothing quite like a healthy, happy, positive and polite teenager, let alone two [three, counting Lizzie] because the same holds true for Caroline’s BFF and next-door-neighbor-for-life, Grace Ellrodt.

 

 Two little cuties. Caroline, 6 and Grace, 4

Two little cuties. Caroline, 6 and Grace, 4

Knowing these two young women somehow calms just about every one of my anxieties about the future. When I am around them I quickly forget “the world is going to hell in a handbag.”

That got me thinking about the younger generation and the fresh perspective these young ‘whipper-snappers’ can provide. In their mind, life is complicated, but their response to it doesn’t have to be. There’s a lot of wisdom in that and it’s easy for grownups to lose sight of this, especially when pressures mount… and pressures always mount.

 Before their prom dates arrived

Before their prom dates arrived

Whether a teenager or an adult, we all lose the plot at some point along the way. It happens earlier for some, later for others. It’s just part of being human. When we get sideswiped, blind-sided, knocked off track, we all need to be able to call upon simple practices and healthy patterns to bring us back to center.

Being around Caroline and Grace reminded me of this at a time in my life when I was losing my ability to navigate with ease. Life’s obstacles were mounting at an astonishing rate and I was struggling to keep pace, despite sticking to healthy patterns and truly enjoying the benefits they bring. 

I confess, finding a refreshing new perspective on my life and its many hurling asteroids from two teens wasn’t exactly where I had expected to find a eureka moment, but I did.  

Teens don't hold all the answers – no one does - but they do have a way of distilling things that is refreshingly honest and cuts to the chase.

We were all teens once and then we ... grew up. How do we get so bogged down as adults? I suspect an oversimplified answer to that is that as grownups we have more responsibilities and sometimes we end up dealing with too much all at once, never stopping to breathe, just breathlessly moving from one “thing” to the next.

The lives of teenagers are by no means less complicated than the lives of adults. They have plenty of curve balls thrown at them, too, and many of those curve balls are not the direct result of their own choices. Teens, however - unlike many adults who are strapped for time - apply themselves to after-school activities that they love and end up with sacred time in their day to respond to and absorb life events. While they are at it, they foster skills, build friendships and nurture personal growth. Teens really know how to focus on what keeps them happy – and that’s not a bad thing. We grownups could do with a bit more of that.

I learned from Caroline and Grace that this “space” in the day - a time to do what they love - is the secret to keeping these Good Girls balanced and focused on what is most important to them.

 Lots of Good Girls on the Lenox High School Cross Country Team, Nor th Division Champions!

Lots of Good Girls on the Lenox High School Cross Country Team, North Division Champions!

Healthy habits keep their spirits up and Caroline and Grace love running together because it allows them to talk and one thing’s for sure, no matter what age - girls love to talk! We love our girlfriends and what could be more fun than talking and training every day with your BFF?!

Doing what they love keeps their focus on healthy choices, not destructive ones.  With all the scary information out there about teenage drinking and smoking, I asked if peer pressure to smoke or drink still exists. Both concur: “Oh, yeah it’s still out there, but students are more accepting of one another these days. You don’t have to be exactly like everyone else in order to fit in. We have a friend who loves singing, so she protects her voice and won’t smoke. She is respected for that. ”

Life is stressful for many teens and the stress can lead to all sorts of problems. I recalled the staggering number of bulimics from my high school days and asked the girls if their school provided support for eating disorders. Grace fielded this one with a mature and wise reply: "the dialogue on eating disorders should be better rounded. Instead of just using scare tactics about all the bad things that happen [teeth and hair falling out, skin turning yellow], we should be talking about why teens develop eating disorders so that we are aware of the warning signs and know that it’s ok to ask for help before it becomes a problem."   Amen, Sister.

 Selfie, in training for the upcoming back-to-back marathons

Selfie, in training for the upcoming back-to-back marathons

In a world of flawless selfies and airbrushed beauty, do the girls feel any pressure to wear makeup? Not really. It’s a choice. For Caroline, she wears makeup every day “like most teenage girls, but not on the weekend.” Grace does not wear any makeup but thinks it’s important to do what feels best for you. To balance the scales on the pros and cons of makeup, she thoughtfully pointed me towards an inspiring video which features a beautiful woman removing her makeup. To Grace, this woman is courageous and her experience clearly attests to the power and merits of makeup [watch it!].

