Little girls today live in a complicated, and very grown-up world. Between the Miley Cyrus good-girl-gone-bad persona and the television shows and magazines filled with women whose body mass index classifies them as “medically underweight,” it becomes a challenging task to find an appropriate and relevant role model for girls. Couple that with the current—and the foreseeable future’s—absolute obsession with social media, and girls are in need of healthy outlets and positive role models more than ever. Role models in the form of teachers, moms, friends and coaches—people who look and behave like real women, rather than movie stars or models who promote an ideal that is neither feasible nor healthy.
Girls on the Run imagines a world in which “every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams.” It is in this world that Mary Fauth, executive director of Girls on the Run Wood River Valley, spends 10 weeks each season as she and the other coaches mentor and guide girls in grades three to five (Girls on the Run program), and grades six to eight (Heart and Sole program).
“Girls on the Run and Heart and Sole are curriculum-based, after-school programs,” Fauth explained. “They utilize the power of running to provide girls with the tools to honor their voices, recognize their gifts, take care of their bodies and envision their limitless potential. Running is used to inspire and motivate girls, encourage lifelong health and fitness, and build confidence through accomplishment,” she added.
Girls meet twice a week with their volunteer coaches to play running games and discuss topics pertinent to their current reality—making healthy decisions, body image and the media, cooperation and teambuilding and contributing to the community. According to Fauth, Girls on the Run programs have been offered in the Wood River Valley for 12 years and have positively affected the lives of over 1,400 young women in the community.
Local family practice physician and mother extraordinaire—Cortney Vandenburgh—got involved with the board of Girls on the Run of the Wood River Valley during the fall of 2013 when she became interested in the program for her own daughters. Vandenburgh coached during the 2014 season and explained, “We had a small group of third-grade girls, and we discussed topics and offered tools for issues related to peer pressure, gossip and helping others.” As the season progressed, Vandenburgh said the girls looked forward to the classes, and that an important lesson her daughter Anika, who participated in Girls on the Run, learned, was “to help work through problems that we might have with other girls.”
The season ended with a bake sale and a 5-kilometer run. “The girls did an amazing job in the run, and proved to themselves that they could accomplish great things with some hard work and a positive attitude,” Vandenburgh said.
One past participant best summed up the program: “Girls on the Run made me realize that I am the boss of my brain. I know that whatever I set my mind to do, I can do!”