“This is not a running program!” One of the first things I learned as a volunteer coach for Girls on the Run is that, despite its name, the nationally recognized program is not about the running. Yes, there is running involved. And the girls conclude the 12-week training by completing a 5k race. But the lessons learned have more to do with self-respect and character development than workouts and races.
Each week, as the girls develop confidence running on the track, they also build self-esteem in the classroom. They share stories of bullying, gossip, and peer pressure in a safe and supportive circle of friends. They learn how to think outside “The Girl Box” and recognize that they are capable of achieving anything they want in life. They develop a habit of expressing gratitude. And they discover what it means to be beautiful on the inside.
“Girls on the Run teaches you to be your best self,” said Ainsley, age 9. “It’s different than other sports because you get to sit down and talk with everyone and get to know each other better.”
The best part is that the girls have so much fun! They don’t even realize they are learning valuable life lessons. Ask the girls who participate each year, and they’ll tell you what they love about Girls on the Run: hanging out with friends, accomplishing something they never thought possible, and getting to paint their faces and wear sparkles in their hair on race day.
They’ll also tell you that they learn to encourage one another through “Energy Awards” they bestow on a team member who deserves a boost. At the end of each workout, the girls gather in a circle and celebrate a teammate with a mock paparazzi attack or an Arnold Schwarzenegger-inspired chant of “Super, Super, Girl Power!”
“Girls on the Run helped me realize that I need to choose friends who think positive,” said Christina, age 9. “When you’re a kid, friends are really important. And if you choose friends who support you and encourage you, you’re going to be happy.”
It’s not all about the girls, either. Girls on the Run teaches youngsters how to work together as a team to make their community a better place. As part of the curriculum, each team coordinates a community service project of their choice. Last year, South Hampton Roads girls raised $900 for tornado relief in Gloucester through a bake sale. They packaged school supplies for students in Haiti, plastered a school bathroom with positive affirmations, visited residents of an assisted living facility, and collected donated items for the Ronald McDonald House. One team even spent a day making their school beautiful by picking up trash, planting gardens, and washing buses.
“It feels really good when we get to help the community,” explained Ainsley. “We made cards for people, and I like knowing that we were able to make them smile and think positive.”
Girls on the Run is a nationwide non-profit prevention program that encourages preteen girls to develop self-respect and healthy lifestyles through running. The program addresses all aspects of a girl’s development—physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual well being.
“We envision a world where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams,” proclaims Molly Barker, founder of Girls on the Run. During a sunset run in 1993, after years of questioning her self-worth and being defined by others, Molly Barker, MSW and four-time Hawaii Ironman triathlete, found the inspiration that grew into Girls on the Run.
Seeking a way to help girls thrive in a world that often sends them conflicting messages, she began creating a solution—a solution that would start with a small program and ultimately become a movement. Today, Girls on the Run is offered in more than 173 cities across North America and hundreds of thousands of girls’ and women’s lives have been changed by the program.
Here in Hampton Roads, approximately 550 girls in grades 3 through 8 are enrolled in the Spring 2012 Girls on the Run programs. The girls are led by a volunteer coaching staff and funded by the generosity of local and national sponsors. Training takes place at local elementary schools.
“When I finished the 5k last year, I was so proud of myself,” says Christina, 9. “It was my first 5k, and it felt great to set a goal for myself and accomplish it.”
More than 1,500 girls and their running buddies are expected to participate in the Girls on the Run 5k in Norfolk, VA on Saturday, May 19, 2012. The event will be held at MacArthur Center Park and is open to the public. To register, volunteer or sponsor a runner, visit http://gotrshr.org/
Theresa Ceniccola is The Christian Mompreneur—a mentor to moms who are running a business that supports faith and family. As president and founder of the International Christian Mompreneur Network, she empowers entrepreneurial moms to build profitable businesses with wisdom and grace. Theresa is a regular contributor to several Christian magazines and business blogs. She lives in Virginia Beach with her husband and three children, where she spends her free time running, reading, journal writing, camping with Girl Scouts, and coaching Girls on the Run.