Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

May 14, 2013

Girls on the Run uplifts members

10th anniversary celebrated here

Debbie Blank
The Herald-Tribune

— Appetizers and socializing opened the Girls on the Run® of Margaret Mary Health Evening of Gratitude May 9 at RomWeber Marketplace.

Council director Lynn Hertel told about 150 that families report the self-esteem and confidence of participants are skyrocketing. “We are definitely making a difference and I don’t see that changing.”

GOTR began here 10 years ago when Speaking of Women’s Health organizers wanted to invest ticket proceeds and Trish Hunter, now MMH director of support services, suggested the national program. Two Batesville women have been directors, first Rita Wilder and now Hertel.

Girls on the Run® of Margaret Mary Health, aimed at students in grades 3-5, started with 45 girls and nine coaches at Batesville, South Ripley and Jac-Cen-Del schools, according to the director. Milan and Sunman joined the next season. In 2008 Greensburg Elementary and North Decatur were added, with South Decatur coming on board in 2009, St. Nicholas in 2010 and St. Mary’s this season. “We’re pretty pleased” every school in Ripley and Decatur counties is participating.

Girls on Track, for females in grades 6-8, is currently offered at Batesville Middle, South Ripley and North Decatur Elementary schools, she explained.

Teams consisting of eight to 20 girls and two to four coaches meet twice a week after school.

With two 10-week sessions each year, “This season we’re serving 273 girls with the help of 66 coaches at 10 different sites. Every season our numbers always grow ...  We have good word of mouth. It’s contagious.”

The night was filled with applause. Hertel, the only paid staff member, recognized 336 coaches plus other citizens over the past decade, pointing out each 5K requires 90 helpers. “Without the volunteers, this wouldn’t be taking place.”

Margaret Mary Health leaders also were thanked for financial and other support. The director praised Harold and Kathy Weiler, owner of Hertel Shoes, Batesville, for fitting participants for shoes at many sites. “Some of these girls have literally never had a new pair of shoes.”

Hertel observed the program helps girls “talk about the things deep down inside themselves.”

In a local video, one coach said they discuss “bullying, being friendly to one another and nutrition.” Another reported, “Girls on the Run® allows girls to come out of their shells.”

According to one child, “It’s a lot more than ‘You have to run.’” The director noted, “You’re taught to be who you are, be the best person you can be.”

The nonprofit’s 10th 5K here took place May 11 at Liberty Park. The video showed excited girls in pink shirts at a previous event. According to Hertel, “We do a lot of cheers to get them excited.” A coach explained, “As soon as the gun sounds, they’re off.” Hertel added, “To see these little girls cross the finish line is really moving. There’s always someone crying somewhere.” Each finisher receives a medal. One girl said the race “makes you feel like you’ve accomplished a lot .... It makes you feel so good about yourself.”

GOTR founder Molly Barker, Charlotte, N.C., traced the reason for the initiative back to her Southern childhood. Trying to fit in at a new school, she decided to become “Molly the Runner Girl.” But after a tumble on the track, she was sidelined and embarrassed. “My future was dashed.” Barker began thinking, “‘You’re not pretty enough. You’re not smart enough.”

Molly’s mother invited the girl to go running. “It was during those morning hours the seeds for this program were planted. The birds began their symphony before the morning light” and the pair were running and breathing in rhythm. “I discovered when I ran, all those negative messages ... just went away.”

As a young mother, Barker began meeting with 13 girls after school, wrote a curriculum and showed it to her GOTR partner, who bounced it off her educator mom. The mother said, “‘Molly, what you have here is amazing. The question is, Do you keep it to yourself and affect 100 kids a year or do you give it away and affect millions?’” Barker realized, “‘Maybe I’m sitting on the edge of a movement.’ Two weeks later Runner’s World called. Five cities came on board. It’s just been like that ever since.”

The four-time Hawaii Ironman triathlete continued, “I can’t believe how big this program is. I’ll be driving down an interstate far, far from Charlotte and there will be a Girls on the Run® bumper sticker on the car next to me ... it’s just so cool!”

Barker told the story of fourth-grader Taylor, who lives in her hometown and has the degenerative and fatal Batten disease. The founder watched the girl at a GOTR practice 5K.

Because one of Taylor’s symptoms was loss of eyesight, a high school student was her running buddy, their pinkies attached by a string to give the younger student direction. The other members, already finished, asked, “‘Taylor, can we join you?’ All 14 teammates ... just surrounded her like a little cocoon. They are talking to her and loving her.

“Somewhere over the course of that lap, her helper slipped out and Taylor’s string dropped. That little girl knew the freedom of running with no restrictions. I’ll never forget seeing her run down that track for 100 yards, completely unencumbered.”

Barker said the program she created is about helping girls escape stereotypes so they become “as free to be themselves as Taylor was that day.”

LIFE LESSONS

• “Girls on the Run® (founded in 1996) is a transformational physical activity-based positive youth development program,” reports the Web site www.girlsontherun.org.

• The program is now serving over 130,000 girls in 200+ cities across North America each year, according to the site.

• Locally, “we always want to be improving,” so an advisory council led by Lynn Hertel meets regularly: Trish Hunter, Geralyn Litzinger and Kathy Weiler, Batesville; Jane Craig and Karen Patterson, Oldenburg; Rita Seig, Sunman; Melissa Sanders and Cheryl Kuhn, Osgood; Carla Stenger, Versailles; Meganmarie Dennis, Vevay; Michelle Anderson, Meredith Acra, Dr. Jere Schoettmer and Wendy Bockover, Greensburg.