Girls on the Run Celebratory 5K Community Fun Run empowers young girls
BY TINA L. SCOTT
On May 13, 2023, Girls on the Run (GOTR) North Central Wisconsin brought its Celebratory 5K Community Fun Run to Merrill’s River Bend Trail. Registration and check in began at 8:30 a.m. at the Agra Pavilion, 100 S. Park St., and runners/walkers started out at 9:30 a.m., taking them along a 5K (3.1 mile) out-and-back course on the River Bend Trail along the Wisconsin River on a flat, paved surface that began and ended at the Agra Pavilion.
A family-friendly event open to community members as well as the GOTR girls, organizers say the event creates an opportunity for young girls–and community member participants–to breathe and believe, in themselves; to inhale determination and exhale doubt; to celebrate the accomplishments of every GOTR girl; and to “run, walk, roll, push, hop, skip, or jump at their own happy pace!” during the 5K.
GOTR is a nonprofit organization providing a physical activity-based youth development program for girls in third through eighth grades. The after-school program teaches critical life skills such as confidence, connection, and character, while also incorporating running and other physical activities. This year, the program was introduced to third and fourth grade girls at Washington Elementary School and to girls at Prairie River Middle School in Merrill.
The teams at both schools worked hard to prepare, said Ashley LaRose, Executive Director of GOTR North Central WI. “The girls have been so encouraging and supportive of one another.”
“GOTR North Central Wisconsin inspires girls of all abilities to embrace their individual strengths while making meaningful connections with each other and a contribution to their community,” organizers said. “Crossing the finish lines gives girls a tangible sense of accomplishment and sets a confident mindset into motion.”
“Volunteers from our community worked with the girls twice a week for 12 weeks to empower them to grow into amazing strong young women,” said Kelli Morgan, MAPS elementary school social worker. “Learning valuable life skills, growing in confidence, and RUNNING! … It really was a life changing program for everyone involved.”
“We gathered as a community to celebrate the accomplishments of each GOTR participant,” said Tiffany Bucheger, music teacher at Washington School and lead GOTR instructor. “Girls showed up, got their hair done, got decked out in fun glitter tattoos and face paint, and everyone finished the race.”
“This program was a lot more than just running,” she said. “When I went into it, I thought I would be training kids for a 5K, but it was way more than that. We were really training these girls how to handle life’s challenges. Our lessons included topics such as positive self-talk, overcoming obstacles, and how to be a good friend. The girls loved learning how to ‘believe in your own star power,’ which is how we talked about the light inside of each of us that we want to shine. Star power helps the girls to see the connection between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.“
“We worked to inspire our girls to recognize their strengths and take responsibility for their own choices,” said Katherine Hiebl, third grade teacher at Washington School and GOTR instructor. “We taught lessons about life skills like teamwork, helping others, gratitude, communication, and believing in yourself.”
“We taught them how to pause and take a breath when getting angry, and how to resolve differences in friendships, all while strengthening our bodies.”
“At its core, GOTR is all about inspiring girls to gain confidence needed to accomplish their goals,” Hiebl said.
“Girls on the Run was really fun,” said Abby, a third grade participant. “I learned that the good things in life take patience, no matter what—everything good in life takes time.”
“We learned about positive talk,” she said. “We learned how to cheer someone up when they are feeling down. When a friend is sad because something is hard, I can tell her, ‘Practice more and you can do it! You’ve got this!’”
“One day, we wrote positive things on the ground and then when we practiced running; those words helped us keep going,” Abby said.
“They taught us how to cheer people up using positive talk,” said Emily, another Merrill third grader. “We practiced ways to make people feel happier and to laugh. Now I say, ‘You’ve got this. Keep going!’”
“When I get older, I want to join the track team so I can keep running,” Emily added.
The program teaches girls to grow in maturity and confidence and empowers them to believe in themselves, to help others individually, and also to give back to community. “We learned that we can make our community a better place,” Abby said. “We did a community project making posters for the Humane Society. We wanted to help the animals find good homes. We wanted to find a way to help people.”
Morgan added that she loved the program because it is financially accessible to all the girls because scholarships are available, and proceeds from the 5K event are earmarked for those scholarships, to enable even more girls to participate going forward.
For more information about GOTR North Central Wisconsin, go to: https://www.gotrncwisconsin.org/.