About 400 to participate in Girls on the Run 5K
Winchester — A young girl walks around a circle, tapping other girls on the head.
“Peer, peer, peer, peer, pressure!” the girl standing yells, before dashing around the circle to beat the chosen girl back to her place while the others cheer them on.
Next to the circle, Allison Major, council director of Girls on the Run of Shenandoah Valley, watches the team of fifth-graders at Daniel Morgan Middle School as they participate in the program’s take on “Duck, duck, goose.”
“If you play a game, they don’t realize they are actually getting more running time in,” she said with a smile.
The role of Girls on the Run is to inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum that creatively integrates running, Major said.
Despite a rough winter with school closings due to severe weather, the spring season of the after-school running program for third- through eighth-graders went well, she said. The local chapter of the national organization has teams in Virginia and West Virginia, including five in Winchester and Frederick and Clarke counties.
A record 138 girls in nine teams — the most the organization has had in a season — have completed the spring sessions, which included training in running and addressing issues, such as bullying, peer pressure, body image and others facing young girls, she said.
The program culminates Saturday in the Girls on the Run Spring 5K. The co-ed race is open to the public and will be held at 9 a.m. in Jim Barnett Park.
Registration and packet pickup start at 7:30 a.m. at the Fireman’s Shelter. Race entry is $25 on race day for adults, $10 for ages 13 to 18, and $5 for under 12.
Major is expecting about 400 runners and walkers for the 5K, which is always a lively affair, she said. Organizers set the tone with dancing as a warm-up and keep it going with a few surprises on the course to make participants smile.
While everyone is encouraged to join in the revelry, the focus of the morning is the girls, making them feel special and giving them a sense of accomplishment, she said.
“To see their faces when they are crossing the finish line is priceless. It really is an energizing morning, and it’s a fun course to run,” she said.
This will be the fourth Girls on the Run 5K for Aly Johnson, 11, a fifth-grader at Daniel Morgan Middle School, who loves coming back to the program each season. She likes the new people and experiences the program offers, but she also appreciates what it does for her personally.
“I am more comfortable in my own skin, and I am not afraid to be who I am,” said Aly, the daughter of Christi and David Johnson of Winchester.
Teammate Brittiana Rush, 11, another fifth-grader, loves the coaches and the friends she has made on the team, who are the major reason she came back for a second season.
“They are really fun people. They make me not ashamed to be myself,” said Brittiana, daughter of Stephanie and Dwayne Rush of Winchester.
A newcomer to the program is Emilie Pifer, 10, a fifth-grader at Daniel Morgan who heard about Girls on the Run from friends and decided to try it.
She has liked the whole program, but especially the different craft projects the girls on the team have undertaken. She and her team made cards Tuesday for Winchester public safety officers as their community service project. Each team comes up with and completes a project as part of the season.
Emilie was looking forward to Saturday’s race. Her sister participated last year and told her a little about it. “She said it was kind of difficult but you just have to pace yourself.”
The program’s two 5Ks — spring and fall — are annual fundraisers for the local program as well as giving the girls a goal to work toward, Major said.
The cost of the program is $150, which helps cover training for the coaches, the program, and race day T-shirts for the girls, as well as supplies and snacks for training sessions, she said.
Proceeds from the race help fund income-based scholarships for girls who want to participate in the program but cannot afford the $150 fee, Major said. About half of the girls are on a full or partial scholarship.
Meteorologist with ABC7 Stormwatch 7 team in Washington, D.C., Lauryn Ricketts, who was born and raised in Winchester, will emcee Saturday’s race.
The spring 5K will be held rain or shine.
Girls on the Run of the Shenandoah Valley Spring 5K will be held at 9 a.m. Saturday at Jim Barnett Park. Registration and packet pickup will begin at 7:30 a.m. at the Fireman’s Shelter. Race entry is $25 on race day for adults, $10 for ages 13 to 18, and $5 for under 12.
— Contact Laura McFarland at email@example.com