Girls on the Run celebrates their 20th birthday

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“If I had to sum this whole program in one word, it would be joyful,” Council Director of Girls on the Run Greater Tampa Bay Laura Moore said.

Girls on the Run (GOTR) is a non-profit program for girls in third through fifth grade. Their affiliate home is at the USF College of Public Health.

Their mission is to inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum that creatively integrates running.

Most of the350+ girls currently enrolled participate through teams at their school, but GOTR also hosts teams at youth centers, after-school programs and other locations.

Teams meet twice per week for 10-weeks with the program ending with a 5k celebration. The curriculum is taught by certified volunteer coaches and includes three parts: understanding ourselves, valuing relationships and teamwork and understanding how we connect with and shape the world.

5k On the Course!

Young student participating in Girls on the Run 5k (Photo courtesy of Laura Moore)

“We tell girls on Day 1 that our goal is to run a 5k, and many of them can’t believe it. They tell me that they can’t do that, they aren’t strong enough. We say yes, you are strong enough – we are just going to get there one step at a time,” Moore said. “There’s this magical transformation in them when they cross that finish line; they just get this burst of confidence and feel like if they can do this, they can do anything!”

While Moore has many fond moments during her time at GOTR, she said that one of her favorite memories was a moment between a mother and daughter who were running in the 5k.

“The mother was really struggling, but her daughter was encouraging her and telling her that they could do this and make it all the way. As they passed the finish line the mother got very emotional. She was not only proud that her daughter had the strength to finish the race, but also the strength to support her as well,” Moore said. “It really opened up her mom’s eyes to see what an incredible person her daughter was becoming. Our program is all about revealing a girl’s best self.”

This year is GOTR’s 20th birthday since its establishment in 1996 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The program started with 13 girls in Charlotte and has now served more than one million girls in more than 220 cities across the U.S. and Canada.

“There’s something about Girls on the Run. When it touches your life you just want to be a part of it because it is such a joyful experience,” Moore said. “Once a person participates in our race, coaches a team, or has a girl in the program, they continue to be a part of GOTR.”

5k Cheer!

Team of girls celebrating their journey through this 10-week program (Photo courtesy of Laura Moore)

GOTR came to Tampa in 2008 through the work of Dr. Rita Debate, assistant vice president of USF Wellness. In 2013 GOTR made its home at the USF College of Public Health, where DeBate serves as a professor in health policy and management.

“The College of Public Health has been such a good and wonderful home for us. They really understand what we are trying to do and fully support us. When you put our mission statements side-by-side they are extremely complementary,” Moore said.

Moore began volunteering with GOTR St. Louis, one of the biggest GOTR Councils. When she first started in Tampa, the Council had six teams. Now the council has 26 teams, with more coming on board next season.

Moore’s dream for Tampa is to have GOTR in every single school. Currently the Council serves Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas and Sarasota counties, two of which are among the largest school districts in the country. The potential for growth and the need for their program is huge in Tampa as they empower girls from all ages and backgrounds.

Moore is looking forward to the next 5k which takes place on May 7. The 4th Annual Girls on the Run 5k Presented by UnitedHealthcare will kickoff at Hillsborough Community College – Dale Mabry Campus with the gates opening at 7:30 a.m. and the 5k run starting at 9 a.m. The event is open to the public and Moore expects a turnout of more than 1,000 people, including runners, spectators and volunteers.

5k What A Finish!

Young participant finishing her 5k (Photo courtesy of Laura Moore)

“This is a public event and new runners are encouraged to attend. This is not an intimidating race, we’re all in this to do our best. It doesn’t matter how fast you ran or what place you are in, all that matters is that you did it!” Moore said.

Excited about the upcoming 5k, Moore said, “When we were smaller we would jump into another community race, but now I just love the message to our girls that they are so important they have a race all to themselves – we are shutting down streets just for them!”

This event is also a fundraiser; every dollar raised goes toward program scholarships. This current season, more than 100 of the 350+ girls are receiving financial aid.

“We are so grateful to our many sponsors, including our presenting sponsor UnitedHealthcare, for making our 5k’s so successful. Through their support, we are making it possible to give all girls the opportunity to be a Girl on the Run,” Moore said.

Story by Caitlin Keough, USF College of Public Health