• March 2010

Girls on the Run helps kids embrace the power of their sneakers

By Catherine Keightley
Executive Director
Girls on the Run of Northern Virginia

When I took over last June as executive director of Girls on the Run, I knew the power of this amazing nonprofit organization. After all, I’ve been a jogger for decades, and not a day goes by when I don’t tie up my running shoes and head out for a five-mile run.

But being given the opportunity to inspire third through eighth-grade girls to stay true to themselves and live free from societal stereotypes was a dream job that I still can’t believe is mine.

The 12-week, after-school curriculum innovatively weaves training for a 5K run with lessons that empower girls to celebrate their bodies, honor their voices, and embrace their gifts. Presently, more than 3,000 girls participate in the program at 180 schools around Northern Virginia.

5K Reindeer Romp Fun Run

In fact, on Dec. 5, during the first snowfall to hit the metropolitan D.C. region, more than 6,500 girls turned out for the 5K Reindeer Romp Fun Run at the Reston Town Center. We weren’t sure if all those girls would make it due to the bad weather, but we were blown away by the response and support for this event.

It actually sold out so fast that we had to turn some runners away. I believe that is simply a testimony to the power of our program. This run is the culmination and celebration of the girls’ efforts, and pairs the girls with a buddy runner to help them achieve their goals.

Don’t just take my word for it

In December, after the 5K Reindeer Romp, I received this letter from a grateful mom who wrote:

My daughter is enrolled in a special-education class. Finding her extra-curricular fitness activities that will be “successful” can be difficult. Between her developmental struggles and a safety concern, it’s nearly impossible. And it’s particularly sad because my daughter wants to run, and is built for running: long, strong legs and lots of energy! For years I’ve tried unsuccessfully to locate a suitable track program. Even tried to get her to run with me but being the mom, her interest was less than enthusiastic.

Then along came GOTR. It turned out to be even better than I could have dreamed, for endless reasons! Most importantly, because of the coaches. The kind, patient, motivating, sensitive coaches. They successfully created an environment that my daughter not only “fit in,” but also excelled, and LOVED (not a common phenomena for my little one). Every moment, from the very first practice through crossing the 5K finish line, coaches infused her with confidence in her ability and herself. She took those messages to heart. She also looked forward to their notes sent home each week, their fitness gifts, along with all the ways she was challenged to maximize her potential.

She and the girls felt part of not just a “girls club,” but a cohesive, bonded team. Well done, GOTR coaches! I personally was impacted, too. To watch how seriously she took GOTR was an exciting new thing for me! Every practice-eve seeing her initiate the packing of her GOTR clothes, panicking if she couldn’t find the GOTR-gifted water bottle, etc. Also witnessing visible, tangible signs of the rise in her self-esteem … it’s more than words can describe.

There are so many more compliments I could give about the fun bus ride to and from the race, the shirts and pizza party/medals. The list goes on and on. So on behalf of my daughter and myself, we thank you, thank you, thank you! Because of GOTR, she now loves running.

The woman behind Girls on the Run

Girls on the Run of Northern Virginia was established in 2001 at two area schools with 27 girls. GOTR now has 150 chapters around the United States and Canada, thanks to the vision and foresight of Molly Barker, who founded the organization in Charlotte, N.C., in 1996.

A four-time Hawaii Ironman triathlete, Molly began running at the age of 15, when she found herself stuck in the “girl box,” when only girls who were a certain size with a certain beauty were popular; when girls who wanted to fit in had to mold their personalities and bodies to fit the requirements of the box.

Molly kept running. Years later, on July 7, 1993, she took off on a sunset run and found the inspiration that grew into Girls on the Run. Using her background in counseling and teaching, current research on adolescent issues and her personal recovery from alcoholism, she developed the earliest version of the curriculum with the help of 13 brave girls at Charlotte Country Day School. Twenty-six girls showed up for the next session, then 75, and so the program grew.

The national magazine Runner’s World awarded Molly its Golden Shoe Award in 1998 for contributions to the community through running. That resulted in calls from across the country, and Molly decided to share her vision with the world. Girls on the Run, International, a 501© (3) nonprofit, was born in 2000.

GOTR is now in over 150 cities across North America, with tens of thousands of girls and women participating. In 2007, GOTR hosted over 70 end-of-season races, with over 60,000 people participating.

The program has been featured in People, Runner’s World, Running Times, Redbook, Women’s Day, O Magazine and Forbes as well as on MSNBC, ABC News, NBC News, NPR, ESPN, and CNN News.

Join us: April 10

On April 10, Girls on the Run is hosting an Open House to celebrate our second decade of running strong in Northern Virginia. We know this will be an exciting new chapter in our work, and we want to celebrate with all of the families who have worked with us over the years.

10560 Main Street, suite 514
Fairfax, VA 22030
703 273-3153 / info@gotrunova.org

About Catherine Keightley

With more than 17 years experience in marketing strategy, branding, membership and customer programs, writer and PR expert Catherine Keightley excels at developing marketing strategies that meet and exceed revenue goals on challenging budgets and timelines.

In her new role as executive director of Girls on the Run of Northern Virginia, a position she began in June 2010 after spending nearly a decade working as an independent marketing consultant, Catherine had the opportunity to visit with Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell this winter.

“It was wonderful to tell Gov. McDonnell about Girls on the Run,” Catherine says. “He was impressed, and it was exciting to have someone like him know more about the good work our girls are doing.”

Prior to becoming executive director, Catherine was instrumental in helping to organize and promote an incredibly successful fundraising benefit for Kidsave International last spring, called Kismet for Kidsave. It raised nearly $140,000 for the program that helps connect kids in foster care with loving families.

For more information about Girls on the Run, contact Catherine at ckeightley@gotrnova.org

About Girls on the Run

Girls on the Run of Northern Virginia was established in 2001; the office is located in Fairfax. For more information visit www.gotrnova.org.

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