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0000017c-60f7-de77-ad7e-f3f739cf0000Arts & More airs Fridays at 7:50 a.m. and 4:20 p.m.Theme music: "Like A Beginner Again" by Dan Barry of Seas of Jupiter

Girls On The Run Delivers Lessons Beyond The Finish Line

Courtesy of Hope Grable

When you are training for a race, you are learning how to pace yourself, how to be calm, and how to deal with roadblocks. The same principles can easily be applied to daily life.

Just ask Emily and Sydney - two fourth graders who are members of the Calhoun County branch of Girls on The Run

"I have this friend at school and she's not always the nicest to me - and they give me ideas [on] what to do," says Emily, who's nine.

"When they do the lessons it also helps you mentally get ready for the running - and physically, because they train you mentally and physically, I guess," says 10-year-old Sydney. "To just keep thinking you can do it and if you keep thinking that, you can do it."

Emiiy and Sydney are two of 33 third through fifth grade girls at Sonoma Elementary who are in the program. Girls on the Run is an international nonprofit organization that teaches life skills to young girls - all while preparing them to run a 5K.

Credit Courtesy of Hope Grable
The girls learn how gossiping hurts everyone by creating a "gossip web." The program teaches life lessons as well as physically preparing the girls to run a 5-K.

Sydney says it also teaches you to be yourself. 

"It makes you realize that you can stand up for what you believe is right and it's just really great for you. I was really scared to admit that I want to do fishing when I grow up - cause all the other girls want to do other stuff like nail salon and stuff like that," she says. "But now I'm not afraid to admit it."

The girls who participate are in third, fourth, and fifth grade - an age where they are right on the cusp of being teenagers - and having to face the growing social issues that come with it, says program director Katie Thill.

"This is really a great program for girls to be with other girls and talk about issues that they don't have time to talk about during the day. They can do it in a safe environment with coaches who care - and those coaches are there to help you so that you can eventually talk to your parents about this, talk with your teachers about this," she says. "It's a good girl time that you can really have that I don't think a lot of girls get or don't know how to do anymore."

The program itself lasts for ten weeks. The Calhoun County branch has been active for 7 years, and  700 girls are active members across the county. Council director Hope Grable tries to demonstrate to the girls that learning to communicate less scary than it seems – something that grown-ups can benefit from as well, she says.

“There's a lesson about being a good listener - 'What's a good listener look like...what's a bad listener look like?' - and we role-play. And there were times when I wasn't being a good listener at home and my daughter would call me out,” she remembers, as her daughter also went through the program.

“And I remember being a kid, you didn't talk about how you felt. Even at home - I never talked about how I felt. And it's just so important to be able to talk about how we're feeling."

On May 30, the girls will run their big race at Binder Park Zoo. It's going to be a festive occasion - there'll be tutus, a photo booth, and spray-painted hair. But the fun and the feeling of empowerment will last much longer than any runner's high could. 

"A lot of our girls when they start - I think they think 'Oh, I'm going to be running all the time.' but really it's fun to see how a lot f girls will start walking and then see 'Oh I can actually finish a 5k' - you see girls form friendships and look up to other girls as role models - which you wouldn't get outside of GOTR,” says Thill.

Grable agrees: "We don't force our girls to run, we encourage them to move forward. Hop, skip, jump - as long as you're moving forward, that's the most important thing."