Elementary Student Finds Strength in Running Through Girls On The Run

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It hasn’t been easy, but 10-year-old Isabella Glenn says she’s learned some valuable lessons as part of a program that trains elementary school girls to run a 5k race.

Initially not a big fan of running, Isabella said she had serious doubts about whether she’d even be able to complete the 3.1 mile run.

But when she crossed the finish line last year, she said, “I felt proud of myself.”

This year, she’s back again, getting ready for the April 22 Girls on the Run race, which encourages girls ages 8 through 11 to develop healthy lifestyles through running.

Earlier this week found her training with 13 other Whitmore Elementary girls. It was nearing in on 90 degrees after school, but that wasn’t stopping them.

At least not if coaches Mary Atkinson and Kristin Wook had anything to do with it.

“Hey, you guys. No walking! Run! Run! Run! You’ve got the energy!” Atkinson called, monitoring their last practice lap around the field.

Running is actually only part of what the nearly 160 girls who are participating this year will get out of the 12-week program.

“It’s really about teaching them how to be confident and self-assured,” said Atkinson, the director of food and nutrition services at Tucson Medical Center, which has taken the lead on the Girls on the Run Tucson program. The event was launched in 2009 with financial support from the Aetna Foundation and assistance from Everyone Runs, Pima County Department of Transportation and Fleet Feet Sports.

“It’s about loving who they are and reinforcing that it’s not about how they look or whether they hang out with the popular people,” Atkinson said. “They all exude their own sparkle.”

Those lessons are embedded in the curriculum every week. For example, this week the girls had to sprint to a classmate sitting on a bench, say something supportive, and sprint back.

Bella was told she was smart and nice and a good friend.

Wook, wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with “Impossible is Nothing,” said she’s seen the girls grow in strength and confidence. But the coaches said they aren’t the only one noticing the changes. Atkinson said teachers tell her the girls are more assured in class, raising their hands more often to answer questions and participate. “They realize they can stand up for themselves and that they have something to contribute,” Atkinson said, noting the training also touches on how to cope with peer pressure, bullying and standard girl conflicts.

Tackling childhood obesity and promoting healthy lifestyles is another outcropping of the program, and participating girls often take that message home to their families. In Bella’s case, her dad, Frank Glenn, has signed up as her “running buddy” to provide support to her. She’s been jogging a little at night when the family walks the dogs, and she’s been getting her younger sisters, ages 6 and 7, to run as well.

Frank Glenn, who was born at TMC in 1963, said his daughter has made more friends and is a stronger runner. “I’m proud of her,” he said.

And with all that running, Bella figures she’ll work up an appetite for pizza or Chinese food for their celebration dinner later that day.

For more information, log onto http://gotrtucson.org/

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