Last spring, third-grader Hadyn Norton learned about a youth development program – Girls on the Run (GOTR). She was very excited and immediately wanted to join, but she had to get permission from her parents, Emily and Adam. “I must admit I was a little hesitant at first,” shared Emily. “ However, Hadyn is now in her second season and she loves it. The program has taught her life skills that as a woman it has taken me 30 years to learn. GOTR is absolutely worth it!”
Founded in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1996, GOTR is based on the premise that every girl can embrace who she is, can define who she wants to be, can rise to any challenge, and can change the world. Today more than 168,000 girls participate annually in programs in over 225 cities across North America. Locally, there are more than 30 GOTR sites across Lexington and Richland, Kershaw and Sumter Counties.
GOTR’s nationally developed curriculum combines training for a 5K (3.1 miles) running event with lessons that inspire girls to become independent thinkers, enhance their problem solving skills and make healthy decisions. Over 10 weeks, Hadyn and her friends attend the GOTR after-school program twice a week at Sandlapper Elementary. In a recent interview Hadyn explained, “We start with stretches, then warm up exercises, then we play games and finally we run. Squat jacks are my favorite warm up.” No previous running experience is required, though Hadyn already knew she loved to run.
Throughout the program, the girls make new friends, build self-confidence and celebrate their uniqueness. Girls are encouraged to explore and discuss their beliefs through their own experiences and challenges. One way they do this is through a buddy system. Hadyn said, “When I run with a buddy, I learn to be myself and express myself. I have learned that everyone is unique and yet we can all be teammates and friends.”
“We also learn positive self-talk,” shared Hadyn. “We write down positive words on index cards and then we think about them as we run around the track.” At the beginning of Hadyn’s first season her mom and other parents were invited to visit the program while it was in action. “We got to watch the girls run. At the end of each lap they shouted out powerful affirmations– I am beautiful! I am strong! I am intelligent! Hearing the girls commit to these words with confidence brought tears to my eyes.”
The true success of the GOTR program is exemplified in Hadyn’s own words. Last year she was experiencing trouble in school. Some students were teasing her because of her small size. With self-confidence and a newfound ability to express herself, Hadyn confronted the bullies. She said emphatically, “Stop it right now! I don’t have time for that.” And they did stop. No better lesson could have been learned.
At the end of each season, the girls participate in the GOTR 5K event. On November 21 Hadyn and hundreds of others will hit the track at Historic Columbia Speedway in Cayce. In her last 5K Hadyn ran with her Mom. She is still deciding whom she will run with this time –maybe her dad. This celebratory, non-competitive running event is the culmination of the program. As the girls cross the finish line they realize that even the seemingly impossible IS possible.
For more information about Girls on the Run and its upcoming Fall 2015 GOTR 5K on November 21, visit www.gotrcolumbia.org or call 803-381-0482.