Girls on the Run

Tools

by Jennifer Tomazic

MILWAUKEE -- More than 150 school-aged girls from the Greater Milwaukee area are training to run a 5K race but running isn't the only skill they're learning.

The third through eighth grade girls are part of the Girls on the Run program. It's a program that builds self esteem using running as a tool to
create healthy habits.

The girls meet twice a week at one of the 15 sites in the Milwaukee area. They have a different lesson each day on everything from healthy eating to positive body image.

When CBS 58 stopped by Escuala Vieau, the girls were learning about gossip by trying to put toothpaste back in the tube.

"We realized that's what gossip is and you can't even take it back," said Geneviv Alcantara. "I won't do it anymore."

The small group of 18 girls allows them to process the lesson and feel comfortable talking about the topic. For 12 weeks, the girls get to know each other and their coaches, who are volunteers.

"Coaching girls on the run is really fun. I love working with these girls. They are so enthusiastic, they're so excited to come to practice," said Elyssa Lockington.

Lockington has been coaching at Vieau for four years and says the girls have inspired her to run competitive races. She has gotten a lot out of running and hopes the girls will too.

"I want them to have healthy coping mechanisms. I want them to understand that running isn't something that fit people do, this is something that's a life skill," said Lockington.

And something that the girls are encouraged to continue because they're all given a free pair of tennis shoes.

There were 80 girls who wanted to sign up this year at Vieau but Lockington says the program could only accommodate 34 girls. While there is a fee for the Girls on the Run, scholarships are available.

"My favorite part is the running part and the friends part and the communication," said Geneviv.

Once the girls are done with their lesson for the day, they head out into the school yard to run. Sometimes they run for 15 minutes other times it's closer to 40. Depending on the day the girls will either run with a partner, in a group, or by themselves.

While not all of them will chose to make running their key source of exercise, outgoing Girls on the Run Council Director Zarine Anklesaria says it's a skill girls from all walks of life can benefit from.

"The girls in the inner city might not have access to the tools to exercise on a consistent basis. While the girls in the suburbs might not have the best self body image," said Anklesaria.

She says the program has expanded from just Milwaukee County in 2008 to Waukesha, Ozaukee, and Washington Counties this year. There are two seasons: one in the spring and one in the fall.

The spring season ends with all 150 girls participating in Laura's Smile Mile on June 2.

"You feel proud when its over. You feel proud because you went all around and you finished and it's really fun," said Geneviv.

Each girl has a running buddy to keep them going through the entire race and cheer them on.

Girls on the Run is always looking for volunteers to be running buddies, coaches, or help out with fundraising. For more information, log onto http://gotr-milwaukee.org/

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