A young girl’s goal may be to complete a difficult run with her friends, but the self-assurance she develops before taking a single stride often winds up being more important than any part of her route. Girls participating in the Girls on the Run nonprofit program often find that what they gain goes well beyond completing the annual 5K.
Designed to encourage personal development and sisterhood through physical activity, Girls on the Run Twin Cities is open to girls in third through eighth grades all around the state.
Established in 1996 in Charlotte, North Carolina, Girls on the Run is now active in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.s of 2015, it has served more than 185,000 girls. Focused on giving its participants courage-building attention and a comfortable environment, the program provides transportation and athletic wear at no cost. Each girl has her own adult chaperone for the 5K, called a running buddy, whom they are encouraged to pick.
“Girls’ confidence peaks at 9,” said Mary Uran, the executive director of Girls on the Run Twin Cities. “(After which) they have all these external messages from the outside world that tell them that girls need to be one way, or their potential is not limitless.”
Uran believes Girls on the Run is a safe place for participants to develop into competent individuals and to close the physical activity disparity gap between young girls and boys.
Uran was not very athletic as a kid. A self-described academic, she didn’t find running until later in life. However, her passion isn’t running; it’s helping young girls build a strong character. Uran found her passion after she moved to Washington, D.C., around 12 years ago and trained for her first half-marathon, finding connection and confidence in the running groups. After discovering the D.C. chapter of Girls on the Run, she volunteered as a coach for several seasons. When she moved to the Twin Cities, she was shocked to find that, despite the active philanthropic community, there was no local council of Girls on the Run.
She launched the Twin Cities council in 2012, starting off with just 24 girls. By 2019, approximately 3,000 girls and 800 volunteer coaches came from nearly 200 locations around the state to take part in the 5K held every year in the Twin Cities.
Cassie Maresh, community engagement and access manager for Girls on the Run Twin Cities, frequently visits with the different teams and says the coaches get as much out of the program as the participants, if not more.
“I’ve been able to witness … when (a girl) comes to practice very shy and timid and see by the end, she’s high-fiving her teammates,” Uran said. “That direct impact is something that has motivated me to deepen my work with Girls on the Run and be a huge advocate for how necessary it is for us today.”
For Uran, one of the best examples of positive changes girls can get from the program can be seen at Vista View Elementary in Burnsville. She was impressed with the girls’ leadership, initiative and interaction with the whole school. During the running season, the school community rallies around and cheers on the girls.
Some Girls on the Run participants are now headed for college. Roseville Area High School graduate Kaylina Smith, who joined the program in elementary school and will be attending Minnesota State University Moorhead this fall, received the group’s first Star Power Alumnae Scholarship Award.
In her acceptance speech, Smith said Girls on the Run helped her find her individuality and build her confidence. “As a woman, I believe we need to support the other women around us,” Smith said. “Society is consistently pitting us against each other. … Girls on the Run taught me that I am my own person and I am the only one (who) can define who I am.”