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Program Aims to Get Girls Running: Soroptimists Assist Girls to Learn Positive Life Skills

July 24, 2008

By John Hollis, Appeal-Democrat, Marysville, Calif.

Jul. 24–It’s such a positive program for pre-teen girls. It helps them develop self-respect and the ability to make healthy decisions. It’s a lot of fun. The girls are running and having a great time,” said head coach Clarine Musfelt.

The program: Girls on the Run.

The fun: Combines training for a 5K run while learning self-esteem lessons that enhance the social, physical and mental health in 8- to 12-year-old girls.

The just-completed inaugural program ran July 14 through 18 at Grey Avenue School in Yuba City.

Organized and sponsored by Soroptimist International of Marysville-Yuba City, the five-day program kept the girls busy with activities such as running, playing games and discussing issues that are important to pre-teen girls.

The program has three main parts, Musfelt said. “The first part is on value. A good example of that is talking about being a girl of her word. The second part is teamwork. An example of that is gossiping, which is not a good habit. And the last part is community; community and me; or how I fit into the community. It’s well rounded.

“The program is set up to bring out the best in the girls whether they’re very athletic or not. It’s set up to help both (types of) girls,” she explained.

“We do this to teach the girls healthy lifestyles,” said Liesl Schmidt, Girls on the Run Soroptimist of Sutter County council director.

“The program helps the girls to understand that just by moving and getting out, they’ll be healthier and feel better about themselves. And also, we’re teaching them to move and exercise, like warm up and stretch — all the fun things you do when you’re working out,” she said. “They are learning what makes them feel good on the inside as well as what makes them feel good on the outside.”

“It’s getting kids thinking about nutrition, think about activities, thinking about how they’re interacting with other people and how to deal with your friends in certain situations,” added coach Denise Evans.

On the morning of the second day, Musfelt, along with assistants Pam Clifton and Alisan Schmeidt, had the girls discussing feelings: the importance of not suppressing feelings and the right way to express their feelings.

In one exercise, they had the girls stand up and — without words — act out an emotion. In another, they had the girls run a relay race while answering questions about how they feel about different things.

The program appeared to be working. “I think it’s fun,” said Sydney Eredia, 8. “I’m learning how to do a 5K and how to express my feelings.”

While turning the girls into athletes isn’t a goal of the program, learning to be healthy is. And as Musfelt said, exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. “We have them running laps, but it’s fun because it’s tied in with a game.” she said. “The girls don’t realize how much they’re running because we have so many fun games and activities.

“It doesn’t matter how fast a girl runs because she’s benefiting from all of the other aspects of the program. The running is just one part of it,” Musfelt said.

But running is what convinced some of the girls to join.

When Anjaleen Johal, 10, was asked what she liked best about the program, she answered, “That they have us run. Coach Clarine said we’ll run three and one-tenth miles at the Peach Festival, so running over here gives us practice.”

Her cousin, Rameen Johal, 8, said she felt the same way. “My mom told me about it, and I saw it in the newspaper, and I really wanted to come because I heard that you get to run.”

But Anjaleen might have had another reason for attending, “On Sunday, I got new shoes just for this.”

On Friday, Evans led the girls in the community part of the program. She said they had the girls bring a book or magazine. “I showed them how to make bookmarks and a little gift bag. What they did was put the book in the bag, and the bags will be taken to local nonprofits that help children.”

Evans said to warm-up for Saturday’s run, the girls did 12 laps around the Geweke Field track.

The final event of the program was the 5K, which they ran Saturday morning.

Early Saturday morning, the nine girls teamed up with nine running buddies to complete the 3.1-mile course. All of the two-person teams finished, with the fastest time recorded by Pam Clifton and Savannah Baily, 8. The buddies crossed the finish line in less than 28 minutes.

Musfelt said this isn’t a one-time exercise. Fall and spring 12-week sessions are already scheduled. “Girls can sign up now for the fall session at the Yuba City Parks and Recreation. They already have it in their program. This is open to all girls, ages 8 to 12, in Yuba and Sutter counties.”

She said there is $70 charge for the program, which pays for each girl’s T-shirt, water bottle and snacks, but scholarships are available if a family has difficulty paying.

Lace up your Trainers

What: Girls on the Run

Who: For 8- to 12-year-old girls in Y-S

Contact: Yuba City Parks and Recreation

Address: 1300 Franklin Road, Yuba City

Phone: 822-4606

Web site: www.yubacity.net/parks-recreation

What is Girls On the Run?

Girls on the Run International is the parent organization of more than 160 Girls on the Run councils across the United States and Canada. GOTRI establishes, trains and supports a network of community-level councils with local volunteers.

Contact Appeal-Democrat reporter John Hollis at 741-2400 or jhollis@appeal-democrat.com.

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Copyright (c) 2008, Appeal-Democrat, Marysville, Calif.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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