Girls on the Run ready for 5K

Members of the Orchard View Elementary School Girls on the Run site get ready to run a practice 5K with their running buddies. They will be running in a 5K today. Photo courtesy of Sara Price.

WINCHESTER – Fourth grader Cassie Steward is more than ready for the Girls on the Run 5K today – she ran the 3.1-mile equivalent on Tuesday during her site’s final fundraising project and was still eager to run more.

Girls at the Orchard View Elementary School site decided to take contributions toward the Winchester SPCA for their second community project as part of Girls on the Run. Cassie, a veteran of the program, said she ran most of the site’s first 5K in the spring alongside her dad, but will race him at the last leg of today’s run so she can say she beat him.

Girls on the Run of the Shenandoah Valley is a nonprofit local council that covers Winchester, Frederick, Clarke, Warren, Page and Shenandoah counties in Virginia and Berkeley, Jefferson and Hardy counties in West Virginia. Volunteer coaches at various local sites hold two 90-minute sessions per week during the season where the girls go through various exercises that build self-confidence and endurance at the same time.

After lessons about positive self-image, healthy relationships and contributions to the community, the program culminates for all the sites at the council’s Girls on the Run 5K. This season’s 5K will start at 9 a.m. today at Jim Barnett Park in Winchester. Girls will run with an accompanying partner, having trained for the event since the season began in late August.

Danielle Brown, a second grade teacher at Orchard View, started a site there during last spring’s program with 16 girls. This season, she and three other coaches are leading 21 girls and she anticipates splitting into two sites with even more participants in years to come.

She said she’s seen immense growth with her girls and has confidence knowing they’ll go into junior high and high school with the tools they need.

“They’re more joyful, they’ve learned what it means to be a healthy person and then I see that confidence shine though them at the end of the season,” she said. “It’s an amazing feeling to cross the finish line and accomplish that when you weren’t sure you were going to be able to do it.”

During the Miles for SPCA project, the girls at Brown’s site cheered each other on to finish laps around the school and gave words of encouragement in the form of “energy awards” to their fellows that they saw ran well or tried hard.

Amber Wallin said that when her family moved from Georgia, her daughter Adeline was insistent on finding a school where she could continue on with the program – she travels from Bass-Hoover Elementary School in Stephens City to Orchard View for the lessons.

Of the various extracurricular activities her children have participated in, she said Girls on the Run has been the best. Having helped her other daughter through what she said was a sometimes negative and cutthroat culture in cheerleading, the promotion of cooperation and confidence in Girls on the Run was empowering and refreshing.

“And it reinforces everything else: the positive self-esteem on your own, the bullying, the not getting suckered in, that there is an alternative – there’s 21 other girls, we’re not going to buy into that,” she said.

Although the Shenandoah Valley Council director Allison Major said 145 girls will be participating in the 5K today, she also said there will always be room for more.

“I want to have Girls on the Run in every school in our territory … someday,” she said. “It’s been a huge difference in my life and I would love every girl to be exposed to it. I think it really is a very positive and empowering program and gives girls important tools to navigate through life.”

Learn more about Shenandoah Valley Girls on the Run at http://tinyurl.com/ohndof5.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com