The 3.1-mile race is about more than completing a course.
It encompasses a true journey for these girls. Participants who strive to log this distance are part of Girls on the Run, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a world where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams. The 10-week program drives transformative, sustained change in the lives of third- to fifth-grade girls across all 50 states.
The spring session begins in early March and concludes in late May with a 5K event at Hartwood Acres Park. In the fall, the girls open practice on Sept. 17 and finish with the race in December at North Park.
The program uses an intentional curriculum that integrates physical activity and trained coaches who teach girls critical life skills and strategies they can apply to all aspects of their lives.
A former member reflects on her time in the program:
“I enjoyed all of the positivity of being part of Girls on the Run,” says Elisabeth Ervin of New Kensington, an eighth-grader at Valley Junior-Senior High School. “I became so much more confident. I can easily express who I am. I was scared about the race in the beginning.”
Elisabeth conquered the run by finishing with her father, Tim, by her side and her younger brother, Jake, and their mom, Lorin, cheering as they walked the route.
“I would totally recommend Girls on the Run because it was such a positive experience,” Elisabeth says. “I made a lot of friends, and it really helped with my leadership skills. Your confidence level really grows through being part of Girls on the Run.”
What it offers
Girls on the Run International was established in 1996 in Charlotte, N.C., by Molly Barker. What started with 13 girls in one school has grown to more than 200 councils in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. With the help of almost 100,000 volunteers, Girls on the Run served nearly 180,000 girls in 2015.
Girls on the Run continues to grow and currently hosts more than 350 end-of-season 5K events across the United States, making the Girls on the Run 5K series the largest in the country. Girls on the Run has also expanded to include middle school girls through Heart & Sole, a program dedicated to the unique needs of adolescent girls.
A recent independent study provides compelling evidence that Girls on the Run is highly effective at driving transformative and lasting change in the lives of these girls.
It is the combination of the research-based curriculum, trained coaches and a commitment to serve all girls that sets Girls on the Run apart from other after-school programs, the study says. The independent study was conducted by Maureen R. Weiss, PhD., a leading expert on youth development.
“Girls on the Run participants scored higher in managing emotions, resolving conflict, helping others and making intentional
decisions than participants in organized sport or physical education,” says Weiss, in a news release. “Being able to generalize skills learned in the program to other situations such as at school or at home is a distinguishing feature of Girls on the Run compared to traditional youth sports and school physical education, and suggests that the intentional life skills curriculum and coach-training program can serve as exemplars for other youth programs.”
Results from the study
Here are some of the statistics from Weiss’ study:
• Ninety-seven percent of girls said they learned critical life skills at Girls on the Run that they are using at home, at school and with their friends.
• Seven out of 10 girls who improved from pre-season to post-season sustained improvements in competence, confidence, connection, character, caring or physical activity beyond the season’s end.
• Girls in Girls on the Run were significantly more likely than girls in physical education or organized sports programs to learn and use life skills, including managing emotions, resolving conflict, helping others and making intentional decisions.
• Girls who were the least active before Girls on the Run increased their physical activity level by 40 percent from pre-season to post-season and maintained this increased level beyond the program’s end.
“We receive countless letters from girls, parents and coaches about how our program changes lives,” says Elizabeth Kunz, chief executive officer of Girls on the Run, in a news release. “The study findings reinforce these personal stories and provide powerful evidence that participation in Girls on the Run leads to positive changes. These results confirm our commitment to expand our reach and inspire one million more girls to become joyful, healthy and confident.”
Locally, Girls on the Run of UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital is hosted by the Oakland medical facility and is an affiliate council of Girls on the Run International.
Girls on the Run of Magee was established to serve Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Lawrence, Mercer, Washington, Westmoreland and Venango counties and has inspired more than 15,000 girls since the organization hit the ground running in 2001.
“We have found it really has a big impact,” says Molly Glowacki, program coordinator for Girls on the Run of UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital. “Girls are very impressionable at this age. They are figuring out who they are.”
More than a race
Those who participate in Girls on the Run develop physically and emotionally, says Karen Thomas, a coach from Roy Hunt Elementary in New Kensington.
“This is a phenomenal program,” Thomas says. “The girls have really grown. They learn how to handle peer pressure and what to say if someone is saying something you don’t like. We teach them that they are each unique, and we teach them to share how they feel.”
There is a lot of pressure in this world and coaches such at Thomas and Jennifer Ketler, whose team is from Verner Elementary in the Riverview School District, strive to alleviate some of the stress.
Part of the training includes running inside and outside, often tackling obstacles such as hills and inclement weather. The girls learn how to stretch properly, how to do sprints and long-distance running. They learn to pace themselves, by setting goals and keeping track of their mileage, which is representative of a lesson in how to handle what challenges might come their way in life, Thomas says.
“I love to watch them grow,” Ketler says. “I have seen quiet girls become assertive and blossom with confidence. They learn to run hills and have fun by playing music and doing other activities while they are exercising. It is so rewarding to see the girls finish with a smile on their faces. Starting and finishing the race are important messages.”
The program is really great, says Ketler, who has been coaching for 15 seasons.
“I was in line at the grocery store recently, and a first-grader told me she can’t wait to be on Girls on the Run and be part of the team,” Ketler says. “I am not a runner, and I am not a skinny person, so when they see me running they say, ‘If she can do it, I can do it.’ Girls on Run is a powerful program that incorporates running as one part of something bigger. It’s about more than a race. It’s about developing a positive view of yourself and being honest and a useful member of your community. It’s about being … you.”
JoAnne Harrop is a Tribune-Review
staff writer. You can contact JoAnne at 724-853-5062 or email@example.com or via Twitter @Jharrop_Trib.