Changing lives one stride at a time
If you find running a 5K race a daunting task, then take a cue from 6,000 grade-school girls and step up your game. On June 1, thousands of third- through eighth-grade girls from 325 sites across the Chicago region will cap off a 12-week program with a 5-kilometer run, which is about 3.1 miles, at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill.
The program is part of Girls on the Run, a non-profit organization that partners with schools and community centers to implement their unique, 12-week curriculum. And it isn’t just about the running.
“Our main goal is to inspire girls,” says Cathy Kruse, Communications Manager at Girls on the Run-Chicago. “The curriculum is about building self-esteem, setting goals and teaching girls what it means to be a part of a team and part of a community.”
The curriculum focuses equal attention on self-esteem and running. Lessons accompany intensive warm-ups, running, stretching and cooling down in each of the two-day, 90-minute sessions before or after school.
According to Kruse, “The first four weeks are devoted to getting to know themselves and understanding their values. The second four weeks are about being part of a team. The final four weeks focus on being a good member of society and contributing to the community.”
The girls at each site must design, implement and complete a community project.
“We’ve seen it all,” Kruse says. “The girls have done everything from holding a bake sale to benefit local animal shelters to a letter writing campaign to local elected officials to making and mailing cards to a local seniors center.”
The true culmination of the 12-week program, however, is the 5K run. The physical training is important, but the run is hardly a “race.”
“The 5K run in June is all about setting a goal and achieving it,” Kruse says. “The girls go at their own pace with a running buddy who helps to encourage them the whole way.”
Can programs like Girls on the Run make a difference in a girl’s life? Absolutely, says Dr. Jennifer DeBruler, an internal medicine physician with Advocate Medical Group, who is also board-certified in obesity medicine.
“Any program that fosters healthy habits early in a girl’s life will help her carry those over into adulthood,” Dr. DeBruler says. “The Girls on the Run program in particular is teaching girls to respect their bodies and value good health. We know that when you teach children to respect their bodies—whether through exercise or healthy eating habits—they are less likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors later on in life.”
Further, family involvement in the program as a child’s “running buddy” is key to helping develop healthy habits together.
Dr. DeBruler adds, “When it comes to a healthy diet and exercise, the more family involvement, the more the kids tend to stick to these healthy habits.”
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