Perched atop the forested hill, they launch one by one. The first takes off down the twisting trail, pony-tails flying, arms spread out like a baby fledgling bird. Between hoots and squeals we hear her shout, “I am a really good artist!” Once she is out of sight, the next runner readies for take-off, and soon we hear another positive self-talk statement punctuated with a loud holler of “WAHOO!” before she disappears around a stand of trees. Once each girl has landed safely at the bottom of what we affectionately call ‘Rollercoaster Trail,’ we gather up and head back to the school playfield in a sweaty-yet-smiling mob to wrap up today’s lesson. These girls just flew through a lesson from Girls on the Run (GOTR), the nation-wide non-profit program, facilitated in Whatcom County by the Whatcom Family YMCA.
The title, “Girls on the Run” may bring images of endless lap running, time-keeping and exhaustion, but this program couldn’t be more different. With a closer look at the after-school program what you will see, plain and simple, is Girl Power. GOTR is a positive youth-development program filled with lessons about confidence, communication, peer pressure, and so many other issues young girls face that are taught through games that just happen to include running.
During the last few years you may have passed an elementary school playground after school hours and seen such a gaggle of girls sporting pony-tails. There is no ball, no net – just young girls with a couple of grown-ups, also often sporting pony-tails. What you likely saw was a happy group of third to fifth grade girls participating in GOTR. You will never see a Girls on the Run coach holding a stopwatch and shouting out times, but you might see them writing down phrases that the girls shout onto a poster titled “Gratitude” as they run past. At the end of that activity the girls will gather around the poster, with flushed cheeks and tousled hair, to admire the overflowing list of what they are collectively thankful for. The goal is not to compete or win, but to unleash confidence through accomplishment while preparing the girls to run a celebratory 5K.
Most of us become Girls on the Run volunteer coaches because we want an opportunity to inspire young girls to be active and build strong self-esteem. The funny thing is that we adult coaches walk away at the end of the afternoon invigorated and completely inspired by these funny, innocent and energetic little people. And we look forward to our next meeting when through the GOTR curriculum, we can teach these young girls life skills through dynamic, interactive lessons and running games.
We at Girls on the Run are often asking for volunteers to coach or to be running buddies for the non-competitive Celebration 5K. We are always looking for donations so we can continue to give scholarships to girls who don’t have the means join the program. But we have a little secret. It is not just the Girls that are benefitting from the generous donations of time or money – the volunteers come away with a full heart, overflowing with inspiration from working with these amazing young girls.
If you know some girls who might enjoy participating in Girls on the Run, or if you think you would like to get inspired by volunteering for a program that encourages our youth to be active and healthy, you can find Girls on the Run of Northwest Washington at the Whatcom YMCA (733-8630), or go to girlsontherun.org to find a council near you.