Encinal and Laurel Girls on the Run learn it’s about much more than the race

by Chrisie Wendin on May 12, 2011

At a recent afterschool practice at the Encinal track, a dozen pairs of girls and their adult Running Buddies completed laps and earned rainbow-colored hand stamps. While the young runners loved marking their progress, they couldn’t help but talk about something better: the lollipops they anticipate getting when they participate in the real 5K! They’re talking about the Lollipop Run, on Saturday, May 14 in Golden Gate Park, which is the culminating event for the Bay Area Girls on the Run (GOTR) program.

For many of the Laurel and Encinal third through fifth graders, the Lollipop Run will be their first formal running event. They’re excited and a little unsure of what to expect. But as volunteer coach Eileen Lindgren (pictured above running with students) explains, it’s not about racing or winning:

“All along, we encourage the girls to think about working toward their personal best and to encourage each other along the way. Practice exercises are structured around each person contributing their best to the team. For example, at a recent practice  the girls crossed off a letter of an inspiring quote each time they completed a lap — they are contributing whether they complete 3 laps or 10. The underlying message is that we all need to work together and that each person’s contribution makes a difference. This is much more inspiring than just trying to be the fastest runner.”

GOTR, a national, volunteer-led program, aims to encourage positive emotional, social, mental, spiritual, and physical development. At each practice session, the girls get moving on the field or around the track — whether skipping, walking, jogging, or sprinting. But the focus of the program goes far beyond running, with Coach Eileen, along with Coaches Holly Fleming (pictured handstamping above) and Michelle Sutton, leading the girls through engaging activities and discussions that are part of the GOTR curriculum.

“One lesson was around advertising — understanding who creates it, what companies want from us, and how we feel about it. The girls had so many things to say that we had trouble getting to everybody! In fact, there are many days that the workout time is shortened in order to create enough space for all the girls to share. The program helps them think about things in new ways, or deeper ways,” says Eileen.

While this Saturday’s Lollipop Run marks the ending to this season’s GOTR program, the coaches hope that the experience will have a more lasting impact. Concludes Eileen, the mother of two girls, one of whom is in the program, “I haven’t met a mother yet who wouldn’t have liked to have this kind of support in her formative years, or who doesn’t think this would be helpful to her daughter’s sense of well-being. The most incredible part of the program is knowing that we can make a difference in a girl’s life, no matter what her physical capabilities are.”

Join in the fun at the Lollipop Run

Community members are invited to support GOTR and participate in Saturday’s run, as runners or volunteers. Register here, or find out more about the Girls on the Run of the Bay Area at its Website, or the national GOTR organization here.

Photos by Linda Hubbard Gulker.

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