‘Girls on the Run’

New Upper Peninsula sites, coaches sought

Coaches help make the Girls on the Run experience in Marquette a quality one. In the back are coaches Erica Smith and Alyshia Schoell. The young participants are Makena S., left, and Logan M. (Photo courtesy of Girls on the Run)


Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE — Sinking a free throw or hitting a home run are fine athletic accomplishments, to be sure. However, they can be even more gratifying when achieved with a good mental attitude.

Girls on the Run Upper Peninsula is entering its second year of expansion as it looks for new sites and volunteers across the U.P. for its spring 2019 season.

GOTR, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, has the mission of inspiring girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum that creatively integrates running. The organization serves over 200,000 girls in all 50 states every year.

The 10-week program uses running and other physical activities as a platform for teaching life skills and promoting holistic health outcomes for girls in third through eighth grades.

GOTR Upper Peninsula Executive Director Cynthia Merkel said the program has been offered in the eastern U.P. for several years, with the program brought to Marquette, Hancock and Hannahville last season.

Traditional sports and physical education programs help girls, but GOTR ties it all together, she said.

“It’s designed to help the girls discover their inner strengths,” Merkel said. “It’s to inspire them to believe in themselves and to not limit themselves and to know they’re OK the way they are.”

The inaugural Marquette was extremely successful, she said, even though there was only one team. The goal is to have 21 teams across the U.P. by 2021.

More sites and coaches are being recruited, with inquiries being received from Marquette and the U.P., said Merkel, who pointed out there will be a team in Negaunee this season. It also is hoped there will be at least two teams, if not three, from Marquette.

Merkel said the “top-notch coaches” are passionate about working with the girls.

“If you were to survey the parents, they were pleased with the results,” Merkel said.

However, she was quick to note the program isn’t strictly about about results, but setting girls on the path to healthy womanhood.

The season culminates with a Girls on the Run 5K, which gives the girls a “tangible understanding” of the confidence that comes through accomplishment as well as a framework for setting and accomplishing life goals, Merkel said.

Before the start of the program, volunteer coaches take part in a National Coach Training Program that prepares them to build relationships with and between girls, support individual empowerment, deliver the intentional curriculum and create a positive, inclusive environment, she said.

“An added bonus of the program is it oftentimes changes us grown-ups almost as much as it does the girls,” Merkel said.

Presque Isle was the site of the non-competitive 5K June event in which many girls took part, one of whom was a 10-year-old girl from Harvey, Hailey Bolf.

Hailey told The Mining Journal at the event that participants had been learning about inner beauty all year.

“It doesn’t matter what you look like on the outside,” Hailey said. “You maybe get to know people, and then you’ll really find out who they are.”

The Presque Isle was well received and attracted many sponsors, Merkel said.

In fact, she acknowledged the Marquette community as a whole has been welcoming for GOTR.

GOTR is unique in that it includes physical activities to help girls learn lessons, with the program divided into grades 3 to 5, and a Heart & Sole program for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders.

For example, Merkel said the participants in the lower grades use lessons focusing in eliminating negative self-talk. Girls stand in two lines, with one line having all positive messages and the other only negative ones.

Before they start this activity, girls come up with a word, sentence or visual when they negatively talk about themselves, which are along the lines of “I can’t run a practice.”

The positive counterpart would be: “I can practice a 5K and then run it.”

The participants then meet in the middle, with the girls using positive self-talk to help those focused on the negative expressions.

“They’re learning about the difference between positive and negative self-talk, and at the same time, getting some physical activity,” Merkel said.

Another activity focuses on the perils of gossip.

Merkel said one girl squeezes a tube of toothpaste, while another girl has to put it back in the tube.

Of course, this is almost impossible.

The takeaway? Once you’ve said something, you can’t take it back.

“That’s the lesson they learn about gossip,” Merkel said.

GOTR Upper Peninsula will accept applications for new spring 2019 program sites until Nov. 1. For more information on starting a site, visit gotrmichUP/Start-Site. To become a coach, visit gotrmichUP.org/Coach, or call Merkel at 906-632-8109.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.