Some were tiny, some were larger. Some were young, some were older. Some were male, more were female. And some were fast, and some took their time, but all who participated in Saturday’s 2015 Girls on the Run Spring 5K at Sandy Beach were there for a common cause: Celebration.
“It helped me to understand that not everyone is perfect,” Caitlin Parker, age 11, said. “And we have to try hard and not care what other people think about us.”
Parker also had something else on her mind.
“I am looking forward to running today,” she said. “Because it is fun. I found something I really enjoy.”
Saturday’s event celebrated the end of the 12-week Girls on the Run program in Juneau.
The day also celebrated GOTR International serving its millionth participant and announced the GOTR of Greater Alaska name change and territory expansion.
The theme of Saturday’s run was “One In A Million.”
“Girls, that is so exciting,” A voice echoed through the event sound system. “That means you will make 1 million significant changes in our world.”
Aiding Women in Abuse & Rape Emergencies (AWARE) Inc. hosted the day with community volunteers and more than 80 third-to-eighth-grade girls brought family, friends, and running buddies and coaches to the race and activities.
Girls on the Run combines training for a 5K run with life skills lessons that encourage healthy habits and an active lifestyle.
“The 5K is the culmination of the whole 12-week, 24-lesson program and throughout it they are practicing running and learning things about themselves and their community,” event co-director Rachel Wintz, of AWARE, said. “About working as a team and the run celebrates all that they worked toward throughout the season. It teaches them that when they set a goal and practice for it, they can achieve it and they can achieve anything.”
Wintz reflected on a time in her high school cross-country skiing career in Palmer where a coach inspired her to do great things.
“I never was an amazing athlete,” Wintz said. “But my coach believed in me and told me I could go faster. I remember one moment in particular where I was going up a hill in a race, my coach was encouraging me so hard and I just went up the hill. I saw his face and it was totally shocked. From that moment, from my coach believing in me I believed in myself and I pushed myself much further and was able to become a great cross country skier. I see a lot of that here; the girls just flourish in this program. Sometimes when they come in they are really shy, they don’t really know each other, but throughout some of the girls make new best friends and really come out of their shell.”
Volunteer coaches inspire the girls to be joyful, healthy and confident through a curriculum that integrates running. GOTR participants are taught ideals and life skills to build confidence and improve attitudes about body image, gender stereotypes and self-esteem.
“Our long-term goal is that Girls on the Run empowers these young girls to become strong, healthy, confident women,” event co-director Julie Walker, of AWARE, said.
The culmination of the lessons and run training, and pre-race face and hair painting, music and poster making, is seen in the smiles as the young women cross through the finish of the 3.2-mile run at Sandy Beach.
According to Walker, GOTR started as a violence prevention program of AWARE in 2008. Since its inception, 14 communities across Southeast Alaska have participated. What started with 20 girls in Juneau has grown to serve 358 girls during the 2013-2014 school year across Southeast Alaska. The program now includes all of Alaska outside of Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley (which are served by Girls on the Run of South Central Alaska).
“We want every Alaskan girl to know she can embrace who she is, can define who she wants to be, and can change the world,” Walker said.