Jean Bell, the founder of the Jeuness Track Club for girls in Brooklyn, will speak on Saturday (July 31) in Beacon about her work with the Sheppard sisters, who are the subjects of the documentary Sisters on Track.
You’re a New York City administrative law judge and have a family. How do you find time to coach track?
When I started Jeuness, it was a fun thing to do in my off-time. I didn’t have children, I wasn’t married, I didn’t have a mortgage. But I had a good job, and I loved track. I wanted girls to have fun running like I used to have fun running when I was a kid. They needed something organized, and I was there and could do it.
Why is running so transformative?
I still remember when I was 10, the speed, the air, and the freedom I felt. And it’s something you can do all on your own, without a lot of money.
You also teach sex ed to the girls and host a book club. What’s the purpose of those other activities?
As the club progressed, and I got more involved with the girls’ personal lives, I realized they needed more. I know you’ve never been a young girl, but it’s difficult to talk to your daughter about these things. Even if you have a good relationship, it’s awkward. The girls trust me. They know that I’m a straight shooter. I figured I could do their mothers a favor with a little group session with me and a parent who is a nurse. The girls like to get together for any reason whatsoever. If I say we’re going to do a 10-mile hike, they’ll say, “As long as we do it together.” With the book club, they get into it. I don’t know why their teachers can’t do this!
What is the biggest change the girls go through once they’ve been at Jeuness for a while?
It doesn’t take long! They learn that there are no excuses. You have to be responsible for your gear, yourself and your actions. I tell parents: Responsibility doesn’t come in a card on your 18th birthday. It has to start when they’re 6.
What makes you most proud?
When girls whom I haven’t seen in 10 or even 20 years call me out of the blue and they are still so excited to speak to me, to invite me to their weddings and baby showers. That’s what keeps me going. For them, it wasn’t just a track club, or just for fun. It was something they learned from, they remember, and they passed on to their own children. And I’m also proud to go to their graduations from college, of course!
Sisters on Track will be shown on July 31 at the Story Screen Theatre at 11 a.m., followed by a run through Beacon led by Bell and the Sheppard sisters and a Q&A session at the Tracksmith Beacon Outpost at 2 Tioronda Avenue. RSVP for the screening by emailing [email protected]