Girls on the Run to host 5K


Katie Smith

Colby Gerth, a sophomore biological sciences majorad member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity holds out a door decoration he made with other members of SAE. THe Fraternity is sponsoring the the Arcola Elementary Girls on the Run team, and made the decorations to hand out to each runner to show their support.

Amanda Wilkinson, Online Producer

Running a 5K or 3.1 miles is just a small part of what the girls in the Girls on the Run program accomplish in 10 weeks.

Girls on the Run of East Central Illinois will be hosting its fall 5K at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Mattoon Area Family YMCA.

Beth Gillespie, the East Central council director, said running is actually only a portion of the program.

“Girls on the Run is an after-school, education and empowerment program for girls in the third to fifth and sixth to eighth grades,” Gillespie said.

The girls will meet twice a week over the course of a 10-week season.

“They talk about topics that include health, fitness, how women are portrayed in the media, how to still have a positive body image,” Gillespie said. “We talked about celebrating gratitude, getting plugged into your true values, the impacts of gossip, how to deal with bullies and how to make a difference in their community.”

At the end of the meeting, the girls train for the 5K.

“We want the girls to know what it’s like to set a goal that feels like a big one,” Gillespie said. “They think ‘If I can do this, I can do anything I set my mind to’ which is really critical for all women and all people but especially for young girls today.”

The program has completed seven seasons in the span of three years.

Gillespie said they have had more than 1,300 girls locally participate in the program in the three years and currently have more than 300 girls joining them for the 5K.

The change she sees most in the girls is their confidence level, she said.

“The girls are willing to try other activities. Their behavior changes at school. They’re taking the methods on how to deal with bullies and challenging situations in their lives,” Gillespie said. “We’re hearing that they’re teaching those same methods to the other girls that are in their friend circle.”

Gillespie said the most astounding difference she saw was in a girl that hid behind her hair and was very soft spoken when she started the program three seasons ago.

“When I saw her for the first time this season, she was dancing and singing by herself in front of the entire group,” she said. “It gives me chills to know that we’ve had a small part of that process for her.”

Everyone at Girls at the Run including the girls, their families and the coaches are excited for the 5K run.

More than 700 volunteers from Eastern will be lining the course.

“I mean, imagine if you are eight years old and you’ve been training for 10 weeks for this event and all of a sudden, there are 700 volunteers cheering for you saying, ‘You can do it! We believe in you! We came out here just to help you get to that finish line!’ It is such a powerful event,” Gillespie said.

She said the run is not just about the girls, however.

“The things that the girls love the most is ‘Happy Hair’ where you get colored, glittery hairspray,” Gillespie said.

Face painting and family activities such as bounce houses will be available to the public as well.

Preregistration is $20 until Friday and is available on the Girls on the Run website or at the YMCA. Day-of registration is $25. Packet pickup and registration start at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday. The opening ceremony will begin at 8:45 a.m. The celebration will be from 9 to 11 a.m.

Amanda Wilkinson can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].