On your mark! Cincinnati Girls on the Run ready to coach girls toward 5K run and lifelong success

CINCINNATI - Today, young girls encounter any number of challenges in regards to peer pressure, body image and self-esteem.

Girls on the Run of Greater Cincinnati aims to help girls face those hurdles head on, using a 5K race as the classroom. 

In addition to fitness training, the 12-week program provides education on positive self-image, building relationships and helping the community.

“Research tells us that if you target those girls between third and eighth grade, they still will listen to what adults have to say and yet they’re also starting to feel that pressure from their friends,” said Girls on the Run of Greater Cincinnati executive director Jo Craven.

The organization will host its Girls on the Run (GOTR) Fall 5K Race, Saturday, November 16, 2013 at Sawyer Point.

In its tenth year, the Cincinnati chapter of national organization kicks off its fall program September 9.

At the starting line

Craven said 88 teams made up of 1,100 girls will participate in this year’s fall race.

The teams are comprised of eight to 12 girls. They represent schools, community organizations and churches in both the Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky area. She said all area girls from third to eighth grade are eligible to participate in the program.

“It's the perfect time to simply address some of those issues and develop the skills they’re going to use to face the challenges as they get older,” Craven explained.

The program focuses on setting and achieving a goals; not competing and winning. Each team is led by a coach who guides the girls through hot-button issues such as bullying, healthy eating, treating others with respect and contributing to the community.

Craven explained the endurance training for running gradually progresses and always encourages girls to run at their own pace. In addition, every girl has a running buddy of their choosing to run the race with them and help them celebrate their accomplishment along the way. If a girl is without an eligible buddy, the organization will provide one.

“It’s just amazing to see the girls and their coaches and their families celebrating,” she said. “About every quarter mile, we have a group of about 12 to 20 people who are standing there cheering the girls on, so there’s always somebody there to keep them going.”

The cost for the program is $150 per girl and includes:

  • A professionally fitted pair of running shoes from Bob Roncker’s Running Spot
  • Two GOTR t-shirts
  • Water bottle
  • Healthy snacks during lessons
  • Journal
  • Entry into the 5k
  • Finisher medal

One girl's story

Amanda Jenson, age 13, ran her first GOTR 5K in third grade. In sixth grade, she said in addition to running, she volunteered for pre-race duties and sang the National Anthem at one of the races. 

Jenson said one of most important lessons she learned was how to look at people from the inside before judging them on the outside. She said she and her teammates grew during their training and developed a strong, supportive relationship.

“We had our cheer section last year and we had a spot picked out to cheer the rest of the team on that was still finishing,” she said. “If you see a girl that’s struggling, you can cheer them on and people cheer you on while you’re running -it’s just really cool!”

As far as the actual running portion of the program goes, Jensen said she’s hooked. In addition to the GOTR races, she runs both track and cross country at her school. She said the organization has made such an impact on her, she plans to continue volunteering when she’s no longer eligible to compete in the program.

“I want to be a high school mentor when I get older,” she said. “A mentor is a high school student who comes to one of the teams at least once a week and to practices and runs the girls and helps coach and shares the experiences with the girls.”

Empowering support

Scholarships are available to girls based on their family income, with a maximum charge of $10 which can even be divided into a payment program. 

Craven said the organization never turns a girl away, providing scholarships to more than half the girls each year. She explained GOTR raises money for scholarships through special events and donations. Its SoleMate program allows both women and men to fundraise for GOTR by participating in their own running event or triathlon.

Craven said for $10, the SoleMate receives his or her own fundraising webpage, GOTR t-shirt, a backpack, a goody bag and a water bottle.

“If people read the article and say, I wish I could get involved in the organization and maybe think then can’t, but the reality is they can, because if they already do any kind of event themselves they can be a SoleMate,” she added.

One coach's story

Western Hills resident Jessica Leonard started as coach for GOTR in 2009. She said she was so inspired by the organization and the girls themselves, she wanted to do more.

Leonard became a SoleMate later that year with a fundraising goal of $10,000 while training for her first Ironman in Louisville. The physically challenging race requires participants complete a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and 26.2 mile run.

After finishing the race and easily meeting her goal, Leonard said she felt compelled to double her fundraising efforts to $20,000 for the 2011 Ironman Louisville. After raising more than $22,000, Leonard is now attempting to double her efforts again by competing in the Ironman Wisconsin Sept. 8.

“I’m after $50,000 for these girls, and I’m just around that $33 to $34 thousand,” she said. “Even though I’ll be racing in Ironman Wisconsin on Sunday, my fundraising efforts will go on throughout the year. I won’t stop after my race, I’ll continue fundraising for them until I reach my goal no matter how long it takes.”

The funds Leonard raises will provide scholarships for a minimum of 218 girls for next year. As a coach, she said she saw first hand the impact the program had on girls in terms of their self-image and how they related to their teammates.

A teacher at Seton High School by day and a personal trainer by night, Leonard explained coaching seemed like the perfect fit. She said even at age 30, she still feels peer pressure from others in regards of clothing and style. She explained establishing a positive self-image early on is more important today than ever. She said she finds this program so important, she’ll keep challenging herself to raise funds to sponsor the girls.

“There’s no way anyone can go to those races and not see the girls or not be involved with the girls after they see how excited they get and their sheer joy,” she said.

GOTR Fall fundraising events:

  • Empowering Girls Breakfast: Sept. 26 at 7:45 a.m. The Hyde Park Country Club. Breakfast features 2008 Olympic gold medalist Mary Wineberg as the keynote speaker. The event is invitation only, to inquire about an invitations contact the GOTR office at (513)321-1056.
  • Bob Roncker’s Running Spot: Through Oct. 2, all 4 Bob Roncker’s Running Spot locations will donate 10% of every sale to GOTR when shoppers mention the organization prior to making a purchase.
  • Girls on the Run Fall 5K: The event takes place Nov. 16 at 10:00 a.m. at Sawyer Point. The run is open to the public and registration is $15 by Sept. 15. You can register online.
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