Both Grace and Caroline recognize that beauty is strength, and man-oh-man, are they strong! They are currently training for two back-to-back half marathons – the Steel Rail Half Marathon along the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail on May 18th and the Memorial Day Half Marathon at Tanglewood, “the toughest marathon in the East,” on May 25th. Their training includes running 20 miles per week with one long 8-13 mile run; 40-50 miles biking per week; and cross-training at Lenox Fitness [Spinning with Sue Merritt on Monday and Wednesday; Metabolic Madness with Laura Collins Downing on Tuesday; and Spinning and Sculpting with Courtney on Saturday]. Sunday is a day of rest – just a hike to keep the muscles stretched and moving.

 Grace, and Caroline with BFF Liz after Metabolic Madness with fellow Good Girl Laura Collins Downing at Lenox Fitness

Grace, and Caroline with BFF Liz after Metabolic Madness with fellow Good Girl Laura Collins Downing at Lenox Fitness

 Twins Grace and Jack with Baby Connor rolling with Gray and Marianne

Twins Grace and Jack with Baby Connor rolling with Gray and Marianne

It’s no surprise the girls have gravitated to running shoes and Lycra blends. They’ve been “running” with their parents since they were wee little things being pushed around in strollers. Grace’s father, Gray, has run 52 marathons, 50 of them run by the age of 50. Her mother, Marianne, has run 20 marathons and loads of half marathons, too, and for four [jaw-dropping] years straight, she has run every.single.day.  [For those of you reading this who do not live with New England weather that's a HUUUGE accomplishment ].

 Caroline crossing the finish line with big sis Lizzie

Caroline crossing the finish line with big sis Lizzie

Caroline’s late father, Brock Wilkerson, was also a runner who completed 14 marathons in less than five years, three of which he ran with Stage 4 Lung Cancer. Brock was not a smoker.

Lung cancer remains the leading cause of all cancer deaths in the United States, with a significant number of lung cancer patients having never smoked.

In loving memory of Brock, his friends started the annual BrockTrot in 2005. The 5k and 10k race through Lenox, MA has a 1 mile kiddie course, too. For nine years, it’s been an event for the whole community to enjoy. Proceeds go to The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Lowe Center for Thoracic Oncology where research is being conducted on environmental and genetic factors that cause these cancers.

 Caroline with her mom and big sis and close friend before the race.

Caroline with her mom and big sis and close friend before the race.

Together with her mother, Chris, and big sister, Lizzie, and best friend, Grace, Caroline has run every BrockTrot since she was 9. They first started running in the 1 mile kids’ race but it wasn’t long before they were running the 10k. It’s a fun day, though one marked with sadness as she remembers her father. When Caroline sees so many friends, and teenagers, and coaches from Lenox High School attending the event, running the race and volunteering - “it just makes me feel great!” She pauses then adds “it’s like they’re saying ‘we’re here. We’re always here for you’ and that’s a wonderful thing.” Beauty is strength, indeed.

Throughout all of our conversations, strong yet profoundly simple messages from the girls come through loud and clear. It doesn’t matter what age you are,

Just be yourself.

Do what you love.  

Focus on the positive.

Love your family and friends. 

Life is complicated, but the way we live it doesn’t have to be. Caroline and Grace reminded me that keeping life simple, focused, and fun helps to keep things all bright and shiny and running on track.

They may be young, but they are not blindly optimistic. These two young ladies have depth and are grounded with a healthy intuition that is sure to keep them on track in life. They know that life is full of sudden twists and turns, but their positive outlook and their shared appreciation for this beautiful earth and our local community is more than a breath of fresh air. It’s hope for the future, theirs and ours.   Sure smells like Teen Spirit will grow up to something Good.  Go Good Girls, Go!

 Good Girls Soakin' it up after their first half-marathon. 

Good Girls Soakin' it up after their first half-marathon.