Happy birthday to you

Happy birthday to you

Happy birthday dear Girls on the Run

Happy birthday to you

Girls on the Run (GOTR), an organization that inspires girls to move and teaches life lessons, is 25 years old this year.

Triathlete Molly Barker started the program with 13 girls in Charlotte, North Carolina. Today there are more than 200,000 girls in grades 3 through 8 running at 12,000 locations across the country. GOTR has served more than 2 million girls since 1996.

GOTR is popular in the Washington area. Caroline Diemar, the executive director for the Northern Virginia region, says there are about 10,000 girls participating in GOTR at 300 locations in the District, Maryland and Virginia.

Diemar makes clear that Girls on the Run “is not a running program.” Instead it is a program for “teaching life skills.” GOTR, according to Diemar, aims to “help build resilient girls.” In other words, girls who are able to bounce back from the problems and obstacles in their lives.

That’s important, because studies show that many girls’ self-confidence begins to dip about age 9. Girls’ physical activity begins to drop about age 10.

I talked to three girls who have been part of GOTR. Sisters Catherine and Ellie Timmons, ages 11 and 9, attend Chesterbrook Elementary School in McLean, Virginia. Nya Lowery is a 10-year-old fifth-grader at Mosby Woods Elementary School in Fairfax.

All three said they would encourage girls to join GOTR because it is a lot of fun. Catherine said the program has been a “great way to make friends” at school. Nya said the girls get exercise “but also get coaching about being a better person.”

Groups usually meet twice a week for 10 weeks during the fall and spring. The girls don’t just run. They also talk about setting and achieving goals. All the girls participate in a celebratory 5-kilometer run at the end of the season. GOTR holds more than 300 of the races across the country each year.

Rick Olson, Catherine and Ellie’s dad, has noticed that the goal-setting has taken hold with his daughters. “They have set goals and busted the goals,” he said.

Catherine wants to run an eight-minute mile (she is under nine minutes), and Ellie wants to run five miles “nonstop.”

Olson runs with his girls. He says it’s a “great family sport.”

Nya plays basketball and field hockey and swims. She has noticed that the running “helps me become more athletic and build my confidence.”

Nya said she likes that her GOTR group did “a big community activity at the end.” The girls painted rocks with positive messages and placed them throughout the neighborhood. Nya’s rocks said “be kind” and “you rock.”

You rock. You could say that about Girls on the Run.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Catherine and Ellie Timmons’s dad Rick Olsen. He is Rick Olson. The story has bee updated.