Wausau Daily Herald
04/13/2017 - Page A01
RACING FOR A REASON
Girls on the Run builds bodies, minds
USA TODAY NETWORK-WISCONSIN
WAUSAU - It was a blustery and chilly Tuesday afternoon in late March, despite the sun shining down on the 20 or so girls running around the grounds of Franklin Elementary School. Some girls were nearly sprinting around the fields and playground, with determined looks in their eyes and hair flying behind them as they drove forward. Others had a more relaxed approach, some jogging or taking periodic walking breaks. Some ran alone, others in groups.
The runners were participating in Girls on the Run, a national after-
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School program now in its second year at Franklin. The girls meet for 10 weeks on Tuesdays and Thursdays and train for a 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) run in May that is open to everyone who wants to participate.
But getting the girls to the finish line is just part of the mission of Girls on the Run. While the sessions always include a running element, they also include a lot of talking, bonding and thinking. Running is the vehicle the group uses to build self-esteem, confidence and a sense of identity.
"We do these really cool activities," said Charity Her, 10, a fourth-grader who is participating in her second year of Girls on the Run. Charity said when she started the program last school year, she felt slow and shy. She didn’t know whether she could even run 1 kilometer, let alone a 5-kilometer race. But she could. And now she wants to do it again, faster. "It was a lot of fun," Charity said about last year’s race. "I felt great!"
Girls on the Run was established in 1996 in North Carolina. The organization has grown to 200 councils, or chapters, in all 50 states. The Franklin chapter got its start a little over a year ago after Jennifer Aune, who at the time was a Franklin school counselor, learned about the program while attending a conference in the spring of 2015.
It’s a program designed for girls in grades three through five, and it resonated with Aune. She found that Girls on the Run worked as well as she could have hoped. Participating in the run gives the girls "a tangible understanding of, and the confidence in, all that’s possible," Aune said. Fourth-grade teacher Kelly Wurzer, 26, generally leads the girls in both the discussions and the runs.
The girls talk about all kinds of things, from the impact of bullying to learning how to identify and cope with feelings.
"Sometimes girls this age can be mean to each other, tear each other down. This is about building the connections, relationships," Wurzer said.
Wurzer and the other leaders also tamp down the girls’ competitive instincts toward one another, and instead work to instill a team spirit. "They still like to beat the teachers, though," Wurzer said.
Like Charity Her, 10 year-old fourth-grader Chloe Nilles, exemplifies the mixture of physicality and relationships nurtured through Girls on the Run. She joined the effort last school year, too, and signed up again.
"We worked as a team, and we made new friends," Chloe said. "This year I’m trying to run more so I can run faster."
Keith Uhlig: 715-8450651 or kuhlig@gannett .com; on Twitter @UhligK
T'XER ZHON KHA/USA TODAY NETWORK-WISCONSIN