Confident. Joyful. Strong. That is how the participants in the Girls on the Run 5K in St. Louis portrayed themselves before, during, and after the race. On May 13, close to 4,000 girls and 1,200 of their coaches participated in the biannual event along with close to 5,000 other people.
It was a beautiful day for a race. The weather started off cool, but by the time the race started, it was about 65 degrees, and the sun was shining brightly in the sky. Before the start, the girls and their coaches, friends, and families lined up in alphabetical order by name of school. There were so many people that some finished the race before others had even started.
The St. Louis race is the largest Girls on the Run 5K in North America and the tenth-largest timed 5K in the nation. This year, the race was the biggest it had ever been in St. Louis, with a total of over 9,000 people registered.
Girls on the Run’s mission is to inspire young women to be joyful, healthy, and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum that creatively integrates running. The organization teaches girls valuable life lessons through interactive activities and running games. After a full season of training for this 5K and learning skills that will help them to be more confident, these girls are ready to complete the race.
The energy at this race is different from any other race. Beforehand you might see girls going to the Happy Hair station to get their hair sprayed colors. You might see girls signing each other’s shirts or spraying each other’s hair. During the race, you might see a dad and his daughter running together in matching tutus or people running through bubbles at the Bubble Bus.
“I think that Girls on the Run is important because I think being athletic and active and fit is important for your life,” says Greg, the dad of nine-year-old Julia, who was running. Before the race, Greg was letting Julia spray paint his hair, and he wasn’t the only dad who showed Girls on the Run spirit.
There are exactly 225 Girls on the Run councils nationwide, but they don’t emphasize competition or finishing first. At the end of the season each girl receives an award. The awards are not for fastest runner or best 5K time. The awards are about being motivated, being encouraging, being inclusive, and being confident. It is not about finishing first for these girls.
“Other girls should join Girls on the Run because it’s so fun, and everyone is so nice, and they cheer people on,” says Laci, age nine, from Holy Child School in Cardinal, Missouri. Laci, like so many girls, crossed the finish line with her friends. Laci and her friends, Mallory, McKenzie, and Lilly, all agree that they have definitely grown stronger from the beginning of the season.
Courtney Berg is the executive director of Girls on the Run St. Louis. She works closely with the program team to strategize on how to help Girls on the Run partner with schools and communities. An important part of her job is relationship-building, which helps bring more people into the program.
She is also a member of the 10-person race committee and says that it takes all year to plan such a big event. Girls on the Run St. Louis works with Big River Race Management to plan the race. The race director, Maria Bush, secures permits and makes sure that there is a race schedule. This year, the permits were secured by February. The planning of the race takes all year, and there is a lot to do.
The Honorary Chair of this year’s race was Mondonna Ghasedi. She is one of only five women on the 21st Judicial Associate Bench. She finds the race empowering, and it gives her a lot of hope for the future. When she was a kid, there were no organizations like Girls on the Run to show her that she had no limits. But she had her dad. Her dad taught her that there are no limits.
Ghasedi believes that by the time the girls who ran the race are old enough to have graduated law school, it’s going to be a completely different world because it’s changing all the time. She believes that one day there won’t just be five women on the 21st Judicial Associate Bench. The world keeps becoming more and more balanced.
“My father raised me to believe that I could do anything a man could do,” she says, “but I could do it better because I was his daughter.”
Lots of Girls crossed the finish line hand in hand with their friends. After the race, there was a dance party. This program helps girls learn a lot and builds character. This was a lot of girls’ first time doing Girls on the Run and also a lot of girls’ first time running a 5K. Running is a great way to make girls feel motivated and powerful because when you finish a race, you feel proud of yourself. You feel unstoppable.
Photographs by Ella Nichols (top, bubble bus); Charles Berg (dad and daughter)