By Kaylyn Christopher
Times West Virginian
Girls on the Run, a program that strives to teach young girls lessons about life values through running, will have a presence in Marion County beginning February 2014.
Laurie Abildso, council director, said the organization has more than 200 councils between the United States and Canada (including four in West Virginia). The local council launched in Monongalia County in the fall of 2007. Since then, the program has seen tremendous growth and has transformed from Girls on the Run of Monongalia County to Girls on the Run of North Central West Virginia.
“It has expanded primarily through word of mouth,” Abildso said. “Any time a school approached us that wanted to start the program, we made it happen.”
According to Abildso, nine schools and 280 girls in Monongalia County participated in GOTR last spring.
Now, elementary- and middle school-age girls in Marion, Harrison, Preston and Wetzel counties will also be able to benefit from the program and its mission.
“Our mission is to inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively incorporates running,” Abildso said.
But Abildso stressed that while running is a component of the program, the emphasis is on teaching the girls about getting to know themselves, working together as a team and contributing to the community.
“The running is secondary,” she said. “It’s more about life skills and building self-esteem, and we use the running games to teach those skills and healthy habits.”
Abildso said girls in grades three through eight may participate in the 12-week program, which begins the week of Feb. 17, 2014. Those who participate meet twice a week after school with certified coaches and volunteers. In addition to the daily lessons, each group will complete a service project and celebrate the end of the 2014 season by running a 5K.
“The emphasis is not on competition,” Abildso said. “Through the lessons, running is incorporated into games and activities. Running is always tied to another goal so they gradually build and by the end of the season they are prepared to cover the 3.1-mile distance.”
Last year, Abildso said the race drew a total of 700 runners, including the girls who participate in the program, their family members and individuals from the community.
According to Abildso, since the program has expanded to Monongalia’s neighboring counties, there is an increased need for coaches and volunteers.
“We are always looking for more coaches and also welcome assistance in helping with the 5K,” she said.
Abildso said head coaches must be female, but males may serve as assistant coaches. Individuals must be 18 years old to be an assistant or 21 years old to be a head coach. Applications and background checks must be completed before approval, and curriculum, CPR and first aid training is provided.
There is a fee to participate in the program, but Abildso said it operates on a sliding scale and nobody is turned away. Registration begins on Jan. 13, 2014.
For more information on how to coach, volunteer or register for the program, contact Abildso as 304-685-4140 or email@example.com or visit www.gotrncwv.org.
Through the program, Abildso hopes more and more girls can be reached, and that their lives will be positively influenced.
“It’s about having the girls believe in who they are and what they do,” Abildso said.
Email Kaylyn Christopher at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @KChristopherTWV.