By SHANNON MOLTER
Picture hundreds of cheerful young girls running, skipping or walking across the finish line of a 5-kilometer race while their coaches and families are cheering them on.
To these girls, crossing that finish line means a lot more than just completing a 5k race. To them it celebrates all the hard work it took to complete Girls on the Run, a 10-week after-school program.
Molly Barker founded Girls on the Run in 1996. The organization’s first practices were held in North Carolina for a group of only 13 participants. Girls on the Run now has councils located in hundreds of cities throughout North America and Canada.
It serves more than 130,000 third-eighth grade girls each year.
The sixth-eighth grade section of Girls on the Run is called Girls on the Track. The two programs differ only because the subject matter in the lessons is relevant to the ages.
A Girls on the Run council came to the Milwaukee area in 2007. The council has grown since 2007 and now has 26 Girls on the Run sites in the Milwaukee area.
The Milwaukee area Girls on the Run council offers a 10-week season each fall and spring. Each season ends with all sites in the Milwaukee area running in a combined 5k race.
Both volunteer and assistant coaches conduct the Girls on the Run practices. Each practice includes a lesson portion, stretching, fun warmup exercises and, of course, running. The lessons that the coaches teach the girls are based on a curriculum that is research-based and proven.
“My favorite part about the practices is hearing the girls process and talk about what they’re able to do that they didn’t think they were able to do before,” said Jennifer Hannis, a two-year coach of a Milwaukee area Girls on the Run program. “I am looking forward to just seeing the girls change over time and become more confident.”
“Our goal in five years is to serve 900 girls, which is almost double what we served last year,” said Tina Jones, Milwaukee area executive director.
Nearly 75 percent of the girls participating within the Milwaukee area Girls on the Run council are on scholarship.
“We work hard to fundraise so we can continue to serve every girl who wants to participate,” said Kim Timms, Milwaukee area program coordinator.
Last summer, Girls on the Run volunteers raised money with a Tough Mudder shoe collection event. Many of the Tough Mudder participants throw away their muddy shoes after the race, so it was the Girls on the Run volunteers’ job to collect the abandoned shoes.
They turned the shoes in to the organization, Green Sneaker, and received 75 cents per pair.
“We turned in enough shoes to raise $4,000 for scholarships,” Jones said.
The Girls on the Run 5k race is unlike any other.
“Our 5k is truly a celebration of the girls. Every girl wears the #1 race bib and there are no winners or losers,” Timms said.
Every Girls on the Run 5k ace is open to the public. The Milwaukee area fall 5k is being held at 10 a.m. on Nov. 17, at Greenfield Park.
“I got to run a 5k for the first time so it was exciting … and I was surprised that I was able to do it,” said Courtney Bunnow, fourth grader at Edgewood Elementary School and Girls on the Run participant for two years.
“At the 5k the girls are so proud of themselves,” Jones said. “We hope the girls understand they can get that feeling of accomplishment again by setting goals for themselves and reaching them. I hope they understand that the soreness from the 5k will go away, but they will never forget that feeling when they crossed the finish line.”
There are many ways to get involved with Girls on the Run. To register for the Milwaukee area fall 5k, sign up a child for the next season, volunteer or donate, visit gotrmilwaukee.org.