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One step at a time. That’s how Orieji Iroha-Agwu and her daughter Angel trained together for their first 5k as they ran through the twists and turns of their neighborhood and the local park. Angel was in 3rd grade when Orieji learned that her daughter’s school offered an afterschool enrichment program with Girls on the Run®. After finding the program offered a curriculum aimed at building life and leadership skills, as well as exercise, she was excited to sign Angel up right away.

Orieji and Angel together.

Angel and Oreiji together.

Starting Off on the Right Foot

For young girls, a lot of changes happen between 3rd and 8th grade. Those are the years when many young ladies start caring how their bodies look, what clothes they wear, and how they fit in. It’s a time when their focus is on how others perceive them rather than on being their individual selves. These are the crucial years that Girls on the Run helps girls navigate.

Girls on the Run is dedicated to inspiring girls in 3rd through 8th grades to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum that creatively integrates running. Throughout the course of the 12-week program, groups of 8-15 girls meet twice a week with certified Girls on the Run coaches to learn life skills and build a foundation for healthy physical activity. At the end of the season, the girls and their running buddies complete a 5k (3.1 mile) running event.

“It was an amazing bonding opportunity and experience for both of us,” Orieji said about the weeks that she and her daughter trained together while Angel was in the program.

It’s not a requirement that families take part in program activities, but many find themselves being part of the positive impact. As Orieji recalls, “I had the opportunity to volunteer during their final practice sessions leading up to the 5k. It was a very rewarding experience to watch the girls go through their lessons and be able to provide that support.”

Running With a Pack

While the program concludes with a running event – it’s not a race – the accomplishments are much deeper than the finishing order of the 5k run. The girls spend 24 sessions being coached by strong female role models and becoming part of a community with their peers. The girls work together to build self-confidence, and learn about dealing with peer pressure, how to use positive energy, teamwork, and other valuable life skills in a positive, empowering environment.

Christy, Angel, and Orieji.

Christy, Angel, and Orieji.

Christy Colgan, BCBSNC’s manager of health and wellness, has coached several Girls on the Run teams in Durham and Raleigh. An avid runner, she was inspired to share her talents as a coach after seeing the overwhelming positivity and sense of community in the Girls on the Run program when she was a spectator at a Girls on the Run 5k.

“One of the things I love about Girls on the Run is that it uses running and fitness as a kind of classroom, where girls learn to relate to each other on constructive and positive terms,” said Christy. “The girls bond with each other and work together to reach their personal bests. And as a volunteer coach, working with the girls has reminded me of the importance of being connected to a supportive peer group – no matter your age.”

This year Girls on the Run of the Triangle is celebrating 16 years of changing the lives of young girls all across the Triangle. Since November 2000, the council has built a community of more than 10,000 girls—helping them to develop self-confidence, strengthen their character, and create positive relationships with peers and adults.

Beyond the Finish Line

By the end of the program, Angel and Orieji were able to successfully complete their first 5k together, exceeding their own expectations. “The accomplishment reinforced that we could accomplish difficult challenges when put our minds to it.”

Like many young girls who are touched by their experience in the Girls on the Run program, Angel learned lessons that will stick with her for life about being an advocate for herself and for others. This inspired her to sign up to be a junior coach and help out with the younger kids at her school.

“One of the lessons that stood out the most for Angel was the one on ‘SBLR’, or ‘Stop- Breathe-Listen and Respond,’” said Orieji. “This really resonated with her because she has found it to be truly effective in building her interpersonal skills as well as helping her peers work through conflicts. She also learned the importance of being confident and not worrying about what other people think. In her words, it is not important to be seen as being the ‘cool kid’”.

A healthy self-perception – or one that’s not so healthy – is formed at an early age, and grows with a woman into her adult years. Girls on the Run nurtures important social, emotional, and physical skills, ultimately teaching young girls they have what it takes to literally and figuratively “run the world.”

Ways to Get Involved

To learn more about Girls on the Run, visit www.gotrtriangle.org. The next Girls on the Run 5k is on April 16, 2016, whether you sign up to run or cheer on the sideline, you won’t want to miss it. Registration for the fall season of Girls on the Run of the Triangle will begin in May and run through September.  You can also apply to be a coach, or learn about other ways to volunteer.

This year, to celebrate its Sweet 16 birthday, Girls on the Run of the Triangle is also hosting a Gala on November 12, 2016 at the Umstead Hotel. The event is sponsored by BCBCNC and will feature Katherine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon.  When available, ticket information can be found on the Girls on the Run of the Triangle website.

[Top image via Girls on the Run]

Jessica Rauschenberg

About Jessica Rauschenberg

Jessica Rauschenberg manages entry-level talent programs at Blue Cross NC as part of Human Resources. She enjoys helping young professionals transition from academic to work-life and supporting their personal and professional success. In her free time, Jessica enjoys cheering on her favorite North Carolina and Chicago sports teams and being active outdoors.

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