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Girls on the Run: International program stresses hope, cooperation to area children

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Mattie Davie, 8, runs ahead of other participants of Girls on the Run on the lawn at Virginia Avenue Charlotte DeHart Elementary School. The program for third- through fifth-grade girls encourages trust, physical activity and healthy lifestyles. Below, Allison Major leads participants of Girls on the Run in an exercise that teaches trust and community. Dennis Grundman/Daily

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Niya Scott, left, and Sunae Stokes, both 8, relax while listening at a Girls on the Run meeting. Dennis Grundman/Daily

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Kim Palmer (left), head coach of Girls on the Run, leads students through stretching exercises. From the left are Palmer, Samantha Thomas, Mattie Davis, Sofia Posadas, Hannah Church and Kerina Jimenez all 8. Dennis Grundman/Daily

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Niya Scott and Sunae Stokes, both 8, hold hands while completing a lap and Asya Fulton 9, runs along side. Dennis Grundman/Daily

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Samantha Thomas, right, and Mattie check off that they have completed a lap during a recent meeting at Virginia Avenue Charlotte DeHart Elementary School. Dennis Grundman/Daily

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Judy Kay Schroer, an assistant coach with the program, helps Tori Rittlemeyer, 9, complete a lap. Dennis Grundman/Daily

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Girls on the Run girls at Daniel Morgan Middle School exercise before taking a lap. Dennis Grundman/Daily

By Kim Walter -- Daily Correspondent
WINCHESTER -- When turning on the TV, flipping through a magazine or going to see a movie, one is bombarded by less than hopeful images and descriptions of women. Media has girls thinking they need to look and act a certain way in order to fit in.

This is just one of the issues that Girls on the Run International addresses and is hoping to change. Now, Winchester girls have their own chance to join the movement.

For 90 minutes, twice a week, third- through fifth-grade girls meet at Virginia Avenue Charlotte DeHart Elementary School and Daniel Morgan Middle School have practices that include healthy snacks, chatting, learning a lesson, stretching and finally, running. They are taught and accompanied by head and assistant coaches.

Allison Major, of Winchester, is the council director and head coach for the local chapter. She, along with a few other women, heard about the program some years ago, and after a yearlong process of applications and assessing the city's needs, was able to travel to Charlotte, N.C., for training.

Since it's their first year teaching, they could only allow 12 girls at each site to sign up. The group hopes to add a program at John Kerr Elementary School in the spring, and eventually would like to see participation at each elementary school in Winchester and Frederick and Clarke counties.

At the end of the 12-week program, Girls on the Run will host a 5K at Jim Barnett Park, in which all the girls will run, along with any family, friends or other members of the community.

While learning to lead a healthy lifestyle is important, the coaches stress that it is just as much about inner strength and self-respect.

Sofia Posadas, 8, and in third grade at John Kerr, expressed that she had no problem fitting in with the girls at Virginia Avenue.

When asked what her favorite part about Girls on the Run has been so far, she paused for a moment and replied with, "I've learned that I have lots of talents. I'm good at making friends and running."

Asya Fulton, a 10-year-old fourth-grader at Virginia Avenue, said that even though she didn't like running much at the beginning of the season, she's excited for the 5K in November.

"You just have to stay at your own pace," she advised.

As the girls sat down for their lesson on the importance of community, they giggled and whispered with one another. Once the lesson started, though, they were intent on listening and seemed happy to contribute their thoughts.

They then had a small running activity, during which all the girls cheered each other on, yelling words of encouragement and giving high-fives.

Kim Palmer, head coach at Virginia Avenue, is more than happy with the growth she's seen in the girls since September.

"The best thing about being a part of this is seeing each girl have certain things click, and hearing them say that they feel stronger each week. It's also great to be out in the community," she said.

Over at Daniel Morgan, the girls had the same lesson and activities for their practice.
One fifth-grader, Jessica Lazo, had to sit out due to a knee injury the week before.
"I really miss the running," she exclaimed.

The lesson that stuck out most in her mind was that, "magazines don't do a good job describing girls ... it's really just good to be healthy."

Jessica has not only spread her newfound knowledge to other girls at school, but also to her family as she runs with her dad during the week.

As a health department worker, Karen Farnsworth studies risky behaviors in teenage girls, and said, "this is the age that they start to second-guess themselves, so it's important to get them to make core friendships with other girls that share a connection through positive behaviors."

Farnsworth, also an assistant coach at Daniel Morgan, is excited to see just how big the program can get. "You can just see it waiting to multiply," she said.

After doing a few laps around the track, Shay Lee, also a fifth-grader, stopped to get some water and wait to do the rest of the running with a few friends.

"It's good for a girl to think positive, because then she knows that she can make things better," she said. Though she'll be too old for Girls on the Run next year, she hopes to participate in Girls on Track, a similar program for sixth-eighth graders.

The head coach for Daniel Morgan, Jessica Edwards, has gotten just as much out of the lessons as the girls -- if not more.

"I'm learning to be a better version of myself," she explained.

While Girls on the Run had the right number of coaches and volunteers for the fall season, in order to spread the program to other schools, they need more.

"There's a time commitment and preparation for practices, but you're making a difference so it's well worth it," Edwards said. "There is no downside to this program."

For more information on the local program, to sign up for the 5K on Nov. 19, or if you'd like to volunteer, go to www.girlsontherunwinchester.org or search Girls on the Run Winchester, VA on Facebook.

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