Girls on the Run has been helping kids find paths to success for 25 years

Fred Bowen

THE WASHINGTON POST – Girls on the Run (GOTR), an organisation that inspires girls to move and teaches life lessons, is 25 years old this year.

Triathlete Molly Barker started the programme with 13 girls in Charlotte, North Carolina. Today there are more than 200,000 girls in grades three through eight running at 12,000 locations across the country. GOTR has served more than two million girls since 1996.

Executive Director for the northern Virginia region Caroline Diemar said GOTR “is not a running programme”. Instead it is a programme for “teaching life skills”. GOTR, according to Diemar, aims to “help build resilient girls”. In other words, girls who are able to bounce back from the problems and obstacles in their lives.

That’s important because studies show that many girls’ self-confidence begins to dip about age nine. Girls’ physical activity begins to drop at about age 10.

I talked to three girls who have been part of GOTR. Sisters Catherine and Ellie Timmons, ages 11 and nine, attend Chesterbrook Elementary School in McLean, Vancouver. Nya Lowery is a 10-year-old fifth-grader at Mosby Woods Elementary School in Fairfax, Vancouver.

Girls on the Run started with 13 girls at one school in Charlotte, North Carolina, 25 years ago. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

All three said they would encourage girls to join GOTR because it is a lot of fun. Catherine said the programme has been a “great way to make friends” at school. Nya said the girls get exercise “but also get coaching about being a better person”.

Groups usually meet twice a week for 10 weeks during the fall and spring. The girls do not just run. They also talk about setting and achieving goals. All the girls participate in a celebratory five-kilometre run at the end of the season.

GOTR holds more than 300 of the races across the country each year.

Rick Olson, Catherine and Ellie’s dad, has noticed that the goal-setting has taken hold with his daughters. “They have set goals and busted the goals,” he said.

Catherine wants to run an eight-minute mile (she is under nine minutes), and Ellie wants to run five miles “non-stop”.

Rick Olson runs with his girls. He said it’s a “great family sport”.

Nya plays basketball and field hockey and swims. She has noticed that the running “helps me become more athletic and build my confidence”.

Nya said she likes that her GOTR group did “a big community activity at the end”. The girls painted rocks with positive messages and placed them throughout the neighbourhood. Nya’s rocks said “be kind” and “you rock”.

You rock. You could say that about Girls on the Run.