GIBSONTON – Every Monday and Wednesday afternoon, 13 girls in grades 3 through 5 lace up their running shoes at Kids R Kids Southshore to get in shape. They’re training for a 5-kilometer race at the University of South Florida in December.
Called Girls on the Run, the program is designed to do more than prepare them physically. It’s also building their confidence, self-respect and self-esteem. The 24-lesson curriculum encourages them to be independent thinkers; improves their problem-solving skills; and teaches them to make healthy decisions in preparation for a lifetime of social, emotional and physical health.
“It’s an experience-based, youth development program that integrates running as its healthy activity,” said first-time coach Carrie Elwell, owner of Kids R Kids Southshore. “In addition to physical activities and running, we sit back and talk about things relevant in a young girl’s life.”
Those things include topics like communication, gossip, peer pressure and body image.
Ali Shryock is pleased with what the program is offering her daughter Juliana, 8.
“She’s becoming more confident, more positive and learning to ward off self-doubts,” Shryock said. “She’s also making friends. I learned about the program from my cousin who lives in North Carolina. I was waiting and hoping one would start here.”
Girls on the Run Greater Tampa Bay – under USF Health – is an Affiliate Council of Girls on the Run International, which has a network of more than 200 locations in the U.S. and Canada. For its fall program, the Tampa Bay Council has 10 sites and a total of about 160 girls participating in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties, said Laura Marsh, council program manager.
Elwell said after learning about the program several months ago, she submitted an application and site-approval request to Girls on the Run Greater Tampa Bay Council, and then she and Kara Allen, also of Kids R Kids, attended a seven-hour, inspirational training at USF.
“We left that meeting very excited in anticipation of getting the program started,” Elwell said.
Allen, who serves as co-coach, agreed.
“I was impressed with the level of training and the enthusiasm that previous coaches had for the program,” she said. “And that got me motivated to coach a great program.”
Over 12 weeks the girls participating in the program are taught to stand up for themselves and others; embrace their differences; that they can be anything they desire; and are responsible for their decisions.
“They learn to relate to others in a fun and healthy way,” Elwell said, after a recent session. “This is not a running program. It’s about getting these girls to know who they are.”
The cost is $150 per child, which includes a shirt, water bottle, race entry, medal – which they all receive – and a healthy snack. Each child wears No. 1 during the race, and there is no clock.
“It’s all about encouraging teammates and finishing the run,” said Elwell, a runner herself and the mother of two daughters, ages 5 and 7. “That’s one of the concepts that originally attracted me to the program.”
For information on Girls on the Run, visit www.girlsontheruntampabay.org or call (813) 974-5172.