STOW: In the wake of natural disasters and less-than-civil political elections, Echo Hills Elementary School girls run in hopes to inspire a positive attitude.
On a dreary and cold afternoon last Friday, Echo Hills Elementary students ran with their coaches and Stow Mayor Sara Drew as part of the Girls on the Run program.
On Sunday, all 400 Girls on the Run participants from five counties will lace up their sneakers, pin a “number 1” race bib to their t-shirts and hit the pavement at Blossom, embarking on a 5K race, said Monica Peritt, director of operations & council management.
Drew said that she is inspired by the positive attitude of the girls and their support for each other.
“I’m grateful to have the opportunity to be a small part of an outstanding program. I feel like I get a lot more inspired by the girls than I could inspire them,” Drew said. “It’s easy for me to say, ‘Oh this is hard, or it’s hard to exercise and it’s hard to take care of myself’ and here are these little girls who are out running 3.1 miles. If they can do it, I can do it.”
The national nonprofit organization, founded in 1996, inspires girls ages eight to 13 “to be joyful, healthy, and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running,” Peritt said.
Peritt said each team, typically comprised of eight to 15 girls, trains together twice a week for ten weeks in the fall and spring. They are led by trained coaches, who, in addition to leading workouts, provide life-skills guidance and assist the girls with a community-service project of their choice.
The Girls on the Run of Greater Summit, the Akron/Cleveland council, is one of more than 200 councils nationwide. Teams are organized through teachers, parents and community volunteers who work to coordinate with a school or community center to bring the program to their location.
“The program provides volunteer training, a nationally successful curriculum and all materials needed to deliver the program,” Peritt said.
At each lesson, the coaches facilitate discussions and activities addressing a variety of topics relevant to girls, such as gossiping, bullying, assertiveness, healthy body image, values and goal setting.
“Nowadays there are so many things happening that are negative, we want them to go out into the community and make a difference,” coach Bethany Pontious said. “We want these girls to grow up and know that they can do anything. That is why it is so awesome that the mayor is here. She is the epitome of a powerful, woman leader.”
Drew said she is an avid supporter of the Girls on the Run Program and has ran with the Stow girls team for past practices and 5K events.
“I’m thrilled they invited me back once again,” Drew said. “The Girls on the Run program is one of the best programs girls in our community can participate in, and I commend the coaches and volunteers who organize the practices and events.
“Ensuring that girls and young women have good self-esteem, treat themselves and others with respect and in turn expect to be treated with respect, tolerate and celebrate differences in ability and perspective and develop life-long healthy habits are some of the most important lessons that adults can teach,” Drew said.
Carly Bennett, 9, was Drew’s running partner and said she was excited to have the opportunity to run with the mayor, even though she won’t be participating in the 5K because she will be enjoying a trip to Disney World with her family.
Peritt said Sunday’s event gives participants the opportunity to celebrate their hard work leading up to the race.
“For many kids and adults, it’ll be their first time running an event,” Peritt said. “And for all of them, it will be the culmination of months of hard work. With registration open to the entire community, the day is meant as a celebration, complete with hair painting and other fun activities. Although the event includes a time clock, it’s not intended to inspire competition among the girls or different teams.”