By Emma Castleberry
Girls on the Run of WNC (GOTRWNC) will host its first-ever Virtual 5K this summer. The program, which has served more than 15,000 girls since 2002, connects students with mentor-coaches twice per week as they train to run a 5K. The majority of schools served by GOTRWNC are Title I schools.
The mentor-coaches not only encourage physical health and fitness, but also the development of confidence, teamwork, self respect and respect for each other. “GOTR gives girls an opportunity to share their strengths and weaknesses in an affinity environment; to understand and be understood from different perspectives; to run not to win, but to share,” says mentor-coach volunteer Milena Blanco, whose two daughters are also involved in the program.
The program was looking forward to one of its biggest spring seasons in years before the arrival of COVID-19. The cancellation of the spring season was a difficult but necessary decision, especially since so much had already been prepared: volunteer background checks were complete, coach training had taken place, snacks were sent to the school sites, program t-shirts were ordered and many of the sites had already completed several lessons.
The program offered pro-rated refunds for the season, but some families chose to donate part or all of their program fees to support future seasons of GOTRWNC. Girls who were registered for the spring session are receiving weekly video lessons, either digitally or via mail, with materials translated to Spanish when needed.
The Great Beginnings & Great Smiles Girls on the Run Virtual 5K celebration will be held in June, free to girls who are registered with the program. Each girl can complete the 5K at their own individual pace between June 20 and 27. “The Virtual 5K allows everyone to celebrate the 589 girls who planned to learn and exercise with us this spring,” says Karen Wallace-Meigs, executive director at GOTRWNC. The program will post pictures of runners on their social media platforms so that followers can provide support. “A virtual 5K allows everyone to participate at their own pace, at a convenient place and time,” says Wallace-Meigs. “We hope lots of adults, regardless of whether they have a daughter in the program, will register and consider a donation.”
Blanco says the virtual 5K will build community and encourage health despite these unfortunate times. “Even though we cannot be close to each other physically, we still can share the amazing energy, encouragement and hope that we always feel when we run the 5K,” she says.
To donate or learn more, visit GOTRWNC.org.