Girls On the Run Encourages Healthy Living For Young Girls
Since 2009, Mary Gaertner has worked for the Cincinnati chapter of Girls on the Run, a running program that inspires young girls to recognize their inner strength and celebrate what makes them one of a kind. Gaertner has seen many girls participate in the unique program, and at the finish line of each season’s 5k race, she always sees something new.
“Girls are running with their moms and dads. Some girls finish and go back to run their teammates in. We have girls in wheelchairs for most of the race who get to take a few steps across the finish line,” Gaertner says. “Every season there’s a new reason.”
Through the Girls on the Run program, trained coaches lead small teams through a research-based curriculum, which includes dynamic discussions, activities and running games. Over the course of the ten-week program, girls in third to eighth grade develop skills to help them navigate their worlds and establish a lifetime appreciation for health and fitness.
“The curriculum deals with everything from healthy eating, body image, positive self-talk, establishing personal values––to topics of teamwork, bullying, gossiping, internet safety and eventually community service. It’s designed to address the whole person,” Gaertner explains.
Each year the program culminates with girls positively impacting their communities through a service project and being physically and emotionally prepared to complete a celebratory 5k event, which brings together girls from the entire 11-county region of the Cincinnati chapter.
The national organization was founded 1996 with just thirteen girls in Charlotte, South Carolina. Inspired by the way running helped her, Molly Barker started the program to help girls use running to build confidence, make healthy choices and learn more about community.
Local mom Lisa Bacu saw the value of the program in the life of her own daughter and organized a Girls on the Run in West Chester after volunteering as a coach.
“I wanted my daughter to recognize that she can choose to have a positive view of herself and the world simply by making healthy choices when it comes to her actions and inner voice,” Bacu says. “This program empowers girls to be in control of their self-worth.”
Participants in Girls on the Run are welcomed into the organization regardless of their ability to pay the $160 participation fee. Girls on the Run Greater Cincinnati fosters an inclusive environment and offers the opportunity for all girls to participate, regardless of financial situation, through scholarships. About 50% of local families are on some form of scholarship, provided through fundraising and local business scholarships.
A girl’s participation affords her the curriculum materials, a new pair of running shoes, healthy snacks at lessons and participation in the 5k run.
Bacu says the program creates a unique opportunity for goal-setting and achievement for young girls.
“In our instant gratification society, setting a goal, working for three months and then accomplishing that goal can be a rare occurrence,” Bacu says. “This program helps the girls to see the benefit of planning, working and getting the reward.”
Bacu’s daughter, Elizabeth, learned an important lesson from her Girls on the Run training that is applicable to many areas of life.
“I didn’t have to run the whole way; walking was okay too,” Elizabeth says. “I just needed to keep moving forward.”