The little girl was overweight, asthmatic, diabetic and severely lacking in self-confidence.
The last thing she wanted to do was run.
But with a little help from an organization called Girls on the Run, she did. And she accomplished her goal of running a 5K race.
“It was great to see it, the triumph on her face. She was so proud of herself,” says Ellen Carver, executive director of Girls on the Run in Hampton Roads. “It was just exactly what we wanted for her.”
Girls on the Run is a national nonprofit headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina. A woman who was on a mission to use running as a way to build up young girls, both physically and emotionally, started it 22 years ago. There are now Girls on the Run teams at schools in Hampton, York, Smithfield, Williamsburg and schools throughout the South Hampton Roads.
Currently, there are no Girls on the Run teams in Newport News schools, but Carver says they are working on changing that. Ferguson Enterprises recently provided a $5,000 grant to help fund Girls on the Run on the Peninsula.
Girls on the Run is targeted at elementary school girls in third through fifth grades and middle school girls in sixth through eighth grades. The teams meet for 90 minutes twice a week after school from September to December. They run together, building speed and distance over time. They also focus on a life lesson at each session. The idea is to piggyback life lessons on the lessons one learns from running.
Running teaches hard work, persistence, patience and goal setting. The girls are taught to use those skills in other parts of their lives—at home, in the classroom and in social situations. They also are taught about staying physically healthy with exercise and good eating habits.
“These are concrete lessons. We give them tools they can use under stress and with peer pressure,” Carver says. “We try to impact their habits and decision making.”
In third grade, there is a severe drop in girls’ self esteem. Girls on the Run works to combat that with the emphasis on physical and emotional health.
“They start to doubt themselves,” Carver says. “Our goal is to turn that culture and effect change. If their outlook changes, their self esteem increases.”
Girls on the Run works to help girls see their inner beauty and that of their friends. They work to support one another.
“They tell each other what is beautiful about each other that they can’t see with their eyes,” Carver says. “There is a lot of affirmation about character, rather than physical traits or material things. They learn to hold each other up instead of pulling each other down. We tell them to be stand-byers instead of bystanders. We show them the importance of standing by their friendsand treating people with kindness.”
The coaches are volunteers who complete five hours of training. They are provided with a box “pre-loaded” with all the necessary tools to make a team work, including curriculum information, markers and any copies they may need. They also get a check to pay for healthy snacks for the girls.
Throughout the season, girls see that running is accessible to everyone, that all they need are sneakers to make it happen.
“They realize they not only feel better, but they let off steam and can run off stress,” Carver says.
At the end of the season, all of the girls, along with an adult “running buddy” of their choosing, run a celebratory 5K race at Virginia Wesleyan College in Virginia Beach. The completion rate at the race is 93 percent.
“We tell them at the beginning that by the end, they will be able to complete three miles without stopping,” Carver says. “It’s very powerful.
“The girls are so proud of themselves,” she says. “It’s so much fun to see.”
TO THE POINT:
Girls on the Run Hampton Roads
Address: 287 Independence Blvd. #120, Virginia Beach, VA 23462
Contact: Ellen Carver, executive director