Don’t let the name fool you.
Girls On The Run isn’t merely about logging sweaty miles. It’s about self esteem, healthy living and empowerment. Since 1996, when Molly Barker founded the organization in Charlotte with 13 girls, GOTR has helped teach life skills that resonate not just with individuals, but entire families.
For Lindy Morris, council director and co-founder of the Tri-County chapter of GOTR, the small amount of money she paid out of her own pocket to help finance a charter went a long way. The local chapter is celebrating its 10th anniversary May 10 with a 5K in Rock Hill. More than 6,000 girls in York, Lancaster and Chester counties have come through the Tri-County program since it began.
“Best $50 investment I ever made,” Morris laughed.
Morris, a Fort Mill resident who was familiar with GOTR through her friendship with Barker, initially got involved because her daughter Holly loved to run. The $50 she plunked down to start the local chapter was just a fraction of the cost. The other $1,450 came from a Springs Close Foundation grant for which Morris is eternally grateful. Holly went on to run in high school and now volunteers with GOTR, which serves girls in grades three to eight. She and her mom ran in the Disney Princess half-marathon together.
“That was really cool,” Lindy Morris said.
Like most GOTR veterans, she pauses long enough from her story to make a point the group likes to hammer home.
“The running is a piece of the program,” she said. “The thing is the life skills it leaves them with.”
One of those skills is how to handle confrontations, which the girls are taught through a lesson called “ ‘I feel,’ ‘When you,’ ‘Because...,’” which is essentially a template for expressing feelings in an appropriate way. Holly once relied on the skills she learned in confronting an adult at church.
“They ended up working everything out and it was great,” her mom said.
Getting involved with GOTR not only helped transform Fort Mill resident Jamie White’s life, but her family’s as well, she said. White’s daughter Jamia, now 11, started the program three years ago.
“What inspired me is the way my daughter felt when she came home after each practice. How excited she was and what she learned.”
White wanted to become a volunteer, but the commute to and from her job at Sam’s Club in Matthews, N.C., made that prohibitive. When a branch opened in Rock Hill, that changed everything.
“I got the hours I wanted, so I was able to coach,” she said.
White’s daughter wasn’t the only one benefiting from the program.
“It changed my life a lot,” White said.
She not only lost 50 pounds and has been able to keep the weight off, but adopted a healthier lifestyle overall. And GOTR is now a family affair. White and her husband James run regularly on the Anne Springs Close Greenway and she ran her first 5K last winter. James and the couple’s sons James III, 17, and Jamal, 14, are helping out with the 5K and their youngest child, Jamya, now in first grade, will join GOTR when she’s old enough.
Jamya also loves to run, and her mom is looking forward to giving her that opportunity – and more.
“It’s more about teaching the girls to be positive role models,” White said.
“One of the biggest things is teaching the girls how to be healthy and (we) talk to them about bullying and show them there’s other ways than hitting and fighting. The life skills help them grow into positive young women. They’re our future. Helping them grow into that, playing a role, that’s inspiring to me.”
Running to college
Running may be only one aspect of GOTR, but it’s still an important one and for some girls, it’s a path to college. Aubrey Gunnels, a 2011 graduate of Nation Ford High School, is now an engineering student at George Washington University, where she runs on the cross country team. Her involvement with GOTR led to running track at Gold Hill Middle School and cross country at Fort Mill High and then Nation Ford, after that school opened in 2007.
“My mom found out about Girls on the Run,” Gunnels wrote in an email last week. “A lot of the guys in our neighborhood ran cross country. My mom thought they were all pretty good role models and associated running as a good crowd to get involved with.”
Gunnels credits GOTR for sparking her interest in running, “but I think the lessons you learn from GOTR have stuck with me too,” she wrote.
“At the age girls start GOTR, you are at a such a vulnerable age where one person can say one thing and that’s your opinion on whatever that is. I think the lessons GOTR instills at such an early age really helped me growing up. I like to think I turned out pretty well and I think lessons GOTR teaches were part of the reason. I also think it is a great way to see how fun the sport of running can be.”
And make no mistake. Gunnels takes pride in the fact that she’s a Division I athlete. And she does love to run.
“I do run a lot. A big reason I came to GW was because I would have the opportunity to run. GW is the best thing to ever happen to me, so I guess indirectly GOTR made that possible too,” she wrote.
She also has a message for any girls reading this who want to get involved, but are hesitating because they are too shy or self conscious.
“To those girls I would say, ‘why not?’ If you start out as the shy girl on the team, by the end of the season you might be the most outgoing. To the moms, I would say: you can't make a better decision. Almost all the girls I still keep track of that were in the program in elementary school turned out really well, and I don't think that is coincident.”
With the Tri-County’s 10-year anniversary coming up soon, Gunnels has a special message for Morris:
“GOTR was a gift Lindy Morris has brought to the area. I think it has impacted girls' lives more than she knows,” she wrote. “I will forever be grateful for all of her hard work in the area to make the program such a success.”