Limitless Potential

Girls on the Run…

At a regional park on a warm spring day, hundreds of girls of all ages are pumping themselves up to run a 5K. For many, this is the farthest they have ever tried to go using their own two feet. However, unlike most 3.2- mile races, the goal is to cross the finish line and everyone who does it ends up a winner.

The middle schoolers have been training all season for this in the Girls on the Run after-school program. Their volunteer coaches encourage them to keep going. Coaches are made up of teachers, parents, aunts, grandmas, community members and even girl dads who have

Photos courtesy of Girls on the Run

committed to training with them at least once a week leading up to the Celebration 5K. The encouragement, support and life lessons that these girls are exposed to directly correlates to the accomplishment and confidence on their faces when they cross the finish line. That’s likely because Girls on the Run is so much more than just running. An entire curriculum surrounding it teaches girls all kinds of important skills, like managing their emotions, recognizing their self-worth, articulating their feelings, expressing empathy and developing other essential traits at such a significant point in their lives.

Girls on the Run North State serves 11 counties, including Butte, Glenn, Yuba, Sutter, Colusa, Plumas, Lassen, Tehama, Trinity, Siskiyou and Shasta. A few of these counties had their own separate councils, but they all melded into one by 2019.

Claire Johnson has been the executive director of Girls on the Run North State since 2011. She has three girls, and her youngest was in the fourth grade when they moved to Chico. Her daughter participated in the program in 2010 and Claire volunteered, then became the executive director of the council the following year.

Photos courtesy of Girls on the Run

“They gave me the task of growing the program,” Johnson says with a laugh, considering how big Girls on the Run North State is today. That is especially impressive considering that the council has survived the Camp Fire, Carr Fire and pandemic throughout the last few years. Girls on the Run has around 60 schools participating in the Spring 2024 program and expects to have around 900 girls registered throughout the school year. Twenty-two new schools in the North State have joined just this year.

“The bones are growing, now we need the muscles to catch up,” Johnson says.

She got more involved with Girls on the Run when she realized how important it was for girls’ mental health and physical activity. As a curriculum, Girls on the Run has been around since 2000; American triathlete Molly Barker started it in the late 1990s to help preteen girls develop self-esteem, character and a healthy lifestyle.

Photos courtesy of Girls on the Run

“We’ve done this as a social-emotional activity for a long time. We’re experts in the field. Girls are vulnerable at the pre-adolescent/adolescent age; we’ve been dealing with this forever as a society,” Johnson says. Girls on the Run is about teaching girls about their limitless potential and showing them how to: 1) Build confidence; 2) Know who they are; and 3) Do hard things.

Johnson says in a world focused on diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, Girls on the Run touches on all four of those tenets.

“We’ve helped eliminate the cost barrier (it’s a free program) and are so grateful to the school districts for providing transportation to and from the program, eliminating that issue. It’s a game changer for so many of these kids,” Johnson says.

Photos courtesy of Girls on the Run

And the best part is that one doesn’t have to be a runner to participate.

“This is more about empowering and nurturing girls so that they understand their inner strength. The 5K is a metaphor for life – as long as you’re moving forward, it’s going to be OK,” Johnson says. “There’s so much going on in that space that when they cross the finish line, they’re literally a changed person.”•

Girls on the Run North State •

About Kayla Anderson

Kayla is a freelance writer, marketer and action sports enthusiast who grew up wake-boarding on Lake Shasta and learning to ski at Mt. Lassen. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Chico State University and loves to visit her parents in Redding.

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