Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Running toward healthy living

My ten-year-old daughter recently completed a 5K run. As programs such as the popular Couch to 5K suggest, running 3.1-miles is a goal that many adults aspire to. And, yet, nearly 30 third through fifth grade girls from my daughter’s elementary school were about to achieve this goal by participating in a program called Girls on the Run (GOTR). And running was the least of it.

Girls on the Run

Utilizing a fun, experience-based curriculum that creatively integrates running through games and team goals, the girls and their coaches met for 90 minutes twice a week to prepare for the 5K run. The ten-week training program inspires girls to be joyful, healthy and confident, and each lesson focuses on a positive emotional, social, mental and physical development. Participants are encouraged to explore and discuss the challenges girls face at this age, and to develop strategies and skills to help them navigate life’s experiences. In addition to getting exercise, my daughter was learning about herself and how to set and achieve goals, and also about the importance of team work and developing healthy relationships. Most importantly, she was having fun.

After each lesson, an energy award was given to the girl who’d made an extra effort or who showed compassion by helping and encouraging others or demonstrated perseverance by never giving up.

When the girls completed their first practice 5K, my daughter brought home a certificate of achievement. The tag line under the GOTR logo read: Educating and preparing girls for a lifetime of self-respect and healthy living. I found it hard to imagine a more positive, empowering and uplifting activity for my daughter to be involved in. Every interaction I had with GOTR was like a breath of fresh air. When I ordered the wrong size shirt for my daughter, the organization immediately sent us another one in the correct size along with their assurance that their main priority is “for the girls to be happy.” It was a level of customer service paired with a “can-do attitude” that is rare these days.

On race day, the girls, dressed in the GOTR t-shirts they’d decorated the week before, gathered to warm up as a team and don hair ribbons in their school colors. Each girl had an adult buddy who ran with her to encourage her. Crowds of people lined the streets to cheer for the girls as they made their way toward the finish line where they collected their medals and waited to welcome and congratulate their teammates.

The sense of pride and accomplishment the girls felt was palpable; the smiles on their faces contagious. They’d completed a journey that not only prepared them physically and emotionally to complete a celebratory 5K running event, but one that elevated their self-esteem, self-image, and self-respect, and emphasized the importance of perseverance, teamwork, and maintaining a positive attitude. The girls knew they’d achieved something amazing; and they ran three miles, too. 

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