Power to the She


Girls on the RunGirls on the Run teaches young girls life lessons.

By Lindsey Lowe

 

There’s a lot of talk about women and their bodies, about how they should look and how they should feel about how they look. There are a lot of Photoshopped magazine covers that headline “10 ways to lose 10 pounds in 10 days,” and there are things like the Dove Beauty ads that feature women showcasing their real, imperfect bodies. And in the midst of all of that conversation about women are the girls who will become them—and what if instead of talking about what their bodies should or shouldn’t look like, we talk to them about what their bodies can do—and who they can become?

Girls on the Run (GOTR) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that has just that purpose. With chapters all around the country, GOTR “envisions a world where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams.” To make that a reality, the program focuses on running. “Running is the tool we use to teach about goal setting,” says Catherine Gregory, executive director of the Birmingham chapter. “It could really be any skill that takes practice and builds, but we use running because we teach about making healthy decisions, and running is something that keeps you healthy.”

The after-school program meets for an hour twice a week (there are two 10–12 week seasons each year) and follows a specific curriculum. At the end of the season, the girls participate in a 5k race. Since it began in 2011, the Birmingham chapter has seen nearly 900 girls go through the program and has 230 girls enrolled this spring.

The GOTR curriculum focuses on a number of empowering lessons, including understanding personals values, teamwork, and recognizing community and giving back. And of course, at the end of the season, the girls find out just how gratifying it is to set a goal and achieve—and they see what their bodies can do. “Girls finish the program feeling strong inside and out,” Gregory says. “They have learned new skills through role-playing and strategic games that help them to make good decisions and stand up to peer pressures as they get older. They feel confident enough to keep being true to themselves, raising their hands in class, standing up to a bully, wearing what makes them feel comfortable, and laughing loudly. These girls also cross the finish line of the 5k accomplishing a goal they set months ago and worked hard to get there. We hope they hold on to that feeling, set new goals as they get older, and go for them.”

Dina Grubbs’s daughter, Lauren, is participating in her third season of GOTR, and Grubbs said it’s been a terrific experience for Lauren. “She is meeting girls from other communities and building lasting friendships through the promotion of a healthy lifestyle,” Grubbs says. “The program has given her tools to overcome obstacles girls often encounter today and face them with confidence and character.” Grubbs says that the race is one of the highlights of the experience each season. “Our family always looks forward to the 5K celebration,” she says. “Though each runner’s goal of completion is the same, their methods to get there are not. The streets are filled with children and adults running, walking, skipping, or maybe even doing cartwheels or dancing to the finish line. This always proves to be a reinforcing life lesson for the girls…though our eyes may be set on a common achievement, our paths are filled with our own unique ways of getting there.” Lauren herself says that the whole thing is a just lot of fun: “My favorite part of Girls on the Run is being part of a team. Each practice my friends and I run together and then finish with a lesson on how to live a happy and healthy life,” she says. “I can’t wait to dress up this year and run the 5K again!”

The fact that the organization provides young girls with that—a feeling of belonging and a sense of accomplishment—is why Athleta, a retailer of ultimate performance apparel and gear for active women (opening at the Summit in May 2014), is excited to back Girls on the Run. Athleta’s website says that they “…love Girls on the Run. Their mission runs close to home for us: They teach young girls to be healthy, confident, and strong by developing a love for running.” Tess Roering, vice president of creative marketing for Athleta, explains that the partnership is a great fit for everyone involved. “Athleta is honored to partner with Girls on the Run and support their mission to empower young girls to embrace a healthy lifestyle and positive self-image through running,” she says. “Their mission aligns perfectly with Athleta’s ‘Power to the She’ campaign, which aims to help women achieve their personal goals and be their best selves. This is our third year working with Girls on the Run, and we’re excited to continue our amazing partnership.”

The GOTR Birmingham spring race is open to the public—runners and walkers of all ages are welcome to come and simply run the race. Another option is to serve as a “running buddy” alongside a GOTR participant to support her as she runs her race. The race begins at 7:30 a.m. on May 10 and takes place in Marconi Park in downtown Birmingham. If you want to be involved but don’t want to complete the course, you can volunteer in a variety of ways, including at the water stations, the after party, or the packet pick-up location. And the organization is always looking for more people who want to serve as GOTR coaches, taking the girls through the curriculum and helping them train for the season’s race. To find out more about being involved, visit girlsontherunbham.org.

 

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