Girls on the Run Maine is exploding in popularity, these past couple years: While the program originally served just a handful of sites in southern Maine, they’ve burgeoned in their three and a half years to encompass 20 locations in Cumberland County, six in York County, three in Oxford County, and one each in Androscoggin, Kennebec, Penobscot and Hancock counties.
“We started in the fall of 2012 – so we’re going into our eighth season now,” says Staci Olson, program director. “This season, we have 33 sites, which is 600 girls, and we have over 200 volunteer coaches.”
One of those coaches is Melissa Hutchins, in her fourth season heading up the team at the Small School in South Portland.
“It’s been incredible to watch the program expand to five schools throughout our district as well as across the state,” Hutchins says. “We’ve been able to easily fill two teams of 15 girls every season, and always have a waiting list. It’s thrilling to know that the positive messages about self-esteem and empowerment are being shared with so many girls!”
Olson outlines the basics of the program, which has spring and fall seasons and serves girls in grades 3 through 8:
“The seasons are 10 weeks long, the teams meet twice a week for 90 minutes and the program is based on our curriculum, which is a life-skills curriculum that incorporates running,” she says. “So, each lesson, the girls are focusing on a different topic that’s related to skills we want to encourage them to use in their lives – things like positive self-talk, healthy eating habits, setting goals, friendship.”
Teams also do a “community impact” project, which the girls design and implement themselves.
“It’s exciting to think about each of the girls participating in community impact projects,” says Hutchins, “and learning to give back and support their communities.”
The running component culminates in an end-of-the-season 5K.
“During the 10 weeks, the girls are slowly building up their endurance,” says Olson. “The focus for us is on each girl completing the 5K at her own pace – the whole reason we do running is not to be training them as runners, but to give them the experience of setting a goal, working toward a goal, and then accomplishing that goal.”
“At the end of each season,” says Hutchins, “it’s incredible to be a part of the celebratory 5K. It’s almost impossible to describe the level of excitement [to those who] aren’t there to experience it for [themselves]; it’s an inspiring scene of girls with colorful hair and decorative socks, supportive dads and coaches in fun tutus, moms and other family members sporting every color of the Girls on the Run shirt, all running their hearts out and enjoying every minute of it!”
Even during her relatively short tenure as a coach, Hutchins, a third-grade teacher, has seen the program’s impact on young girls.
“It’s been amazing to witness the girls transferring the valuable lessons they learn at practice into the classroom. Other teachers and staff have shared wonderful moments about girls employing their strategies or talking about the impact that Girls on the Run has had on them.”
“I’ve received emails of appreciation from parents,” she says, “about the conversations they have at home with their girls, opening up after lessons we’ve reviewed, and many family members have thanked us for providing the opportunities for them to become involved and grow as runners themselves by training for and completing the 5K as a buddy with their daughters!”
Anyone interested in starting a local team can reach right out to Girls on the Run Maine, which is online at http://girlsontherunmaine.org/ and https://www.facebook.com/GOTR.Maine.
“Absolutely!” says Olson. “We’re in the process of planning for our fall 2016 and spring 2017 seasons, so if someone was interested in bring a site to their school, or YMCA, or community center, they give the office a call to learn how to start that process.”
Girls from South Portland’s Brown Elementary Girls on the Run Team get their laps in during a happy session.
Teammates on South Portland’s Dyer Elementary Girls on the Run squad take time out during a recent training session.
Participants in South Portland’s Small School Girls on the Run circle round their coach.
Members of Cape Elizabeth’s Pond Cove Elementary School Girls on the Run team limber up.