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Girl finishing a 5K at a Girls On the Run 5K.

How Girls On the Run DFW is Inspiring Young Women

using running to inspire confidence and perseverance

While we’ve made great strides in equality, no doubt you’ve heard the phrase Don’t [insert verb here] like a girl. But why is that an insult? Lanell Rachid and Amy Taylor agree that doing anything like a girl should be celebrated, and that’s why they are part of Girls On the Run—an organization in schools and community centers that uses running exercises and 5Ks to develop confidence and perseverance in a diverse group of young girls.

Rachid and Taylor operate GOTR’s Dallas region (which includes nine counties in North Texas). We talked to the pair about how GOTR benefits participants far beyond physical fitness.

Girls on the Run started two decades ago and has locations across the United States. Tell us about GOTR in North Texas. Lanell Rachid: We started in 2004 with nine girls in Garland. Now we serve approximately 1,000 girls a year [in elementary and middle school programs]. Amy Taylor: We have a fall session and a spring session. Most schools participate in one or the other, but we do have some awesome sites that do it every season.

GOTR focuses on six core values. How do those tie into your coaching? LR: [The coaches] get a curriculum that goes through one core value each session. Basically, the core values are trying to get the girls to look at themselves … and appreciate who they are. We’ve noticed that girls tend to be compared to our male population, as far as abilities. So, we’re trying to get girls to realize they are worth who they are.

AT: I always try to go back to them [to] express joy and optimism in words, thoughts and actions. My favorite one is “assuming positive intent,” because that’s a really hard one for me. But I feel like our girls do get to … be in a place where it’s okay to be exuberant and joyful.

What happens when the lessons are complete? LR: At the end of each lesson, we go outside, and we’ll play games through running activities utilizing discussion topics. Then when they get to the end [of the season], we run a 5K together.

AT: In the fall, we had 800 girls running the 5K. They run with a running buddy—an adult that runs with them and encourages them. Some of the teams will cross the finish line holding hands, which I find so fun.

Do the girls usually finish at the same time? LR: We do a practice 5K before the real 5K. Most of the girls had finished, and there were still a couple of girls running laps. Some of the girls got back in and started running so [the others] wouldn’t have to run by themselves. But the girl that crossed the finish line at the end was so proud of herself. It didn’t even occur to her—it was just the pride of it. She finished it.

AT: We see a lot of that because everybody is at a different athletic ability. I saw where a girl started to lag behind. So the team said, “We’re going to run together.” I thought, That’s the point we’re trying to make here.

The GOTR tagline mentions joy, health and confidence. Why are those things so important? AT: There’s a study [that says] age 9 is when girls’ confidence starts to drop, and that’s when we start working with girls. I feel like they start getting less attention when it comes to sports. … You also start to get the insults of, “Oh, you throw like a girl. You run like a girl.”

The girls are hearing those and understanding, Oh well, I’m not athletic. What we’re trying to do is change that philosophy and make it okay to be pink and girly, and put on a cape and tutu, and run a 5K. Running like a girl is perfectly acceptable. I’m a girl; what else am I supposed to run like?

Speaking of confidence, since social media pushes the comparison game, has that made an impact? AT: I don’t even know if we know what the impact is [yet] because they are so young. We’ve talked a lot as an organization about how we can address that because the program is 20 [years old], so we’ve got to keep up with the times.

LR: That was a regular discussion in our group. They were already talking about cyber bullying and all of that. I’m thinking, These girls are in third grade. Why should they have to be worried about this?

How is your program working to combat that? AT: We’ve tried to adapt some with the universal lessons of inclusivity, standing up for people, standing up for yourselves, empathy. [Those] are ingrained in our lessons, but [we need to know] how to look at it with a lens of what’s happening today in our world and trying to bring technology into it.

How are parents involved in GOTR? LR: A parent guide goes home with a synopsis of the lessons and questions to ask their daughter. Because I know; I had kids, and I would say, “What did you learn?” They are like, “I don’t know.” So these questions are designed to say, “Well, did you talk about such and such?” They can elaborate on those things.

 Now that GOTR has been around for 20 years, you have older program alums. Have they stayed involved? LR: There’s a girl in high school now [who] was born with MS or cerebral palsy. She didn’t really notice that her body was different until she got to age 9, and then girls started making comments. She had an unusual gait. One of the GOTR coaches walked up to her grandma and said, “Hey, your granddaughter needs to be in our program.” She’s like, “Well, she can’t run.” The coach told the grandmother, “It’s more than that.”

So they signed her up, and she built such a tightknit friendships that all the girls helped her cross the finish line. Now she goes around and talks about how Girls on the Run changed her. That’s the beauty of the program, it can give [confidence] to those girls that are in that “funk stage,” where your body is not really right, and you’re not like everybody else. This lets them see that they’ve got a lot to bring to the table.

Want your daughter to be a girl on the run? Interested in volunteering? Visit gotrdfw.org, email office@gotrdfw.org or call 214/484-3082.

If your daughter isn’t sure about joining, Taylor and Rachid suggest coming to a 5K—they’re open to the public. Check the GOTR website for info on the next event.

Photo courtesy of Girls On the Run DFW.