Many of us probably know someone whose daughter or granddaughter or third cousin twice removed has taken part in Girls on the Run St. Louis (GOTR-STL). After all, the program has been around for 15 years and has touched thousands upon thousands of individuals — kids, coaches, parents.

Yet rarely do you hear any of them (adult or child) bragging about how they beat all the other girls and won the 5k race that concludes the 20-lesson curriculum. That’s because the value-based program isn’t about competition or finish times, it’s about nurturing strength of character and healthy life choices in girls and women while creatively integrating running.

In celebration of its 15th anniversary, we asked two past participants to reflect on their experiences with GOTR-STL.

Grace Harrison, 19, Clayton, Mo.
It has been over eight years since I “graduated” from GOTR-STL, but the one thing that has stuck with me has been the power of women to lead. GOTR-STL helped to instill in me that we, as girls, are powerful.

As a fifth grader, this power meant that I could beat the boys in kickball, or that I could actually run and finish a 5k with my teammates by my side. Now, as a young woman, I’ve realized that this power means so much more. I can still beat the boys in kickball, of course, but I can also strive to be not only the smartest girl in the class, but the smartest student. I can take on leadership roles in extracurriculars and can be proud of my titles.

GOTR-STL taught me from the start that we, as women, are leaders. From my mom as a coach to my friends as my teammates, powerful women surrounded me while growing up, and these women gave me my own strength to step up as both a woman and a leader, and to see women around me in the same light.

Last fall, I was assigned a research paper for my freshman year leadership class at the University of Denver. The assignment required me to think of a leader in my community, interview her, and figure out how and why she is so successful and empowering. Notice that I used female identifiers in this last sentence; I was one of just three students to choose a female leader for the assignment. But, for me, it was an easy choice: I decided to interview the executive director of GOTR-STL, Courtney Berg.

During my interview with Courtney, I remember her explaining to me why GOTR-STL is so important. “We’re sending this message to girls and women and people in general: We value girls. We value their voice and their abilities intrinsically. That’s really powerful,” she said.

As an alumna of GOTR-STL, I think I am proof that this is so true. I left the program feeling valued, feeling as though my voice was heard and feeling powerful. Eight years later, I still feel the same power as a woman, and it only continues to grow.

Saroya Williams, 11, Webster Groves, Mo.
I first started doing GOTR-STL in third grade. I was sort of nervous at first, because there were a bunch of new girls from different schools that I’d never met before. But after about a week, I was used to every one of my teammates.

Making new friends is one of the things I like most about GOTR-STL. I also like that it’s about a lot more than just running. The lesson I remember most is the Star lesson. Our coaches had us lay down, close our eyes and relax. Then, they read to us from their teaching guides. They had us imagine that we were stars and that we shine brightly. In order to keep shining brightly, we have to have positive energy toward ourselves and others. They also said thinking negatively about ourselves is like clouds covering our stars. We have to keep thinking positively to keep our stars shining brightly.

My favorite year at GOTR-STL was when I was in fourth grade. I discovered I actually love running! I like running because it’s good for my body and I happen to be really good at it. But what I like the most about running is when I run it makes me feel strong both on the inside and the outside. My running goals are to be on the track team in high school and maybe even become a professional runner and run long distances.

GOTR-STL can help girls out in certain situations — and it is so much fun! I recommend GOTR-STL to girls that like to run, want to learn some new life lessons or would like to meet new friends.

Fast Facts
Girls on the Run is an international non-profit organization dedicated to creating a world where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams. Locally, Girls on the Run St. Louis, the second largest Girls on the Run Council, empowers nearly 6,500 girls for a lifetime of healthy living each year.

Meeting twice a week in small teams of 8 to 17 girls, the evidence-based program teaches life skills through dynamic, conversation-based lessons and running games. The 20-lesson curriculum is taught by trained volunteer coaches and is available to girls in third through eighth grade at over 350 locations in 23 counties in eastern Missouri and western Illinoi twice per year. This year’s spring season was the largest in GOTR-STL’s 15-year history with nearly 4,000 girls served.

Running is used to inspire and motivate girls, encourage lifelong health and fitness, and build confidence through accomplishment. At each season’s conclusion, the girls, their coaches and their running buddies complete a 5k race in downtown St. Louis. Completing the 5k gives the girls a tangible sense of achievement as well as a framework for setting and achieving goals. The result: making the seemingly impossible, possible and teaching girls that they can.

Learn more at girlsontherunstlouis.org.

Brad Kovach is the editor/publisher of Terrain Magazine.