You know that something is meant to catch your attention when it comes up over and over. This happened to me last spring when I kept hearing about the Girls on the Run program-everywhere from the grocery store lines to church gatherings to conversations between runners at the North Shore ½ marathon—it kept coming up again and again! Everyone was talking about Girls on the Run, and they all had great things to say.
I wanted to learn more, so I turned to fitness experts and friends Beth Busch and Tia Rains. Beth was a coach for Girls on the Run at her daughter’s school this past year. Tia has been involved in wellness initiatives at her daughters’ schools over many years. They combined their knowledge to put together this great newsletter for Healthy Kids Ideas Exchange Readers. I hope you are as inspired by it as I am!
At the end of the article there is a “comments” area to share your experiences, perhaps in starting a Girls on the Run program at your school or perhaps you are interested in gathering a group to learn more. I know this program is something I’d like to do at my own daughter’s school. So please leave your comments, and let’s coordinate!
Girls on the Run Overview
Inspiration comes in many forms. For Molly Barker, it was a pair of running shoes and a sunset run. In a moment of self discovery, she decided that she has the freedom to be who she is and be happy with it. And she thinks all girls deserve this freedom to live peacefully and comfortably by simply being themselves. She set off to develop the Girls on the Run® program shortly thereafter.
Girls on the Run® (GOTR) is a non-profit program run through schools and community centers for girls ages 8 to 13 years old. The program aims to “educate and empower girls at an early age in order to prevent the display of at-risk activities in the future” by combining training for a 3.1 mile running event with lessons about self-esteem and emotional, social, mental, spiritual, and physical health. Sessions are held in the fall and spring over a 10-12 week period, where participants meet twice weekly under the guidance of trained GOTR coaches (often parent volunteers).
Each GOTR lesson is designed to foster a feeling of inspiration within each individual girl and allow them to recognize and celebrate their individual strengths and talents. As such, each lesson is a combination of running to build cardiovascular fitness and discussion of a specific topic with a small group. Over the course of each session, topics include team/community building, managing peer pressure, being a good friend, and recognizing negative messages that arise from friends and the media. For girls in 6-8th grade, the GOTR program is called Girls on Track, and the curriculum covers other age-appropriate topics such as eating disorders, internet safety, cyber bullying and tobacco and alcohol use.
The session concludes with each girl having the opportunity to participate in a local 5k running event (3.1 miles). For some girls and their parents, this alone demonstrates the capacity of this program to change lives. But most find that the other aspects of the program provide the much needed social, emotional, and cognitive skills that help girls navigate the complexities of growing up in our society today. Academic research on the program supports this, showing significant improvement in body image, eating attitudes and self-esteem.
Information on program locations or for starting a program near you is located at the GOTR website: http://www.girlsontherun.org
As told by a GOTR coach…
Girls on the Run is truly a program of discovery – for the girls, their running buddies and their families. Each girl enters the season with her own level of interest in the program – some are very excited and love the thought of preparing to run a 5k and some have been “signed” up by parents who love the thought of their daughters running a 5K. Different levels of fitness and interest in running also come with each girl. But by the end of the season, each girl has learned more about themselves than they could have believed. They learned about their ability to commit to a 3-month program and learned that sticking with a plan can be tough and rewarding at the same time. The also learned that you can be friends with girls to whom you have never spoken, that you have good running days and bad running days and you have to accept both. And very importantly, they learned that teamwork and respect for others really is part of every day life. By the end of the three months, they looked back at all their lessons and runs and learned that they were each amazing in their own way.
As a GOTR site coordinator and coach, it was great to see the main emphasis of the program is on learning about yourself and how to treat others. Training to run the 5K was important, but came at the end of the sessions after things such as healthy eating, bullying, respect and community service were discussed. It was very enlightening to see girls realize how they could change negative behaviors to positive behaviors and how our own behaviors affect others. You could see all the light bulbs popping on in their heads.
Our group was 3rd and 4th grade girls. Some very close friends and others that did not know each other at all. As you can imagine would happen in any group of 20 girls, little groups were formed at the beginning and very little interaction occurred between them. As the season progressed, the groups began to dissolve as the girls learned that they could run without their original group and that they could talk to new friends. It was very inspiring to see girls cheer for slower runners and for people they had not known before. At our end of the season celebration, one 4th-grade girl summed it up very well, “3rd grade girls are just like us – they run and talk and are fun! I did not know that before.” Classic!! After our practice 5k, one of my other favorite quotes from a girl finishing was, “No way – I just ran 3.1 miles.” That was inspiring for everyone.
Personally, my experience with my daughter was very special. I love to run, but she had not done much running. I had to learn that her level of enthusiasm did not always match mine. We had great runs together and some ugly runs together, but we always talked about getting through together. She helped me and I helped her. I would make sure I told her how proud of was of her for committing and sticking with it on those tough days. One day after our run, she turned to me and said, “Mom, I am really proud of you because I know your knee really hurts, but you are sticking with it so you can get stronger.” My eyes did not stay dry after that run! Those are the types of moments that GOTR creates.
My daughter and I also spent many post-session conversations on friendships and respecting others no matter whether they have the same interests as you or not. I know friendships and social issues are critical at this age. I want her to know that I am there to talk with her about them and GOTR has given us a great start at doing just that.
Crossing the finish line of the 5K together was more emotional that you can imagine – I was so proud of my daughter for running 3.1 miles and so happy to have shared special time with her. Watching all the other girls accomplish a goal they never thought they could was beyond rewarding as a coach. GO GOTR!!
Back copies of Healthy Kids Ideas Exchange are always available online.
Don’t forget to check out the recent posts on the Garden Tales and Simple Dinner Ideas Blogs!
Garden Tales: a seasonal adventure for you and your kids to enjoy all the wonderful bounty of edible and ornamental gardens. http://www.healthykidsideas.com/category/garden-blog/
Simple Dinners Ideas: on-going inspiration for easy meals your entire family will enjoy. http://www.healthykidsideas.com/category/simple-dinner-ideas/
This column is for information only, and no part of its contents should be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, recommendation or endorsement by the author. You should always ask your physician for his or her recommendation before starting any new health-related activity.