Originally established in 1996 in Charlotte, North Carolina, Girls on the Run or GOTR has grown into a tremendously popular program reaching all 50 states and serving over 180,000 girls annually. Their mission is, “to inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experienced-based curriculum which creatively integrates running.” Girls on the Run (GOTR) is for girls in third through fifth grades, while their Heart & Sole program is for girls in grades sixth through eighth grades.
Tracy Johns started GOTR at Jonesborough Elementary School in 2010 and has volunteered ever since. She knows how important physical fitness is because she has been the school’s physical education teacher for 23 years.
“Girls on the Run (GOTR) is not just a running club. It is so much more!” Johns says.
Jonesborough’s GOTR volunteers – Julia Greenlee, Lauren Peak, Tammy King and Erica Griffin ¬– take turns in pairs and dedicate their time and energy to be coaches for the girls every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon during the fall and spring 10-week sessions.
A typical GOTR afternoon meeting lasts an hour and a half after school and includes running, usually with a game or activity inside or outside the school. “It helps the girls deal with being frustrated, their feelings of hurt, gossiping and bullying, and it helps them have more positive attitudes. We always sit down in a circle to talk so everyone feels included and no one feels left out. It gives them the opportunity to make friends outside of their regular classrooms and the older girls help the younger ones,” says Tracy. Each session ends with the girls selecting one team member who did a great job that day along with a rousing fun “energy cheer” to show positivity.
Each 10-week session requires the girls to be involved in a community service project. Tracy says, “We try and do something onsite so the girls can really see the project as it happens. For the fall, they made note cards of appreciation for the teachers at our school. This spring, we are collecting food for our school’s food bank. Before, we have collected items for the local animal shelter and made appreciation cards for the cafeteria workers and bus drivers.”
On Saturday, May 11, all of the girls’ training will culminate when they run in the Girls on the Run Spring 5K. More than 520 girls from across the eastern eight counties in Tennessee and two counties in Southwest Virginia will participate in the race, which begins at 9 a.m. at South Side Elementary, located at 1011 Southwest Ave., in Johnson City. This year’s race will feature a “color splash” where runners will be splashed with colored powder along the course in the “Tree Streets” neighborhood. All participating girls are asked to have a running partner preferably a parent.
“Over the years I have seen many girls who thought they couldn’t do a 5K and were so proud when they finished! They get so much confidence! We always say they can run, walk, skip or hop as long as they are moving toward the finish line. I have even seen some girls finish and then go back to help someone else reach the finish line,” says Tracy proudly. Running gives the girls confidence and makes them healthier. Girls of all shapes and sizes can participate.
The GOTR program is very popular at Jonesborough Elementary School. However, the team is limited to 15 girls each session. So, the girls are chosen by a lottery system. There is a registration fee to participate which covers their 5K registration, T-shirt, water bottle and all the curriculum and equipment used. Generous donations, sponsorships and scholarships help offset some of the cost for the girls.
“You don’t have to be in GOTR to run in the 5K. All are welcome for a race registration fee of $25 with all proceeds going to the organization. In fact, there is a contest each year and whichever school has the most 5K participants gets $1,000 for their school,” says Tracy.
Girls on the Run is always looking for volunteers for the race and throughout the year. If you would like to register for the 5K, volunteer, donate or find out how you can start a Girls on the Run program at your school, go to www.gotrnetn.org or contact co-director Jessica Thomas at [email protected]