The Girls on the Run organization started in 1996 in Charlotte, North Carolina, and is now nationwide with over 12,000 groups across the country. The South Boston chapter is being hosted by the South Boston/Halifax YMCA and the program began in the early fall.
Sarah Allen and the YMCA got together and decided that they would try and start a local group to join the Central Virginia Girls on the Run chapter that is based in Lynchburg.
Allen, who moved to Halifax County from Denver, Colorado, had previous experience as an assistant coach with Girls on the Run in Denver agreed to be the head coach of the new group in South Boston.
Girls on the Run are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that “inspires girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running.”
Allen and her coaches needed six girls minimum in the third through fifth grade to get things going and they were excited because within a week they had five girls sign up. Then the word of mouth got around and things took off. “That is probably my favorite part of this community. It is just so small and everybody knows everybody and it is neighbors and it is friends from school and we now have 13 girls,” Allen said.
The 13 girls along with Allen and other assistant coaches met on Monday’s and Wednesday’s for eight weeks for an hour and a half and went through 16 lessons that helped the girls build up confidence and empower them.
One of their last lessons they went over had to do with star power. It helped the girls learn how to overcome bad days or times where they have a bad attitude. “Activating your star power means what you can do to be a star and be a light instead of being darkness,” Allen explained.
“That is one thing we kind of push on girls, you always present to the girls what we can do to make them feel better. Make them a little cheer or say something you like about that person. It has been a huge confidence boost,” Allen added.
The culmination of each season ends with a 5K that is usually run in Lynchburg with all of the groups in the chapter coming together to run the race together. But due to COVID-19, this season ended with a “K your way” event where each group chose how they wanted to run the end of season race. Allen decided that they would use the Tobacco Heritage Trail in South Boston to have the girls and their parents and siblings run the race.
For many of the girls they never dreamed that they would be able to complete a 5K that is a distance of 3.1 miles. They first began training for the 5K for running for 20-30 minutes twice a week. Allen said that the improvement in distance for the girls in those timed runs has been fantastic.
“These girls from week one to now has been fantastic watching them,” Allen said. Not just physically where they went from doing 1-2 laps around the track to now probably 10-12, but building that confidence and teaching them life lessons but in a way that third through fifth graders understand,”
The group also teaches the girls that it doesn’t matter if you finish first or last, it is about self-improvement. They want the girls to set a time to beat and continue to set goals each time out and work to get to where they want to be at the conclusion. “It is really cool seeing them because they get so excited when they are done,” Allen said.
On Saturday the girls, their coaches along with their parents and siblings joined together to finish off the season with their 5K race. Parents and other supporters spread out along the trail with signs, cowbells, drums, a water station and pom poms to cheer on the girls as they ran their way through the course.
For each of the 13 girls, Saturday was the first time they completed a 5K race, and the excitement on each of their faces as they approached the finish line showed the feeling of accomplishment they felt.
The pink shirts that they wore were visible from far away and they added to that by spraying pink hairspray in their hair and wearing tutus to take the important event to the next level. The coaches ran alongside the girls encouraging them every step of the way. When they needed to take a break from running, the coaches were there to motivate them to keep going and push to finish. It was a total group effort from everyone involved and it paid off as every girl crossed the finish line and completed what they had set out to do almost two months ago.
As Allen spoke to the girls after the race she got emotional talking about how much they meant to her and how much she is going to miss them. Allen and her husband are moving to Richmond soon where she will stay involved with Girls on the Run through their groups, but it was bittersweet as yesterday came to an end.
“For me it has been life changing,” Allen said. “In the fact that being the head coach and seeing the growth of these girls and the growth within myself.”