CINCINNATI — It’s a sunny Thursday at Dunham Recreational Center in West Price Hill, and the group of tween girls sitting on the bleachers chat like they’ve known each other forever.
Donning matching T-shirts and neon New Balance running sneakers, they’re sharing secrets and smiling.
Just by watching, it’s hard to believe most of them met only a few weeks ago. After going through Girls On The Run, they might just be friends for life.
The 14-member Heart & Sole team is part of Girls On The Run, a program that’s spent the last two decades, including 12 years in the Tri-State, encouraging girls in the areas of goal-setting and physical fitness.
This year, Girls On The Run International is hosting the ‘Born To Run’ program, asking members to post on social media what they were born to do, using #GOTRBornToRun.
The girls on the Heart & Sole team say they’re born to do many things, like pilot a plane or become a leader.
Erica Palmer leads the girls at Dunham, and after weeks of training, she’s preparing for the girls’ practice 5K by making sure all of their names are prominently displayed on a congratulatory banner.
“The mission is to get them across three miles,” Palmer explains of the program. “Every time we get together, which is two times a week, there’s a lesson.”
Lessons are about things like self-confidence, self-esteem and eating habits, the things with which tween girls might struggle.
The Girls On The Run curriculum teaches about balancing different aspects of life — the idea is if you can balance all parts of your wheel, you can be a whole person.
Heart, spirit, body, brain and social are the aspects of the lessons, Palmer explained.
“Spirit is, for example, talking about building a support system,” she said. “At this age you’re like, ‘Well OK, I can do it myself,’ or ‘I can’t do it myself.’ It just gives them tips on how to build a support system.”
For the girls on the team, they’ve found a support system in each other.
Navia Palmer, an eighth grader, said her favorite lesson this season was about exploring comfort zones.
“At this age, you’re kind of figuring out what is your comfort zone, your stretch zone, your panic zone,” she said. “I like learning about that a lot.”
It’s Navia’s goal to finish her 5K in under 30 minutes.
For Josie Heurd, also in eighth grade, she joined the program for exercise, but gained more.
“I’ve learned confidence,” she said. “They’ve helped me appreciate myself and not let anyone tell me who I am. And to be myself around everyone.”
More than 1,600 girls will be participating in this year’s spring 5K at 8 a.m. on May 7, starting at Paul Brown Stadium.
It’s the largest group of runners Girls On The Run Greater Cincinnati has seen, said Executive Director Mary Gaertner.
“We have an updated start line and course this year, to account for the big crowds we are expecting,” Gaertner said. “We are going to have more than 4,000 runners downtown.”
This year 121 teams will be participating. Each girl is given a pair of running shoes and a T-Shirt when they sign up. They get a medal when they complete the race.
“It’s a transformative program that combines goals and running and walking,” Gaertner said of the program. “It really helps girls at this pivotal pre-teen age gain more confidence and positive self-esteem and make them feel more confident as they head into their high school years.”
If You Go
Girls On The Run Greater Cincinnati spring 5K
Saturday May, 7 at Paul Brown Stadium
Pre-Race Festivities: 8 a.m.
Race: 10 a.m.