Do you remember what it was like to be a pre-teen? For many, it is a time of not-quites. Not quite a child, not quite an adult. Not quite independent, but leaning longingly toward freedom. Until that leaning causes a loss of balance, which sometimes leads to running back headlong into the comforts of childhood.
Running. Towards the future. Back to the past. Running.
For Girls on the Run founder Molly Barker, it was a sunset run in 1993 run that eased her troubled mind as she processed all the challenges that life was throwing her way. Running had been her solace since she was a girl. It was a way for her to break out of the set of societal rules and peer pressures that created what she referred to as the “girl box”: a suffocating place where anxiety about body image and self-determination easily led to lack of confidence.
An IronMan triathlete and social worker, Barker felt that there had to be a way to help young girls navigate their pre-teen years and emerge stronger, more self-confident, and better equipped to help one another. And she was certain that it would involve teaching girls to discover their inner athlete.
In 1996, she launched her first program with a small group of girls in North Carolina. Today, Girls On The Run (GOTR) has grown to include hundreds of thousands of girls in over 170 cities in the U.S. – including the Girls on the Run Dane County program.
GOTR is more than a sports club. For ten weeks, the girls not only improve their fitness levels, but also talk with their teammates and volunteer coaches about peer pressure, maintaining self-esteem, and encouraging each other to strive toward their dreams.
It makes a difference, says GOTR participant Jenna, who participated in the Girls On The Run Dane County 2012 Spring 5K event on June 9. “The program is really fun. We run together and we talk about a lot of things that are important for girls to know, like how to feel good about yourself and how to stand up to bullies.”
Over 600 girls, 175 coaches, and 600+ runners from the community gathered at McKee Farms Park in Fitchburg for the 5K run, which took place under a cloudless sky. After warming up with cheers and stretching directed by a purple-clad mascot named Running Man from a local fitness facility, the crowd listened to Junior sing the national anthem. Jenna's mother shared, “She also sang the national anthem at the Madison Mallards baseball game last night. It’s a pretty special thing that she decided to do because her dad just got back from [military] deployment.”
Every participant wore bib number “1” and focused on the overall experience rather than their race time. Girls On The Run Dane County Director Sara Pickard was all smiles as a steady flood of runners crossed the finish line, each girl receiving a pink medal.
But even as Pickard celebrated the day, she was planning for the future. “Our fall program starts on Labor Day at all of our sites,” she said. “The program sites will be posted on our web sites on July 1st, registration opens August 1st, the program starts September 5th, and it’s a 10-week program that finishes November 10th at the Waunakee Village Center.”
Interested in helping? There are many ways to get involved, from becoming a sponsor to volunteering at races. Volunteers can fill out a short form on the GOTR Dane County web site. Helping tomorrow’s leaders is fulfilling and inspiring.
And as for the girls, they’ll tell you: a girl on the run is a beautiful thing. Always.