The Maneater

Girls on the Run prepares for April 5K race

Young girls learn about healthy self-image, positive community and achieving goals in Columbia.

Over 100 young girls will finish 10 weeks of emotional, interpersonal and physical training at the Heart of Missouri Girls on the Run council’s 5K race on April 30.

Council Director Cheryl Unterschutz, who manages the 11 Heart of Missouri sites, said the core of Girls on the Run International is helping elementary and middle school girls fight societal standards and understand their worth.

“As they reach preadolescence and adolescence, they face what we call the ‘girl box,’ which puts them in a place where there are certain expectations about how they dress, who they hang out with, how they look, what they do, what they say,” Unterschutz said. “It’s a very confining set of standards that, whether they’re real or not, girls often experience to some measure during their adolescence.”

Girls gather at their nearest site in mid-Missouri for practice twice a week for 10 weeks, where they are taught a lesson and train for the race. About 150 girls pair with a running buddy, a relative, friend or volunteer, who encourage them through the course.

The curriculum, taught by volunteer coaches, focuses on three areas: developing personal identity and self-esteem, connecting with others in a positive way and setting and achieving personal goals like the 5K run.

Gamma Phi Beta sorority supports Girls on the Run International as its philanthropy. Members volunteer as coaches, attend events and encourage girls to never give up on their goals, according to the MU Gamma Phi Beta chapter website.

Girls on the Run uses MU students from many other organizations and studies, including Service-Learning program students. They hope to increase interaction between young girls and college women through volunteer recruiting, sorority events and athlete meet and greets.

Sophomore Becky Gann is a coach at the Boys and Girls Club site. She volunteered as a running buddy on the day of the 5K last year and decided to dedicate more time to the organization.

“When I was a running buddy, I only got to be with this girl for four to five hours total,” Gann said. “In that time alone, I could tell I could make an impact on that girl. She looks up to you, and she really gets something of value from (the experience). So I thought, if I could do that just the one time, why not do it again as much as I can?”

Jen Reeves, mother of Jordan Reeves, a 10-year-old participant at Fairview Elementary, said she loves the message about respecting one another and oneself. Jordan was born with one hand and has had to learn to have confidence, Jen said. Jen said the lessons from Girls on the Run parallel the conversations she and Jordan have had all along.

“We all know that heading into middle school can be pretty awkward,” Jen said. “I’m hoping to build upon the strength that she naturally has (through) a support system for those moments when she’s feeling a little low or questioning her world. This is such a neat program that facilitates that support.”

The “crowning” moment, Unterschutz said, is the 5K race. All site teams come together for the non-competitive run, and the sense of joy and accomplishment is a palpable energy, Unterschutz said.

“I think anyone who likes to run or enjoys 5Ks and other races, they’re going to find that they experience they have at our 5K is heads and tails above others in the sense of joy that they experience,” Unterschutz said.

Edited by Hailey Stolze | hstolze@themaneater.com

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