Celebrating Our Girl Power!
In 1976, I bought my first pair of running shoes. I was fifteen then and like most fifteen year old girls, trying to figure out who I was inside a changing body. I was desperately wanting to be liked by the beautiful crowd–popular with the boys. But I couldn’t fit into the box the world placed over the spark of my spirit. The box told me things I knew in my soul weren’t true: That the way I looked was more important than who I was inside. That being a woman meant keeping emotions like anger to myself. That having a boyfriend meant giving up part of my own identity. But I stepped in anyway. Hours spent trying to mold my body, my lifestyle, my life into what the box required were extremely painful. So I ran. I’d strap on those running shoes and head for the woods, the streets, wherever my feet would take me. I felt Beautiful. Strong. Powerful. I felt a part of something greater than myself.

“Girls on the Run is fun, educational and is making a difference. As my friend Emily Luski writes, Girls on the Run taught me to be a better runner, a better person and how to believe in myself. My wish is that all girls who come in contact with the program will share Emily’s experience. She is part of a movementpart of a strong and healthy coalition of girls that will improve the world by simply valuing themselvesnot for their appearancebut for what they have to offer on a deeper level. The impact will be phenomenal and across generations.
~Molly Barker, M.S.W., Founder, Girls on the Run International

Research shows that:
* Women who exercised as girls have greater self-confidence and self-esteem than those who were inactive as kids.
* Running and moving can improve the physical and mental health of females.
* Girls who spend more time with healthy peers live healthier lives.
* GOTR positively affects self-esteem, body image and healthy attitudes and behaviors!

GOTR was started by Molly Barker, four-time Hawaii Ironman Triathlete, because she wanted to help girls find a way to live outside the Girl Box. The Girl Box is the space explicitly circumscribed for women, where societal standards of femininity dictate behavior and expectations. On the GOTR Website, girlsontherun.org, Barker offers something of a mission statement, part of which describes the birth of the program.

On July 7, 1993, I remember it well, Barker explains. I put on my running shoes and ran at sunset. Im not sure at what instant of the run the box disappeared, but like a glass womb it shattered around me and pushed me out, born to an entirely new freedom. It was a moment of personal awakening.

One happy GOTR participant, Lauren Badenhoop, 11, says the program is fun on many levels. She says some of her favorite things about it are meeting new people, learning new things, staying physically fit and getting better at staying calm. Wise beyond her years, Lauren casually explains that the program offers life-lessons.

It teaches you how to become a winner for yourself and how to be proud of yourself, she says. There should be a program called adults on the run.

Laurens dad, Jakson Badenhoop, says GOTR is about giving girls the emotional support and tools they need to safely navigate through pre-teen and teenage years, a time when cultural messages can be especially damaging. He says that athletic involvement can reduce the chances of smoking, drug and alcohol use, and even teenage pregnancy.

Its more than just taking a group out for a run, Jakson says.

If GOTR had a poster-child, Lauren Badenhoop would certainly fit the bill. Not only is she a top-notch athlete, but she understands the importance of her relationships with the other girls in the program and is her teams loudest cheerleader.

When Laurens team ran the 5K race they had been training for all season, Lauren finished first by far. After she crossed the finish line, she could have just basked in the glory of success, but she turned around and ran the other way. She caught up with her team members and ran the rest of the race with them to cheer them on.

Lauren exemplifies what Girls on the Run is about, Deborah Dunham, Founding Executive Director of GOTR of N. E. Florida, says. Huge heart, great attitude, great athlete.

According to Lauren, she was just proud of her friends.

If I didnt go back, I would focus everything on me, and I wanted other people to get attention too, Lauren says.

If Lauren is the indicator of what GOTR participants are like and what they are going to do in the future, watch out world!!!!