‘Girls on the Run’ sponsors 5K

By Mallory Osborne

Car doors slam in the parking lot surrounding UK’s Commonwealth Stadium and passengers are quickly confronted with a sea of hot-pink t-shirts and Smashmouth’s hit blaring through a large set of amps.

As the tune segues into Cyndi Lauper’s , photographers snap shots of girls with short tulle tutus over their shorts, spray-painting their ponytails in a variety of colors.

All this excitement before 7:30 a.m. this past Saturday.

The scene was Girls on the Run of Central Kentucky’s Spring 5k, and it was just getting warmed up – pun intended.

Girls on the Run is an organization focused on “educating and preparing girls for a lifetime of self-respect and healthy living,” according to the Central Kentucky chapter’s website. Also called GOTR, the organization was started in Charlotte, N.C., in 1996 by four-time Hawaii Ironman triathlete Molly Barker.

Barker also counseled, specifically addressing factors affecting women such as depression, eating disorders and alcohol and substance addictions, according to the site.

The programs offered by GOTR are available for third to fifth-grade girls, and a portion called Girls on the Track is available for sixth to eighth-grade girls, Heidi Guckenberger, Council Director for GOTR Central Kentucky, said. Different programs are offered for girls of different age groups because of the program’s overall focus.

“It’s (GOTR) not just running,” Guckenberger said. “It’s also basic skills the girls need to not give in to peer pressure and bullies in junior high.”

Guckenberger added that she believes that GOTR is especially needed at that particular age range of the girls’ lives because they “face gossip and bullies every day.” A portion of her job is to coordinate teams within schools and community centers in the Central Kentucky area.

The 5k event serves as an end-of-season hurrah for the girls that participated during the 12-week program. To complement this idea, the atmosphere is nothing short of a party for the girls.

Around 8 a.m., registration for Saturday’s event was closing and the young runners were prepping for the 5k.

Near the race registration tent, a group of girls asked each other what music they will listen to while they run. Three girls quickly replied in unison, “Justin Bieber!”

The next step in preparation was to come together as a group and do the GOTR cheer. A high-pitched chorus of “Girls on the Run is so much fun! Girls on the Run is number one!” echoed as girls walked parade-style across the parking lot with decorated posters bearing the names of their teams.

Teams, along with their coaches and running buddies, approached the start line as a bass-filled version of the “Rocky” theme song played.

Coaches “motivate, educate and inspire” girls during the 12-week program, according to the website. Head coaches lead the twice-weekly, hour-long programs.  Running buddies attend as many sessions as possible, and are paired with a particular runner to encourage them to achieve their goal during the race.

GOTR is always looking for new volunteers to fill these positions. Forms to apply are located on the website at http://gotrcentralky.org/volunteer-info/. Guckenberger said internships are available, and University of Kentucky students would be great applicants to potentially fill these spots.

As the girls lined up near their running buddies and coaches, a couple balloons escaped the pink-and-green balloon arch that the runners started and finished beneath. Girls of all ages chatted with one another near the starting line, showing the program’s unity.

Guckenberger believes the work done by GOTR positively affects the girls that participate, and it shows in the fact that many program participants are returning members.

“We are in our eighth season and there are girls that have been here every season,” Guckenberger said.

After the race began and runners turned left to round the stadium, volunteers and coordinators alike seemed to sigh a small breath of relief. The hard work put into the past 12 weeks finding sponsors, promoting the event and ultimately working to empower the girls clearly came to fruition when the girls crossed back under the balloon arch – sometimes out of breath, but always smiling.

Guckenberger says she fell in love with GOTR after being a coach for only one year. She knows the aims of the program focus on bettering the lives of young girls and teaching them to grow up mentally and physically strong.

GOTR costs $150 per girl, but 75 percent of the girls are on scholarships. Scholarships are obtained through donations and a program called Sole Mates in which outside members compete in sporting events and raise $262 to be used to sponsor girls. The number 262 relates to the length of a marathon, which is 26.2 miles.